Submitted by Gary Moss
James McGranahan was a national composer of hymns and a singer for the evangelical meetings held by Daniel Whittle during the great wave of revivals at the end of the 19th Century.
Born near Adamsville, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1840, McGranahan entered the Normal Music School at Genesco, New York at the age of 19. Gifted with a rare tenor voice, his teachers urged him to train for a career in the opera. He embarked on a successful career as a music teacher, composer and singer, and at the age of 36, was still contemplating a career in opera when he received a letter from his close friend Phillip Paul Bliss.
Bliss, himself a singer who performed at the revival meetings of evangelist Daniel Whittle, compared McGranahan’s years of musical training to a man whetting his scythe, and urged his friend to “stop whetting his scythe and strike into the grain to reap for the Master.”
Days after sending that letter, Bliss and his wife Lucy boarded a Pacific Express train for Chicago and were among 92of the 159 passengers who perished on Dec. 29, 1876 when a trestle bridge in Ashtabula collapsed as their train crossed over it.
McGranahan rushed to the accident scene, where he met Whittle. As Whittle later described the encounter, “At Ashtabula a man came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Bliss was one of my dearest friends. My name is McGranahan.’”
Whittle instantly recognized the name. Before Bliss mailed his letter to McGranahan, he had read it aloud to Whittle. As soon as McGranahan spoke his name, Whittle later wrote, he knew “the man who stood before him was the very man Bliss had chosen to replace him.”
And he did.
Later, manuscripts from an old trunk that had somehow survived the crash were sent to Whittle, including the words to a song called “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” for which Bliss had not yet written a tune.
“Mr. McGranahan prayed that he might wed it to music,” Whittle later recounted. “One day while sitting in my room I heard singing, and I went to listen. Then I heard for the first time the song that may be said to be Mr. Bliss’ dying testimony of what Christ was to him.”
Soon thereafter, the hymn became of the first songs recorded by Thomas Alva Edison.
The association between the two men lasted for 11 years as they crisscrossed the country singing and preaching. They also made two visits to Great Britain and Ireland; for the second, in 1883, they were joined by evangelist Dwight L. Moody and singer Ira Sankey.
Failing health forced McGranahan to retire in 1887 and he and his wife Addie moved to Kinsman where they bought and remodeled an 1840s Greek Revival cut-stone mansion on Main Street with magnificent woodwork and a huge stained window from France. It was here over the last years of his life that McGranahan composed some of his most famous hymns, including “The Banner of the Cross,” “Sometime We’ll Understand,” and “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings.”
When he died on July 9, 1907, funeral services were held in his home with W.R. Moody, the son of the D.L. Moody, presiding to pay tribute to his father’s old friend.
The home on Main Street is now Baumgardner Funeral Home.