FANNY CROSBY ‘HYMN QUEEN’
By CAROLYN NEWMAN
Francis Jane Crosby
March 24, 1820-February 12, 1915
Are you aware that Bing Crosby had a famous ancestor, Francis Jane Crosby?
Born in 1820, and known as Aunt Fanny, she wrote more than 9,000 hymns, some of which are among the most popular in every Christian denomination. She wrote so many that she was forced to use pen names lest the hymnals be filled with her name above all others.
The reason I chose to write about Fanny Crosby is that she was a spiritually influential woman during her lifetime and that nearly two hundred years later, her legacy is impacting me and others around the world. Also, I chose her because I have been blessed while singing her hymns through the years and have even portrayed her to a combination of the children’s choirs at church. Dressed in an old fashioned long, black outfit, complete with a pair of antique glasses and a cane, I told the children that it has been said that the remarkable thing about me is all that I have done in my lifetime in spite of my blindness. I said, “If I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should have been born blind. This was my reply when asked why: “When I get to Heaven, the first face that ever shall gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”
A few weeks later, a first grader saw me at the Mall of Abilene and excitedly said that I was Fanny Crosby. When the mother contradicted her, the child said, “That is Fanny Crosby who visited our choir. She wrote over 9,000 hymns and she is blind. She told us that she didn’t mind being blind because when she got to heaven, the first face she would see would be Jesus. When her mother told me about this, she said that she gave up and I was indeed Fanny Crosby.
Her attitude toward life inspires us all. Her first verse, written at age eight, echoed her refusal to feel sorry for herself. “Don’t waste sympathy on me, I am a happy person.”
Oh, what a happy soul I am,
although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t,
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot, and I won’t!
At age fifteen, she was a student at the New York Institute for the Blind where she later was a faculty member. In her autobiography, she quoted her Superintendent’s advice. “Fanny, your attempts at poetry have brought you prominence here in the school, and a great deal of flattery has been the result. Shun a flatterer, Fanny, as you would a snake. Remember that the very air you breathe-the very food you eat-all the ability or talent that you may develop-come from God. Remember that you are always in His presence: and who has any right to be vain for a moment, when standing before the great Owner and Creator of all things.” She goes on to say, “All of my life I have tried to keep the monster Egotism from coming up between my duty and me.” What wise wisdom for all of us!
Because of her grandmother’s encouragement, she memorized five chapters of the Bible each week. She could recite the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and many Psalms. By age 23, Crosby was addressing Congress, becoming the first woman to speak at the Senate. She was a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., endorsing education for the blind. She knew all of the chief executives of her lifetime, especially Grover Cleveland who served as secretary for the Institute for the Blind before his election.
She wrote about issues of the day, including temporance and anti-child labor. Among her creations were 1,000 secular poems, four poetry books, two autobiographies, political and patriotic songs and five cantatas. Hymn writing began in her forties. She prayed before creating her lyrics. She was paid one or two dollars for each hymn, less than her male counterparts. The publishers and writers of the melodies, not the lyricist, owned the copyrights. She gave away most of the money she earned. Among her well known hymns are “Blessed Assurance,” “Saved by Grace,” “Draw Me Nearer,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Praise Him, Praise Him,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” “Rescue the Perishing.” Her goal was for the hymns to reach a million people for Christ.
Strauss is known as the Waltz King, Sousa is known as the March King and Crosby is known as the Hymn Queen. Amazingly, in the year 2,000, a forgotten cache of her hymns was discovered at Wheaton College. They wheeled out 20 library carts containing manuscripts. As a result of the discovery, musicians such as Michael W. Smith were contacted to write melodies, resulting in the 2015 album: ‘Blessed Assurance: The New Hymns of Fanny Crosby.’ More recently, top Southern gospel artists have now turned their hands to 15 or more melodies of the timeless writings of America’s greatest hymnist. The album is “Fanny Crosby: Newly Discovered Hymns and Songs.”
My first cousin, Tim Lovelace, gospel music artist and songwriter, was blessed to take part in the project. My favorite description of Fanny Crosby: She saw with her heart
Thank you, Aunt Fanny.
Carolyn Newman is a retired public school music specialist who spent much of her career at Dyess Elementary School.