American hymns that became hits

Still among the most popular songs in this country are those that began as hymns or spirituals. How well do you know the following songs - and their origins?

1. What do we let ring in "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (1832)?

2. As a weary pilgrim, what do you want to be "When the saints come marching in" (1946)?

3. What does he have in his possession in "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" (1958)?

4. What's the name of the river in "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" (1867)?

5. What will lead him who is lost and blind in "Amazing Grace" (1779)?

6.What kind of skies do we have in "America the Beautiful" (1920)?

7. Who's in the kitchen with Dinah in "I've Been Working on the Railroad" (1881)?


(1) Freedom (One of America's most revered patriotic songs was written by a young Harvard clergyman, the Rev. Samuel Francis Smith, in 1832. It was at Park Street Church in Boston where "America" was performed for the first time at a children's celebration on July 4.)

(2) 'In that number' (World-famous today as a jazz tune, 'Saints' had been played as a rousing, hand-clapping parade song in the South to reawaken thoughts of life in mourners returning from funerals.)

(3) The wind and the rain, the tiny little baby, you and me (This tune became one of America's top songs in 1958, and its roots are deep in the tradition of Negro spirituals. It has shown universal appeal, from revival meetings to concert halls.)

(4) Jordan, and it's deep and wide. (This song, from the Georgia Sea Islands, is a combination of two song idioms - the Negro spiritual and the sea chanty.

(5) Grace will lead him who is lost and blind home (This hymn is considered probably the most popular hymn in the English language; the words are by John Newton, who gave up his life as a slave-ship captain to become a minister.)

(6) Spacious (Inspired New Englander Katharine Lee Bates wrote a poem after her trip out West; years later the poem was matched to the music.)

(7) Someone, and he's strumming on an old banjo (Some people trace the oldest and most lasting railroad song to an old hymn adopted by Irish work gangs that built the rail lines west of the Mississippi.)

SOURCES: 'Best Loved Songs of the American People,' by Denes Agay; 'The American Song Treasury,' by Theodore Ralph; 'Popular Songs of 19 Century America,' by Richard Jackson.

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