Bliss, Philip P(aul)
b Clearfield Co, Pa, USA 1838, d nr Ashtabula, Ohio, USA 1876. Originally named ‘Philipp’, he later dropped the final ‘p’ and used it as a second initial. He was born in a log house and worked as a farm boy, then as a woodcutter in lumber camps. Making his confession of faith at the age of 12, he belonged to the Elk Run Baptist Ch. He attended Susquehanna Collegiate Institute in Towanda. He had a fine bass voice, and had his first music lessons from the composer-editors J G Towner and W B Bradbury. At 22 he studied at New York’s Normal Academy of Music, after which he became an itinerant music teacher during the winter and spent many summers at the Normal Academy in Geneseo, NY. At the First Congregational Ch in Chicago he was a choir member and Sunday Sch Superintendent. He sold his first song in 1864 and worked with its Chicago publishers for the next 4 years. D L Moody encouraged him to become a singing evangelist, and from 1874 he began work in mission or ‘revival’ meetings with Major Daniel W Whittle (aka ‘El Nathan’) through the south and mid-west. On his way to one such gathering in Moody’s Tabernacle in Chicago (or returning there from another engagement) he was killed in a vain attempt to rescue his wife from the burning wreckage which followed a train crash.
In the 1870s he helped in the compilation of at least 5 gospel song collections including two edited by Ira D Sankey. Not surprisingly his 100 or so compositions have been more widely used in the USA than in the UK; the 2001 Worship and Rejoice retains one text, one tune, and 2 hymns where both words and music are his. But his most popular hymn in Britain appears in over 20 current books, including mainstream hymnals from several denominations. The latest Salvation Army Song Book (1986) features 11 of his songs, and some Pentecostal collections also favour his distinctive style. D Whittle and W Guest edited a memoir of his ‘life and life’s work’, to which both Moody and Sankey contributed, in the year after PPB’s death. Moody saw him as a 2nd Wesley, but greatly admired his evident humility. No.433.