Sankey, Ira David

Composer

b Edinburgh, W Penns, USA 1840, d Brooklyn, New York, USA 1908. Growing up near the Mahoning River, he joined in the family’s farm work at Western Reserve Harbour from the age of 6. He was converted at 16 at a ‘revival meeting’ at The King’s Chapel. Educated first in his home village, then from 1857 at High Sch in Newcastle, PA, to which the family had moved. Joining the Methodist Episcopal Ch he became Sunday School Supt and Choir Director. Following a role in the Union Army during the civil war he joined his father as an internal revenue collector, while being in growing demand as a soloist at both religious and political meetings. Involvement with the YMCA as a local secretary and president took him in 1870–71 to its annual conference in Indianapolis where he crucially met the evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody (1837–99). At the latter’s urging, he joined him 6 months later as soloist and song leader. For the next 30 years the two men were closely associated in meetings across the USA and Britain, starting in Springfield, Illinois and visiting England and Scotland first in 1873. For mission meetings and soon for general use they published many edns of Sacred Songs and Solos (the first 24-page edn in 1873, growing to 1200 items by 1903) which sold some 80 million copies in Sankey’s lifetime and which remains in print. A further series of Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs was issued in 6 vols between 1875 and 1892, collected in one book of 739 hymns in 1894. To these books he contributed several tunes and a single song text. In his later years he became blind, and shared a deep friendship with Fanny Crosby (F van Alstyne, see Author index), whose gospel songs had proved immensely popular at his mission meetings. By including Amazing grace in 3 of his collections he helped to popularise the hymn, at least in N America. Donald Hustad describes Sankey as ‘America’s most influential evangelistic musician, composer and publisher in the last half of the 19th century’, while Moody & Sankey ‘probably represent the chief cultural influence of the United States on Britain in the 19th c’—The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004. A popular autobiography was published in 1906 (UK title, My Life and Sacred Songs). No.727.

Tunes and arrangements by Sankey, Ira David

Tune Name
It Passes Knowledge