IRA STANPHILL

Born FEBRUARY 14, 1914

Ira Stanphill was one of Christian music’s most outstanding talents of the 2oth Century. During his life, he traveled throughout the United States and in 40 countries, preaching and singing the songs he’d written. Many of his songs have been published in other languages. The depth of his lyrics continue to reverberate in people’s hearts around the world.

FIRST NOTES

Ira grew up in a musical family. By his 10th birthday, he played not only piano and organ, but also the accordion and ukulele. He made his parents’ faith his own at age 12. Ira composed his first Christian song as a teenager. He began singing on the local radio station. Other doors opened.

Ira got a taste for ministry on the road when a traveling evangelist tapped his talents. His ability to minister increased further when Ira sensed a call to preach as well as sing the gospel. He became credentialed with the Assemblies of God.

SONGS, IN GOOD TIMES AND BAD

In 1936, Ira launched his own revival campaign. It concluded in Springfield, Missouri, where he agreed to pastor a congregation. In Springfield, he met Zelma Lawson. She too had musical skills. They married in 1939. Together, they wrote the song “Room at the Cross for You,” which they sang as a duet. Their voices rang out together on the chorus, “Tho’ millions have come, there’s still room for one. Yes, there’s room at the cross for you.”

However, Zelma began drifting away from the cross. She started attending nightclubs and seeing other men. She eventually filed for divorce. Zelma remarried and began singing in the nightclubs. Ira eventually gained custody of their son, Raymond. In 1951, a car accident took Zelma’s life.

Between the divorce and Zelma’s death, Ira reached a personal low in his life. Some criticized him for continuing to preach after his divorce. The voices inside Ira’s head and heart were equally severe. He pondered the direction of his future.

One day, driving to the church he served at the time, Ira poured out his feelings to God. By the time he reached the church, God had birthed a new song in his heart. The experience didn’t give Ira all the answers he wanted, but it gave him the total trust in God he needed. In the decades since, many have experienced fresh faith for the future upon singing or hearing the song, “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.” The song’s essence is in the words, “Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.”

A NEW SONG        

After Zelma’s death, Ira married Gloria Holloway. Their union was a happy one. In the second half of his life, Ira pastored, traveled as an evangelist and continued writing songs. He also wrote his auto-biography, This Side of Heaven, which was published in 1983 (search for it on Amazon and eBay). In the last few years of his life, Ira and Gloria appeared on some of Bill Gaither’s Homecoming videos.

In December of 1993, a few weeks short of his 80th birthday, Ira suffered a sudden heart attack that ended his life. Ira reached his “mansion over the hilltop.”

NEVER-ENDING MUSIC

In all, Ira wrote over 500 songs that were published. Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) lists information for 80 of them in their database. A number of Ira’s songs have appeared in different denominational hymnals. Some have been recorded on gospel albums by well-known singers.

Why do his songs remain popular? While often writing from personal experience, Ira called forth expressions of faith felt by Christians the world over. We relate to his recurring themes, which celebrate the cross, declare complete trust in God and anticipate Heaven.

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LET ME KNOW:  How has Ira’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped  you? I welcome your comments.

Bibliography————————————————————————————————-

  • Collins, Ace. Turn Your Radio On. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1999.
  • Glenn Gohr, “This Side of Heaven,” A/G Heritage, Summer 1994, accessed February 1, 2012, http://ifphc.org/pdf//Heritage/1994_02.pdf.
  • Osbeck, Kenneth. 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1985.

You can listen to some of Ira’s best songs on YouTube——————————————-If you type in his name, you’ll find versions of the following songs among others he wrote:

* Follow Me               * Happiness is the Lord               * He Washed My Eyes with Tears        * I Know Who Holds Tomorrow       * Mansion Over the Hilltop       * Room at the Cross    * Suppertime               * Unworthy               * We’ll Talk it Over                                                   and a novelty number titled * The Senior Citizen’s Shuffle.                                                                                                                                                                       ———————————————————————————————————–     

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About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
This entry was posted in Evangelist, Hymn writer. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to IRA STANPHILL

  1. He was truly amazing. Thank you for this great recap of his life.

  2. Pastor Robin says:

    I like so many others was fortunate to meet him in person and tell him Thanks for writing the songs from the heart for “I traveled down a lonely road” so touched my heart that it was the turning point of surrender in my life to enter the ministry 40 years ago.

  3. John says:

    Ira Stanphill came to our small church in upstate NY one Sunday night around 1983. I was 19. There were only about 40 people attending that night. I will never forget him. I thought here is a man plastered throughout the hymnal, the writer of songs I grew up with, a giant now on our platform. But what I saw was a solitary, elderly man with nothing but a small stool seated at an electric piano telling his life story and singing simple songs of faith. There was absolutely nothing flashy about him. He had nothing to be envious of except a gentle spirit seemingly totally surrendered to his Father’s will. He was one of the most humble, down to earth men I have ever met. It was profoundly moving.

    • Thank you Robin and John for sharing your personal expriences with Ira’s ministry. I saw him sing and play for a chapel service in my Freshman year of Bible college. I too was impressed by his humility and simple devotion to honoring the God he’d served throughout his life.

  4. thank you for sharing this life story of Ira. I am a teen girls Sunday School teacher, and every week we share a new hymn, and the writer behind it. This week a girl picked “Mansion Over the Hilltop”, It was very interesting to learn so many more facts about his life that were not printed. this is the one I will share tomorrow. Thank you so much for all your help and faithfulness. Mrs. Rachel J.

  5. Sam Myers says:

    Rev. Stanphill was pastor of the First Assembly of God in Lancaster, PA in the mid-1960s, where I was a member. In my early teens I babysat for his daughters, Judy and Cathy. He and Mrs. Stanphill were beloved in our church community, and so many years later I still love to sing his songs. How can anyone have a favorite when so many of them speak to one’s heart; however, I do suppose “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” is among my very favorite. Thank you for bringing back fond memories of Rev Stanphill.

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