She once was lost, but now is found. Or at least that can be said of about 2700 of Fanny Crosby’s unpublished hymns. Crosby (1820-1915) whom I have written about in my book and earlier on this blog, the most prolific hymn writer of all time, wrote more than we thought. Though she wrote over 8000 hymns, until recently many were unknown. Unknown until 2000 when Stephen Kelley, an entrepreneur and collector of antique hymnals, found about 2700 of her unpublished hymns in an archive at Wheaton College near Chicago where her publisher, Hope Publishing, had stored them. Kelley found the archive of hymns, some unfinished, many handwritten on old paper, on the backs of envelopes, on invoices, and on her publisher’s letterhead. Perhaps one reason they were so jumbled was due to her blindness. Crosby needed someone to transcribe the compositions she stored in her head, sometimes as many as twelve at a time. And different transcribers would do things differently, often on an impromptu basis. Last October, a CD of fifteen of those hymns, now combined with contemporary music, was released. Entitled “Blessed Assurance: The New Hymns of Fanny Crosby”, it does include that most famous previously published hymn, but with current music. The other cuts are all new lyrics with new music by current writers and performers, including Paul Baloche, Michael Smith, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ricky Skaggs and fellow sister in song, Darlene Zschech, among others. Perhaps this melding of the meatier substance of the Gospel lyrics in traditional music and the tunes of today will appeal to both, or maybe not. Time will let us know.
I feel compelled to make one correction to the articles I read about this. The Baptist publications claim Crosby as one of their own. This is only partly true. She was a member of Sixth Avenue Bible Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, but in 1887, she joined Cornell Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. She was active in the Wesleyan holiness movement, a great friend of prominent Methodist Phoebe Knapp with whom she wrote “Blessed Assurance”, and often visited the Methodist camp grounds at Ocean Grove, New Jersey. In her life, she also attended a Congregationalist church, a Presbyterian church, an Episcopal church, and a Dutch Reformed church. With so many hymns to her credit, I think there’s enough for each denomination to claim her as their own.