Hymn Writer, James Rowe was born in Devonshire, England on January 1, 1865.
At an early age Rowe entered the Government Survey Department, where he continued till 1890. when his family migrated to America and he settled at Albany, NY. There Rowe became a railroad employee and married Blanche Clapper.
He later devoted his life to literary pursuits and became famous for writing hymn lyrics, becoming one of the most prolific hymn poets of the twentieth century. By his own record, he produced more than 19,000 hymns for a number of different composers.
In 1896 he turned his hand to writing hymns. “Poetry, came easy to him”, said his daughter in one of her letters. His first song was “Speak it for the Saviour”.
“He delighted in composing extemporaneously a poem of some length as he spoke to an assembled audience.” (Songs of Glory by W.J. Reynolds, page 126). Not only gospel songs flowed from his pen, but also “humorous verse for greeting cards.”
Rowe wrote several enduring hymns with the assistance of a pianist, composes, Howard E. Smith, who was born on July 16, 1863. Smith was an active musician throughout his life and served many years as an organist in Connecticut.
In a letter dated 23 May, 1955, James Rowe’s daughter (Mrs. Louise Rowe Mayhew) wrote: “Howard E. Smith was a little man whose hands were so knotted with arthritis that you would wonder how he could use them at all, much less play the piano, but he could and did.” She goes on to describe how her father paced to and fro around the room composing the words of his best-known gospel song whilst Howard E. Smith, the local church organist, set them to music. The result?
I was sinking deep in sin, Far from the peaceful shore;
Very deeply stained within, Sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me … Now safe am I.
That song. “Love Lifted Me”, was written in 1911, or 1912 and was copyrighted in 1912.
Other gospel songs written by James Rowe include:
Be like Jesus … this my song,
In the home and in the throng…
And the grand old Elim chorus…
I walk with the King …Hallelujah!
I walk with the King, praise His name…
Rowe not only composed songs and poems, but he was also an effective singing teacher. It is recorded on one singing instructor named Eugene Monroe Bartlett that “his schools brought together such well known singing teachers as James Rowe and Homer Rodeheaver”.
Rodeheaver, a popular gospel singer, recounts an occasion when he sang Rowe’s song, “I walk with the King”, “to a great crowd of coloured folks one night”. He explains that “one of the good old-fashioned aunties got up from the back row, taking off her sun-bonnet, waving it in the air, and stepping high down the aisle, she exclaimed, ‘Hallelujah! I walk wid Him too, brudder!’ Then there came the chorus from all over the house, ‘Yeah! we all walk wid Him down here!’”
Gypsy Smith had a favourite song among Rowe’s 8,000 hymns and poems that were circulated, being…
“Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.”
Many of Rowe’s best songs owe much of their popularity to the attractive musical settings of Mr. B. D. Ackley, who was at one time pianist for Billy Sunday.
James Rowe went Home to walk the golden street with his King on 10 November, 1933, in Vermont, USA.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com