So, as we said last week, Waxing the Gospel was originally a CD dedicated to the recordings of evangelist Ira D. Sankey. But then we decided to include the discs of his partner, Dwight L. Moody. And then the Sankey Quartette cylinders got added. Then we decided that the full commercial context was necessary. Now we had two discs.
The genesis for CD 3 came one day when our friend (now co-producer) Michael Devecka called. When we told him what we were working on, he said, “I’ve got a bunch of religious home recordings, if you’re interested in those.” He confessed he didn’t know anything about them but that several looked pretty fascinating. Indeed, they were. Spurred on by only the faintest of clues still included in the case that held the brown wax cylinders just as Mike had bought them, we undertook a significant research journey through old newspapers, genealogy websites, and archives to figure out what his records were.
The whole detective story is told in detail in the 408 pages of Waxing the Gospel, but in short: Mike’s cylinders were made by an amateur phonograph recordist named Henry A. Heath, a Manhattan optician, during the 1897 annual camp meeting at Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Heath captured many major stars and shining lights of Victorian-era Christian evangelism during the week-long schedule of events at the camp. He took them home to Jersey City and played them at his YMCA’s rescue mission and at other church events around Hudson County in a program he called “Echoes of Ocean Grove.” Clearly, Mr. Heath saw the phonograph as a tool for bringing comfort to the needy and spreading the Word in a novel way.
This find is nothing short of historic, and we know you’ll agree when you read the complete story and listen to the tracks in full. These tracks take about half of the third CD, while the second half is given over to vernacular recordings of sacred material from the 1890s: some by other church organizations and ministers in quasi-public settings, and others by ordinary people who show us 120 years later the way in which they waxed their faith privately, surrounded by family and friends.
Maybe you didn’t realize that the early phonographs had the ability both to play pre-recorded wax cylinders and to record on blank cylinders? Early adopters were enterprising sorts, eager to dive into the new technology. Just like with Recordio discs, reel-to-reel machines, and cassette decks in generations past, our ancestors in the 1890s experimented with recording and left to us a treasure chest of weird and wonderful sounds. Sometimes there are technical problems like wow and flutter or over-modulation or someone getting cut off, but they all have their charm and tell us things about the past that are not reducible to printed accounts. Don’t worry if you can’t catch all of the words–we’ve included full transcriptions of all selections in the book.
You can hear samples on our website. Let’s see what’s in store:
The first 17 tracks are from the Heath Cache made at Ocean Grove. We’ll have a big announcement about this initial recording coming soon.
- Jesus, Savior Pilot Me—Capt. Charles L. Estey, U.S. Church Army (1897)
Charles Estey was a “gospel soloist” who worked with Moody and others. His command is remarkable.
- Just Tell My Mother—Adjt. Edward Taylor, Salvation Army (1897)
Edward Taylor was known as “The Golden Minstrel,” well-known in Salvation Army circles for his singing specialties. Here he does a parody of “Just Tell Them that You Saw Me” to his own guitar accompaniment. That’s right—guitar.
- The Wayside Cross—Prof. John Sweney and Mrs. R. H. Carr [poss] (1897)
Our collaborator Uncle Dave Lewis sleuthed this track. It’s a hymn about religious pilgrims, and it plays a key role in our narrative. Prof. Sweney, as noted last week, was the musical director every summer at Ocean Grove, and this was his final summer. So we have Sweney represented on Waxing the Gospel both on professionally made celebrity records as well as on a vernacular recording.
- Service Cues—Harry Heath (1897)
We hear the voice of Heath himself reciting elements of a typical service.
- Haydn’s Creation: “The Marv’lous Work Beholds Amaz’d” (excerpt)—Ocean Grove Auditorium Choir (1897)
Another tough one that required outside help. Acoustically made choral recordings don’t work so well, because it’s too many people too far away from the horn. So, in trying to figure out what it is, we crowdsourced the audio and Rusty McKinney, a music minister from North Carolina, identified it as an aria from Haydn’s Creation.
- Sunlight—Winfield S. Weeden and Chorus (1897)
This jaunty hymn written by Winfield Weeden and Judson Van DeVenter was brand new when the composer led a chorus in singing it for Mr. Heath.
- Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep (fragment)—Trombone solo [Wm. Sulger, poss] (1897)
This fragment at the end of “Sunlight” shows that the “gospel trombone” tradition (Homer Rodeheaver, Bill Pearce) goes back into the nineteenth century. Wax was precious, so it was not at all uncommon for a recording engineer to stick something at the end of something else.
- The 23rd Psalm and The Good Shepherd—Rev. J. Reeves Daniels, OGCMA (1897)
Rev. Daniels was a board member of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association and led the Holiness Meetings at the camp. Interestingly, he railed against modernity at the 1897 camp meetings—but apparently going before Heath’s recording horn was not a problem.
- Almost Persuaded—Capt. Charles L. Estey, U.S. Church Army (1897)
Another beauty by Captain Estey, unaccompanied.
- Trusting Jesus (fragment)—Unknown (1897)
A few lines of a Sankey hymn tacked onto the end of “Almost Persuaded.”
- I Surrender All—Winfield S. Weeden, Josephine Sweney [poss] and Chorus (1897)
The more famous Weeden and Van DeVenter hymn, still sung today. We believe it may be Prof. Sweney’s daughter, Josephine, singing female lead.
- Saved by Grace—Winfield S. Weeden (1897)
Weeden and Fanny Crosby were close friends, and this recording of one her signature hymns makes us feel like we are in their presence.
- The Shepherd True—Moody Quartette (1897)
This may be the same quartet that accompanied Mr. Moody at the World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago in 1893, or it may be members of Moody’s Mt. Hermon seminary in Northfield, Massachusetts. Moody was especially fond of this song, which features a setting by George C. Stebbins.
- Why Do You Wait?—Quartet [“2 Hals, Fran & Jennie”] (1897)
A mixed quartet doing a piece by George F. Root.
- Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground—Cornet solo [Louise Linebarger, poss] (1897)
Louise Linebarger played cornet all over the country at revival services such as this. We think this is her.
- The Church Across the Way (excerpt) / Showers of Blessing (fragment)—Silas Leachman (ca. 1894-97) / Flute solo (ca. 1897)
The first two thirds of the cylinder featuring a popular “semi-religious” song are in very poor condition. We excerpt the ending, where Leachman concludes the song, plays “Nearer, My God, to Thee” on the organ. Afterwards, someone in Heath’s circle has appended a few bars of a flute solo doing James McGranahan’s “Showers of Blessing.” Thanks to Kevin Mungons for that I.D.!
- Lead Me, Savior and It is Well with My Soul— Rittersville Singing Club (ca. 1898-1900)
The next four tracks come from a subset called the Rittersville Cache in the collection of the Vernacular Wax Cylinder Collection at the University of California Santa Barbara Library. Here we have a children’s group recording two sacred standards.
- In That City— Rittersville Children’s Chorus (ca. 1898-1900)
Another group of children, this time sounding more adept, doing Charles J. Butler’s “In that City.”
- Looking That Way— Rittersville United Quartet (ca. 1898-1900)
A mixed quartet doing Judson Van DeVenter’s song from 1897.
- Hebrew Morning Hymn—Rittersville Choir (ca. 1898-1900)
The most professional of the Rittersville pieces. We believe this may have been a competition selection. It has an original setting to the second part.
- Will a Man Rob God?—Rev. Frederick A. Graves, Zion Church Illinois (ca. 1900)
Rev. Graves trained at Moody schools, but otherwise his ministry was far afield of the type practiced by most others represented on this set, affiliated as he was with Alexander Dowie at Zion Church in Illinois, and later at Dowie’s newly constructed Zion City. His text here is taken verbatim from Malachi 3: 8-12.
- The Power of God—Rev. Frederick A. Graves, Zion Church Illinois (ca. 1900)
Both Graves records are concert cylinders. Here he expands his Old Testament worldview to include the story of Christian salvation.
- Poem: “Resting in His Love”—Anna Maria Sawyer (Apr. 1894)
The Sawyers were a well-to-do merchant family from Boston. You had to have money to have a phonograph in 1894.
- Testimony and A Little Talk with Jesus Makes it Right, All Right—Rev. C. Herbert Rust and Bertha W. Rust (May 1894)
The Rusts were a newly married young couple in the service of Warren Avenue Baptist Church in Boston and friends of the Sawyers. Rev. Rust would go on to have a remarkable career.
- Birthday Celebration and Rock of Ages & Old Hundred—Mr. Joseph Sawyer and family (Oct. 1894)
Thirteen different people speak on this loving tribute to the Sawyer patriarch celebrating his 70th birthday. We have identified all thirteen of them!
- To Each of the Scholars of Bethany and The Pillar of Cloud & Collect—Frank L. Embree (ca. 1897-98)
Another man of means, Mr. Embree recites some of his favorite devotional verses, including a poem of encouragement by retail magnate John Wanamaker that he sent to his Sunday School charges.
- Nearer, My God, to Thee—“My Dearly Departed Mother” (ca. 1895–99)
One reads in newspapers of the 1890s from astonished reporters of cases where a person recorded a hymn—most frequently, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”–only to have it played back at that person’s funeral. This is one of those.
- Down at the Cross—D. B. Broad [?] (1895)
A rough specimen but an important song, under-represented in the early recording canon. We surmise that it may actually be a test record for Edison.
- Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior—Ernest V. Parcells [?] (ca. 1898)
The name is a phonetic guess. Can you make it out?
- What a Friend We Have in Jesus—Charles Taylor & His Two Daughters (ca. 1898)
This family celebrates joyfully together. Too bad they didn’t tell us where they lived or what the date was…
- Thanksgiving Greetings and Nearer, My God, to Thee & Psalm 103—C. W. Crary family, Friends & cat (1898)
The Crary family of suburban Chicago, on the other hand, tell us right down to the time of day what they are doing and who is present for this recording. They even include their feline friend in the proceedings.
- The Holy City—Miss Grace Marvin (ca. 1898-99)
Miss Marvin, from Norwich NY, was a school music teacher.
- De Massa ob de Sheepfol’ and God Is Now Here—Harry Heath (ca. 1896-1900)
We conclude with a few odds and ends of the Heath Cache that do not appear to have been made at the camp meeting. Here Heath recites a very popular poem (a dialect tale very similar to the Parable of the Lost Sheep) and a bit of traditional lore.
- Prohibition Speech—Harry Heath (ca. 1896-1900)
Heath ran for the New Jersey Assembly on the Prohibition ticket, and this probably dates to that time. It’s rough but an essential document for you historians out there.
- Barnyard (Quiet in the Country) and The Holy City—Harry Heath & unknown female (ca. 1896-1900)
Heath has a little fun imitating barnyard animals and ending with a slightly irreverent joke at the expense of the most popular “semi-sacred” parlor song, “The Holy City.”
And now, we have revealed the entire contents of Waxing the Gospel. Well, almost… you have the first 100, and there’s two left for special announcements. Stay tuned!