By Melissa Riddle Chalos
Fanny J. Crosby’s hymns have inspired generations of Christians around the world—“To God Be the Glory,” “All The Way My Savior Leads Me,” “Blessed Assurance” and “Redeemed” are but a few of the thousands of works penned by the blind composer and social worker in 50 years of writing.
Among those works were an astounding 2,700 unpublished and unfinished compositions – a forgotten musical treasure that sat hidden for years, passed from Fanny’s publisher to the historic Wheaton College. And were it not for a curious collector of antique hymnals, these songs might have remained hidden.
Stephen Kelley, an artist, writer and entrepreneur, learned of the forgotten cache and tracked them down to Wheaton in 2000.
Kelley recalls: “They wheeled out 20 library carts containing the manuscripts… some lyrics were on scraps of paper and the backs of envelopes, letter head, legal paper, all with Fanny’s initials. I couldn’t believe it when I saw them, something emotional welled up inside me.”
Knowing that he couldn’t leave them languishing in obscurity, Kelley volunteered to have them digitized, already thinking of ways to bring every lyric to light. He just didn’t know the “how” and “who” components at that time.
Years passed before Kelley connected with producer Bobby Blazier (The Alternators) and shared his discovery. “Bobby teared up,” says Kelley, “because Fanny’s songs had meant so much to him personally.”
Now there were two on a mission… to find a team that could help bring these songs to life. And 15 years after the original discovery by Kelley, Fanny’s unfinished hymns found a home at Integrity Music. The label, known for worship songs like “Great Are You Lord,” “Open The Eyes of My Heart” and “Shout To The Lord,” shared the compositions with its writers. The objective? To breathe new life into those hidden gems, to shine a modern light on the remarkable legacy of the woman called “the Queen of Gospel Song Writers,” 100 years after her death.
Now, the incomparable Fanny Crosby’s lost gift to the Church shines anew in Blessed Assurance: The New Hymns Of Fanny Crosby with 15 of her unfinished compositions respectfully crafted with help from writers including: Paul Baloche, Michael Farren, All Sons & Daughters, Jon Egan (Desperation Band), Bart Millard (MercyMe), Stu G (Delirious? & One Sonic Society), Michael W. Smith, Krissy Nordhoff, Greg Sykes and Dustin Smith.
“There are a lot of churches that prefer hymns. At the same time, there’s a new generation discovering the liturgy for the first time, seeking deeper roots within a fresh, modern context,” says Adrian Thompson, Integrity’s Vice President of Song and Artist Development. “With these two connections in mind, we’ve tried to keep as much of the original lyric as possible, engaging songwriters/leaders in the modern worship movement to the table to help usher the richness of those lyrics into the modern era.”
Complete with vocal performances from Baloche, Egan, All Sons & Daughters, Blind Boys of Alabama, Elias Dummer (The City Harmonic) Ricky Skaggs & The Whites, Darlene Zschech, Israel Houghton with Seth & Nirva and Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, among others, The New Hymns Of Fanny Crosby stands as an original, new-heritage collection from the mother of all hymn writers.
“There are so many magical moments on this record,” says Blazier, who co-produced the album with Christian music veteran John Hartley. “Fanny Crosby was quite an intellectual, but she loved different styles of music, so we tried to honor her in that way, leaning more toward Americana, than just about anything.”
For example, Blazier says, “Where Could We Go,” which was completed by Dove Award nominated Integrity writer Michael Farren, “sounds different than anything you might consider to be a Crosby hymn. The music has a ragtime feel to it, something that Fanny would have loved. Then, hearing the Blind Boys interpret it in their bluesy, soulful way, it just turned out great and is so true to the Americana approach.”
Other magical moments on Blessed Assurance: The New Hymns Of Fanny Crosby include All Sons & Daughters’ tender call to worship, “We Are Waiting,” Michael W. Smith’s sweet interpretation of “No One Like Jesus,” Paul Baloche’s take on “Come To The Water,” and the Southern Gospel turn Ernie Haase & Signature Sound gives to “I Have Found A Priceless Treasure.”
“When you start looking at her legacy, you begin to understand how this remarkable woman truly lived her worship,” adds Thompson. “She lived a frugal life, was diligent in writing, a blessing to the poor, didn’t build herself up… and yet, every living president in her lifetime wanted to meet her. The impact of her life and the influence of her hymns simply cannot be overstated.”
Perhaps this is but the beginning of a new legacy, wherein an entire generation of worshipers—all seeking greater depth, in word and in expression—discover the rich vein of Fanny J. Crosby, the unfolding of history, beautifully interpreted for today… and for the future.