Fanny Crosby


Fanny Crosby : biography

March 24, 1820 – February 12, 1915

Career in writing hymns (1864–1915)

Crosby was "the most prolific of all nineteenth-century American sacred song writers". By the end of her career she had written almost 9,000 hymns, using scores of noms de plume assigned to her by publishers who wanted to disguise the proliferation of her compositions in their publications.One source asserts that Crosby used 216 different pen names. See Ian C. Bradley, Abide with Me: The World of Victorian Hymns (GIA Publications, 1997):172. It is estimated that books containing her lyrics sold 100 million copies.Marie A. Asner, "Fanny Crosby" Music Poet", The American Organist 22:7–12 (American Guild of Organists, 1988):19. However, due to the low regard for lyricists in the popular song industry during her lifetime, and what June Hadden Hobbs sees as "the hypocrisy of sacred music publishers" which resulted for Crosby in "a sad and probably representative tale of exploitation of female hymn writers",Hobbs (1997), p. 146. and the contemporary perception that "Crosby made a very profitable living off writing songs that were sung (and played) by the masses",Richard F. Selcer, ed., Civil War America, 1850 to 1875, rev. ed. (Infobase Publishing, 2006):xix. "like many of the lyricists of the day, Crosby was exploited by copyright conventions that assigned rights not to the lyricist but to the composer of the music… Crosby was paid a flat fee of one or two dollars a hymn".David Ware Stowe, How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans (Harvard University Press, 2004):103. In her 1906 autobiography, Crosby insisted that she wrote her hymns "in a sanctified manner", and never for financial or commercial considerations, and that she had donated her royalties to "worthy causes".Candy Gunther Brown, The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789–1880 (UNC Press Books, 2004):197–198. Crosby set a goal of winning a million people to Christ through her hymns, and whenever she wrote a hymn she prayed it would bring women and men to Christ, and kept careful records of those reported to have been saved through her hymns.Robert J. Morgan, 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know by Heart (B&H Publishing Group, 2010):38.

Referring to Crosby’s songs, the Dictionary of American Religious Biography indicated: "by modern standards her work may be considered mawkish or too sentimental. But their simple, homey appeal struck a responsive chord in Victorian culture. Their informal ballad style broke away from the staid, formal approach of earlier periods, touching deep emotions in singers and listeners alike. Instead of dismissing her words as maudlin or saccharine, audiences thrilled to them as the essence of genuine, heartfelt Christianity".Henry Warner Bowden, "Crosby, Frances Jane", in Dictionary of American Religious Biography, 2nd ed. (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1993):132. Crosby’s hymns were popular because they placed "a heightened emphasis on religious experiences, emotions, and testimonies" and reflected "a sentimental, romanticized relationship between the believer and Christ", rather than using the negative descriptions of earlier hymns that emphasised the sinfulness of people.Edith Blumhofer, in Debra Lee Sonners Stewart, "Music in the Ministry of Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson", a Master of Arts thesis presented to the California State University, Fullerton, CA (ProQuest, 2006):149, 262.

Ann Douglas argues that Crosby was one of the female authors who "emasculated American religion" and helped shift it from "a rigorous Calvinism" to "an anti-intellectual and sentimental mass culture".Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture, in Blumhofer (2005), p. xiv. Feminist scholars have suggested that "emphases in her hymns both revealed and accelerated the feminizing of American evangelicalism".Blumhofer (2005), p. xiv.