Blessed Assurance

Yesterday it was “Jesus, the Light of the world”. Today it’s another wonderful hymn that might be a good candidate for harmonization as a shapenote song: “Blessed assurance” (also known as simply Assurance).

Some time ago one version — an instrumental version on an album of Smoky Mountain hymns — came by randomly on my iTunes, reminding me how much I liked the song, for its words as well as its tune, so I collected another 17 versions (in a large assortment of styles). Here’s the list:

1: Various Artists: Smoky Mountain Hymns
2: The Bluegrass Gospel Group: Bluegrass Favorites
3: Jo-El Sonnier: Cajun Hymns
4: The Blind Boys of Alabama: Faith Moves Mountains
5: The Jordanaires: Believe (A Collection of Bluegrass Hymns)
6: Cece Winans: Alone in His Presence
7: Acappella: Hymns
8: The Maranatha! Singers: Maranatha! Singers Top 25 Hymns
9: The Charlie Daniels Band: How Sweet the Sound
10: Randy Travis: Worship & Faith
11: Iris DeMent: Lifeline
12: Ingrid Chun: What a Friend – Violin Hymns
13: Leontyne Price: A Heritage of Hymns
14: The Raleigh Ringers: The Raleigh Ringers
15: The New York Staff Band of the Salvation Army: New York Snapshots
16: Harding University Concert Choir: Most Requested Traditional Hymns
17: Glen Ellyn Chorale: 75 Favorite Hymns
18: The National Lutheran Choir: Hymns We Love to Sing

The words (based on Hebrews 10:22):

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long;
this is my story, this is my song,
praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight!
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest!
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with his goodness, lost in His love.

Wikipedia tells us that

The lyrics were written in 1873 by blind hymn writer Fanny J. Crosby to the music written in 1873 by Phoebe P. Knapp.

and says of Crosby:

Frances Jane Crosby (March 24, 1820 – February 12, 1915) usually known as Fanny Crosby, but sometimes as Frances van Alstyne, was an American lyricist best known for her Protestant Christian hymns. A lifelong Methodist, she was one of the most prolific hymnists in history, writing over 8,000 despite being blind since infancy. Also known for her public speaking, during her lifetime Fanny Crosby was one of the best known women in the United States.

adding that

Because some publishers were hesitant to have so many hymns by one person in their hymnals, Crosby used nearly 100 different pseudonyms during her career.

Crosby and Knapp:

As with “Jesus, the Light of the world”, the refrain of “Blessed assurance” has a different tune from the verses — in this case, giving two tunes that could be treated as counter-melodies in a harmonization. (A number of shapenote songs have parts with counter-melodies in them, usually the tenor (the usual melody line) and treble (usually high harmony), but sometimes other pairs.)

Both “Jesus, the Light of the world” and “Blessed assurance” appeared too late to count as an “old song” for C.H. Cayce, who compiled his wonderful assortment The Good Old Songs: The Cream of the Old Music, published in 1913 (I have a  1978 printing, the 34th). Good Old Songs has a large number of shapenote songs in it. In fact, the music is set in the four-shape notation of the Sacred Harp, but with the parts rearranged in the usual SATB fashion in two staffs, with the melody line assigned to sopranos, and the treble line of Sacred Harp settings moved down to the tenors. (Sacred Harp settings are in four staffs, treble, alto, tenor, bass from top to bottom.)

2 Responses to “Blessed Assurance”

  1. Black keys « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] say, “Blessed Assurance” can be anything other than African American in its origin (link). And look at the songs by the (white) gospel composer George D. Elderkin, for instance […]

  2. Blessed Assurance on Broadway | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] And for some discussion of the hymn, see this posting of mine. […]

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