Sunday, 1 November 2009

Ulster hymnwriters (3)

This morning was the first day of a missionary convention in the church I attend and we sang one of the great missionary hymns - Go ye into all the world.  I am sure that everyone was familiar with the words of the hymn but probably very few would have known that the author James McGranahan was the grandson of Ulster-Scots emigrants.

James McGranahan was born near Adamsville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, on 4 July 1840, and he was the son of George McGranahan and his wife Jane Blair, both of whom were the children of Ulster-Scots emigrants.

His paternal grandfather, John McGranahan, was born in Ulster in 1757 and emigrated as a young man from Belfast to America before the American Revolution.  John McGranahan married Nellie Smith, who was born in Ulster in 1761 and they were the parents of George McGranahan.

George McGranahan, the youngest son of the Ulster emigrants, married Jane Blair, who was the daughter of Ulster emigrants. Her parents were Henry Blair and Jane McMaster, who were both Ulster-Scots emigrants, and they were married in Pennsylvania in 1798.

James grew up on the family farm and his father intended that he should take over the farm but his musical talent was recognised early in life.  It was thought that he would pursue a career on the operatic stage but his friend Philip P Bliss, the hymn writer, urged him to devote his talent to evangelism and in 1876 he succeeded Bliss as the song-leader with the evangelist Major D W Whittle.

Whittle and McGranahan made an evangelistic tour of the British Isles in 1880 and one of the places they visited was Belfast, from where McGranahan’s grandfather had emigrated in the 18th century.

James McGranhan wrote the music for many popular gospel hymns such as Neath the banner of the cross, There shall be showers of blessing, Christ liveth in me, and None but Christ can satisfy and these included many hymns that had been written by Major Whittle.  In most cases McGranahan composed only the music but he did write the words of several popular hymns such as Go ye into all the world.

Far, far away, in heathen darkness dwelling,
Millions of souls forever may be lost;
Who, who will go, salvation’s story telling,
Looking to Jesus, heeding not the cost?

“All pow’r is given unto Me,
All pow’r is given unto Me,
Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,
And lo, I am with you always.”

McGranahan was also a pioneer in the use of the male choir in gospel song. He was the first person to publish a book of gospel songs exclusively for male voices and through his innovation the male choir and male quartet became a feature of evangelism.

James McGranahan died on 9 July 1907 and went home to meet the Saviour whom he had served so faithfully.

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