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Philip P. Bliss: A Biographical Sketch

P. P. BlissPhilip Paul Bliss, composer and singer, was born in Clearfield county, Pa., July 9, 1838. His early life was spent in farming districts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, where opportunities for culture were not afforded, and he was ten years of age before he first heard a piano. At the age of thirteen he united with the Baptist church at Elk Run, Pa., and even in his earlier years had been of a serious turn of mind.

Up to 1855 he worked as a farmer and woodcutter, attending school now and then, and by 1856 had acquired enough education to enable him to teach school, his first experience as a pedagogue being at Hartsvllle, N.Y. In the winter of 1857 he attended a singing school for the first time, at Towanda, Pa., and a musical convention at Rome, N.Y., which brought him long-wished-for opportunities, and in 1860 he entered the Normal Academy of Music at Geneseo, N.Y. His voice developed into a bass of great range and beauty, and in the winter of 1860 he started on his career by teaching music and composing songs, which, however, had little more than a local reputation. About this time be made the acquaintance of George F. Root, who encouraged his efforts, and in 1865 Mr. Bliss entered into an arrangement with the firm of Root & Cady of Chicago, being engaged to conduct musical conventions in the northwestern states. He was also heard in oratorio, and sang the bass solos in "The Messiah" and "Elijah," with tremendous effect.

During one of his tours he met the evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, and a strong friendship sprang up between them. The result was that Mr. Bliss began to spend considerable time in the composition of sacred music in the form of songs, and in evangelistic labors. In 1874 he gave up all other work to devote himself to conducting revival meetings, chiefly in connection with Maj. D.W. Whittle, and by his manly character, his winning address, and his earnest spirit and his magnetic voice, had great power over his audiences.

His first songs were set to music by George F. Root, but those by which he became best known were wholly his own production. The most popular, "Hold the Fort," was inspired by a message signaled during the civil war by Gen. William T. Sherman. Others scarcely less popular were "Only an Armor Bearer," "Rescue the Perishing," "Pull for the Shore," and "Hallelujah! tis done!" Four collections of his songs were published: "The Charm" (1871); "The Song Tree" (1872); "The Joy" (1873), and "Gospel Songs" (1874).

He and his wife [Lucy J. Young whom he married June 1, 1859] perished in a railway disaster near Ashtabula, Ohio, Dec. 29, 1876. His "Memoirs," by Maj. Whittle, were published in 1877.

From The National Cyclopædia of American Biography... New York: James T. White & Company, 1898. Vol. 8.

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