It is the 12th of February 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1915.

This episode was going to start with a discussion of American popular culture in the early 20th century. Essentially, the lack of a distinct national style kept American popular culture derivative of European and African models. Essentially, what helped give birth to a distinct “American” culture was a particular kind of music.

But then, I thought, the history of Christian singing would be an appropriate introduction to our character today, from Pliny’s first description of Christians singing through chanting, destroying instruments, worship wars, etc. We will come back to that. Frankly, I thought that I needed some context to help fill out the life of Fanny Crosby. No offense to the Godmother of American hymnody, but what little I knew of her came from glossy airbrushed “Christian biographies” that told us she was blind, famous, and wrote a bunch of hymns. Early 20th-century Christian hagiography is a genre I have tended to avoid. And it was to my detriment when it comes to one of the most underrated fascinating Christians whose life was more than just writing “Blessed Assurance.”

Fanny Crosby was born in 1820 in Bridgeport Connecticut. At age 3, she was blinded by what was most likely an infection compounded by medical malpractice. After her father’s death, she was raised by her mother and grandmother in what was by all accounts a pious home. She moved to New York to attend the Institute for the Blind, and then the story gets going.

She was convinced that she was destined to be a poet by a Scottish phrenologist. Her first book of poetry made her a minor celebrity. This Crosby family line would not be without other notables. She was a direct descendent of Mayflower pilgrims and was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Fanny’s family line would include another famous Crosby, Bing.

P.T. Barnum published her first poem, and she wrote popular parlor songs published alongside Stephen Foster. The blind poet was received personally by two presidents: Polk and Garfield. She also became the first woman to ever speak in the U.S. Senate when she was asked to recite one of her poems at the Capitol.

It was her work with the emerging gospel hymn industry that would become her legacy. The democratization of the church in America required the democratization of its songs. Her relatively simple songs with easily repeatable refrains made them popular at revivals and the growing low church set.

If anything, she wrote hymns quickly that publishers of new pan-Protestant songbooks feared that her name would dominate the indices. And so, Fanny Crosby would employ over 200 pseudonyms in writing over 9,000 hymns. Many did not know what to do with this female evangelical celebrity, and perhaps she didn’t either. She was famously poor near the end of her life, having been paid very little for her music and not owning the rights to her catalog.

Francis Jane Crosby is recognized on the 11th of February on the Anglican Calendar of Saints. This is weird because while I’m sure she didn’t feel well on the 11th of February, it was on this, the 12th of February in 1915, that the 94-year-old queen of Gospel hymnody, Fanny Crosby, went to see her Savior.

As a young Gen-X or Old Millennial, I will admit I have never quite taken to Crosby’s particular hymn style. This is not a historical statement, just a personal one. But I found that by taking a hymn, excising the repetition and refrains can result in something like an appropriately simple Gospel nursery rhyme. The reading for today is from Crosby. This is her “Cast Thy Care on Jesus.”

Cast thy care on Jesus,
Weary, troubled soul,
When the storm is wildest,
When the surges roll.

Look by faith to Jesus,
Bend thee to His will,
Thou shalt hear Him saying,
“Peace be still.”

Cast thy care on Jesus,
When the way is long;
He can turn thy sorrow
Into joyful song.

Cast thy care on Jesus,
Lo, He cares for thee;
Trusting in His mercy,
Sweet thy rest will be

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of February 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man also destined to a life of poetry by way of Scottish phrenology, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true… Everything is going to be ok.