Blind Helen Howarth Lemmel Turns Our Eyes

Helen Howarth Lemmel was born in Wardle, England to a Wesleyan Methodist pastor and his wife on November 14, 1863.

Twelve years later the family migrated to America. Helen lived briefly in Mississippi before settling in Wisconsin. Helen’s singing ability soon became evident, gaining her a reputation as a brilliant singer, even studying private voice in Germany for four years. She traveled widely throughout the midwest during the early 1900’s, giving concerts in many churches.

In time, she married a wealthy European and taught voice at the Moody Bible Institute and then at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. When she became blind her husband abandoned her, which was just one of the many heartaches Helen struggled with during midlife.

A brilliant singer and musician, Mrs. Lemmel’s remarkable literary abilities were also widely recognized. She composed more than 500 hymns and poems and also authored a very successful book for children, ‘Story of the Bible’, and composed many musical pieces for children. She continued her musical and literary pursuits until her death just 13 days before her ninety-eighth birthday.

One day, in 1918, when Helen was aged 55, a missionary friend gave her a tract entitled “Focused.” It contained a statement that had a profound impact on her. “So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness.”

“I stood still, ” Helen recalled, “and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody. The verses were written the same week, after the usual manner of composition, but nonetheless dictated by the Holy Spirit.”

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face,
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of His glory and grace.

Helen’s new hymn was published in London, England in 1918, in the form of a pamphlet. Four years later, it was included in a collection of sixty-seven of Helen’s songs, titled Glad Songs. This year at the Keswick Bible Conference in northern England the hymn was introduced and became immediately a popular favourite. It has since been included in most evangelical hymnals and been translated into many languages.

Those who knew Mary in her later years tell of her joy and enthusiasm. Though living on government welfare in a sparse bedroom, whenever asked how she was doing, she would reply, ‘I’m doing well in the things that count.’ Mary was always composing hymns but she had no way of writing them down so she would call friends at all hours and get them to record her lyrics before she forgot them.

Helen had a small plastic keyboard by her bed. There she would play, sing and cry. “One day God is going to bless me with a great heavenly keyboard,” she’d say. “I can hardly wait!”

Helen died on November 1, 1961, in Seattle, Washington, almost 98 years of age.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Stuart Hamblen Writes Songs for the World

This is the day that Stuart Hamblen was converted at 4 o’clock in the morning. It was 1949.

Under conviction of sin, 40 year-old Hamblen, the son of a Texas minister, telephoned Billy Graham, waking him up: “Pray for me,” he begged the evangelist.

Billy Graham was preaching in his “Christ for Greater Los Angeles” crusade, which had been scheduled to last for three weeks. It was about to close, and Hamblen’s wife, Suzy, had talked him into attending.

But the conversion of Hamblen and two other well-known identities in the Los Angeles area led to an extension of the crusade for another five weeks (Billy Graham, by John Pollock, page 80). Three thousand chairs were added to accommodate the crowds; 6000 people had already been attending the “canvas cathedral” each night.

Hamblen was born October 20th, 1908, in Kellyville, Texas, the son of a travelling Methodist preacher. Hamblen’s radio and movie career began in 1926 on radio KAYO in Abilene, Texas, where he became radio broadcasting’s first singing cowboy. In 1929, he won a talent contest in Dallas, Texas and with the $100 cash prize in hand headed for Camden, New Jersey, to the Victor Talking Machine Company to seek his fortune. Recording four songs for the forerunner of RCA Victor, Stuart then set out for Hollywood, California, where he auditioned at KFI and went on the air as “Cowboy Joe”. He also became a member of the original “Beverly Hillbillies”, radio’s first spectacularly popular western singing group.

In 1931, and for 21 years thereafter, Stuart stayed on top of the popularity charts on the West Coast with his radio programs. During that time, his motion picture credits included: “In Old Monterey” with Gene Autry; “The Arizona Kid” and “King of the Cowboys” with Roy Rogers; “The Plainsman and the Lady” and “The Savage Hord” with Wild Bill Elliott; “Carson City Cyclone” and “The Sombrero Kid” with Don ‘Red’ Barry; “King of the Forest Rangers” with Larry Thompson; and “Flame of the Barbary Coast” with John Wayne.

Stuart Hamblen achieved fame as a rodeo champion, a country/western singer and songwriter, a dance-band leader, a gambler, and a heavy drinker. His 1934 Decca recording, ‘Out on the Texas Plains’, was one of the year’s top selling discs.

But when he was converted, he told his radio audience: “I’ve quit smoking and drinking”. And he was going to sell all his racehorses, except one, “which would never race again”.

Shortly afterwards “he bumped into his friend, movie star John Wayne. ‘What’s this I hear about you, Stuart?’ Wayne asked. ‘Well, John,’ came the answer, ‘I guess it’s no secret what God can do!’ ‘Sounds like a song’, the tall movie star replied, and that remark started the musical notes ringing in Stuart’s mind …” (New Life in Country Music, page 64). As a result Stuart Hamblen wrote …
It is no secret what God can do;
What He’s done for others He can do for you…

Recorded by George Beverly Shea in 1951, this song soon became a firm favourite for thousands of Christians and has been translated into over 50 languages around the world. It was the first song to ‘cross-over’, becoming #1 in Gospel/Country/and Pop categories and starting the trend for ballad style gospel songs

He also penned ‘This Ole House’ which was awarded 1954 Song of the Year, and was number one song hit in seven countries at the same time. His 230 song titles also include ‘Open up your Heart and let the Sun (Son) Shine in’, ‘This Book’ and ‘Known only to Him’.

By 1952 he was a candidate for the office of President of the United States – on a Prohibition ticket! He came in fourth in an election won by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Married to his wife, Suzy, for over 55 years, Stuart lived with her on their horse ranch in Canyon Country (Los Angeles), California, where he produced his weekly nationally syndicated “Cowboy Church of the Air” program. They also bred Peruvian Paso Horses. Stuart Hamblen died on March 8, 1989.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Thomas Hastings the Albino Musical Genius

This is the day that Thomas Hastings was born in Connecticut, in 1784.

At the age of 12 he and his family moved to Clinton, New York State, “by ox sledge”. He studied music from textbooks, without instruction, and in 1806 became the head of a singing school. Despite little education and “acute near-sightedness”, and the fact that he was an albino, he became a genius in the world of church music. He could read a page of music when placed upside down!” (Finney, by K. Hardman, page 252).

Hastings was married in Buffalo, N.Y., Sept. 15, 1822, to Mary Seymour. He taught singing in Troy, N.Y. during 1822-23, and was editor of the “Western Recorder”, a religious journal, at Utica, N.Y. from 1823-32, meanwhile lecturing on music in Albany, New York city, Philadelphia, Pa. and Princeton. N.J. He resided in New York city from 1832-72, where he held the position of choir master, first in Dr. Mason’s church, afterward in Dr. Hutton’s and finally in the West Presbyterian church.

He contributed frequently to the musical and religious periodicals, published the “Musical Magazine” for the years 1835-37 and edited many collections of music. He received the degree of Mus. Doc. from the University of the city of New York in 1858. Evangelist Charles Finney employed Thomas Hastings as music director at the Chatham Street Chapel, New York.

For 40 years Hastings taught music, trained choirs, composed, compiled and published hymnals, wrote 600 hymns for tunes and 1000 tunes for hymns!

The tune “Toplady” used for Rock of Ages… comes from his pen, as does “Ortonville”, to which we sing: Majestic sweetness sits enthroned…

Among his best known words are ‘Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning’ and ‘Come, ye disconsolate’, in which he improved upon the work of an earlier poet.

One writer states that Thomas Hastings “did valuable service in his day in stemming the tide of deteriorating influences in American hymnody and maintaining the ideal of devoutness in church praise” (Handbook to the Hymnary, page 363).

One is tempted to add, “Oh, for another Thomas Hastings!”

He died in Vermont, USA, on 3 January, 1918.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Jenny Lind’s Most Glorious Voice

This is the day that … Jenny Lind was born, out of wedlock, in Sweden, in 1821.

Billed as “the Swedish Nightingale”, her singing was praised across the world. Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna, London – the crowds came to hear this diva of the operatic stage (Cavalcade of History, by C. Golding, page 801).

It is said that at the age of three she was able to repeat a song that she had heard but once. At age ten she sang on the Stockholm stage. From 12 – 16 her voice lost its sweetness, then returned with full force.

For a year and a half she was the star of he Stockholm opera before attempting studies in Paris. At age 24 she sang for Queen Victoria opening the way for much success in Germany. In 1847 she went to London and was enthusiastically received. Here she sang for the first time in concert.

In 1850 P.T. Barnum, the American entrepreneur, signed her up to appear in 150 “concerts or oratorios” for $150,000 (The Fabulous Showman, by I. Wallace, page 134).

American audiences fell at her feet. The press spoke of her voice as “unrivalled” and so, too, was her popularity.

After two years Barnum released her from her contract – she had given 93 performances and he had made his fortune.

Jenny Lind married Otto Goldschmidt, her pianist, on 5 February, 1852. He was a famous German pianist who had been a pupil of Mendelssohn.

In the years that followed she rarely sang for personal gain.

Irving Wallace tells of one who found her sitting on the beach in the late afternoon – “a Bible on her lap. The friend wondered why she had abandoned her career at its height. Jenny replied, ‘When every day it made me think less of this’ – and she indicated her Bible – ‘and nothing of that’ – and she pointed to the setting sun – ‘what else could I do?’” (page 159).

Jenny Lind died in London on 2 November, 1887.

P.T. Barnum cabled her husband. “So dies away the last echo of the most glorious voice the world has ever heard.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.