Born of the Spirit—in Boyhood
Entered Upon His Work as Singing
Fell Asleep in Jesus July 9, 1907
His Favorite Verse
"To know him was to love him," has been as strikingly true of few men as it was of the subject of this sketch. Possessed of a most lovable disposition, a face that beamed with the kindness in which his heart was so rich, with rare gifts in conversation, a master in music, and with a very passion to make others happy, a vast multitude valued his friendship as a great treasure. The home-going of James McGranahan left a vacancy in this world for many hearts.
In the flood of letters with messages of sympathy and appreciation that poured in upon Mrs. McGranahan after he was laid away, the desire was variously expressed that there might be some fitting memorial to his beautiful and useful life. That some of these tributes may be permanently preserved for Mrs. McGranahan in her great loneliness, and at the same time gratify the desire of a large number of friends on both sides of the Atlantic, this Memorial is prepared.
His Early Life
Mr. James McGranahan was born July 4, 1840, near Adamsville, Pa., his ancestry being mainly of Scotch-Irish descent. His grandfather came, a young, unmarried man, from near Belfast, Ireland, sometime previous to the War of the Revolution, in which he was for a time enlisted. He married a Miss Smith, of English parentage, and settled in Westmoreland County, Pa., later removing to Crawford County, Pa. There he purchased what is known as the Wade farm, near Hartstown, where he lived the remainder of his life. His youngest son, George, married Miss Jane Blair and settled on a farm near Adamsville, where there were born to them twelve children, of whom James was the ninth. Most of the brothers and sisters shared to some extent the musical gift that made James famous.
James spent his boyhood on the farm, and was designed by his practical father as the one who should remain at home in charge of the old homestead. The old-fashioned neighborhood "Singing School" was then in vogue, and from that institution many noted musicians were started on their career, notably: Bliss, Sankey and McGranahan. In this institution he, even as a boy, was not only pupil but soon became assistant by playing the bass viol. At the age of nineteen he was the teacher and soon became one of the most popular in his section of the State. He longed for the opportunity of further musical study, but how to get it was no ordinary proposition, for his father's notions of the value of a musical education were far from comforting to his rising ambition. With characteristic pluck, he finally gained his point and won his father's reluctant consent by not only earning all his expenses, but also employing a man in his place on the farm, while he pursued his musical studies. It is easily surmised that he improved well his opportunities. That his father later revised his notions about the value of a musical education, was very evident when no one rejoiced more than he that his son was being so marvelously used of God in winning souls through the power of persuasive song.
James McGranahan's own hardships in securing an education meant much to the boys and girls of the next generation, for the memory of his own struggles and his life-long regret that his literary and musical advantages had not been greater, begat the deepest sympathy for those situated as was he. Scores of boys and girls at Northfield and other schools will hold in everlasting remembrance the timely help of Mr. and Mrs. James McGranahan, who made for them an education possible.
Preparation for and Beginning of His Musical Career
At the age of nineteen he entered the Normal Music School founded at Geneseo, N. Y., by William B. Bradbury, where he pursued his studies under T. E. Perkins, Carlo Bassini, and other eminent teachers.
Mr. Wilbur A. Christy, a friend and associate of Mr. McGranahan, thus describes the years of preparation and early achievement, and the steps by which he was led to consecrate himself to the work of singing evangelist:
"The first term at this school was a veritable revelation to the young singer, unfolding to his vision as in a panorama the boundless wealth and beauty of song, at which he had as yet but dimly guessed. Henceforth his life was given to music and song. Here, too, he learned other lessons than those set down in the books, for here he met the young lady who afterwards became his wife, who, being a ready accompanist, became a most efficient helper in his later institute, convention and evangelistic work.
"In 1862 he became associated with the late J. G. Towner, and for two years they held conventions and made concert tours in the states of Pennsylvania and New York, giving great satisfaction in the work. He now continued his musical studies under Bassini, Webb, O'Neill, and others, studying the art of teaching with that prince of teachers, Dr. George F. Root, the art of conducting with Carl Zerrahn, harmony under J. C. D. Parker, F. W. Root, and, later, George A. Macfarren, of London. In 1875 he accepted a position in the management of the National Normal Institute. Here he served as director and teacher for three years, Dr. George F. Root continuing as principal. During this time he was winning an enviable reputation in his convention work, and by his glee, chorus and class music, and Sabbath school songs published from time to time. His equipment at this time for a successful career as a musical teacher and composer was complete. He had become a cultured musician, with a wide and growing reputation, his solo work attracting much attention, and even more alluring prospects were opening before him. Though he knew it not, God was fitting him for His own work, and at this time was leading him on to the 'parting of the ways,' where his decision would determine all his future.
"From his earliest years his rare tenor voice had been the wonder and delight of all who heard it, and now from some of his most eminent teachers came the proposal that he should enter upon a course of special training for the operatic stage, in which career it was felt he would certainly achieve fame and fortune. It was a dazzling prospect; but, on the other hand, his intimate friend, P. P. Bliss, who had given his wondrous voice to the service of song for Christ, was urging him to do the same. Comparing his long course of study and training to a man whetting his scythe, he insisted that his friend should 'stop whetting his scythe, and strike into the grain to reap for the Master.' Mr. McGranahan, however, felt distrustful both of his adaptation to such work and of his call to enter upon it.
"While matters were in this undecided state came the dreadful catastrophe at Ashtabula, in which Bliss was swept away, and in the sorrow of that terrible bereavement, in the upward look for comfort and guidance, and in the confident assurance of Major Whittle that he was to take up the work of the lost singer, doubt and hesitancy gradually faded away, and his course became clear. When he became willing that God should decide for him, the decision came at once. Not only by the assurance in his own mind, but by the speedy receipt of letters from various places where he had engagements for musical work, asking that they be postponed or canceled, until of engagements covering about three months not one was left him; he was free. If the operatic world lost a star, the Christian world gained one of its sweetest gospel singers, and the hand of God was manifest in it all."
Major D. W. Whittle thus describes his first meeting with Mr. McGranahan:
"A week before Mr. Bliss left me he was writing at the table one day, and he read to me a letter he had written. He said it was to a man he very much wanted to see in Gospel work; he could write music and sing, and he wanted him to sing for the Lord. He asked me if I knew any evangelist who would go with his friend McGranahan. I said I did not know of anybody; but if he would consecrate himself to God someone would be raised up to accompany him. At Ashtabula a man came up to me and said, 'Mr. Bliss was one of my dearest friends; my name is McGranahan.' There stood before me the very man whom Mr. Bliss had chosen. We went to Chicago; and there it pleased God to give my brother a great blessing in his soul. Among Mr. Bliss' papers that came by luggage train there were many manuscripts, and amongst others the words of the song, 'My Redeemer.' Mr. McGranahan prayed that he might be able to wed it to music. 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.
An Evangelist and Gospel Song Writer
With a consecration that was most thorough, Mr. and Mrs. McGranahan entered their new field, and to their great joy found it most congenial. For eleven years he and Maj. D. W. Whittle were associated as true yoke fellows in evangelistic work in various parts of the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland. Two visits were made to Great Britain, the first in 1880, when they had great success in meetings in which the leading ministers of the Kingdom cooperated, in London, Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Belfast, and other places. The second visit was made in 1883, when they were associated with Messrs. Moody and Sankey.
Mr. McGranahan's music has a quality that is all its own. It is characterized by strength and vigor. Much that he has written will live in the permanent hymnology of the Church. Such songs as "My Redeemer," "I Shall be Satisfied," "The Crowning Day," "Showers of Blessing," "O, how Love I Thy Law," and many others will voice the praise of future generations in their worship of God.
Among the more elaborate pieces that Mr. McGranahan wrote, "I am the Resurrection and the Life" has a power in its cumulative effect and grandeur of treatment that would be hard to surpass.
Mr. McGranahan was pioneer in the use of the male choir in Gospel song. When holding meetings at Worcester, Mass., a draught which had not been noticed laid aside for the time being all the female voices, and he found himself with a chorus of male voices only. Always resourceful, he quickly adapted the music to male voices and the meetings went on with great power. What was necessity at first became a most popular and effective agency in the Gospel work. Soon was published "Gospel Male Choir" Nos. 1 and 2, and the Male Choir and Quartet are recognized forces in the Church today.
To Mr. McGranahan was due also the introduction of the unadorned words of Scripture to striking airs and harmonies. He loved the Word, and if he could make the exact words of Scripture do service as the chorus of a hymn he always did so.
The United Presbyterian Church owes much to Mr. McGranahan in the service he rendered in setting to appropriate music the Psalms as used in the "Bible Songs." Some of his best music was written for this purpose.
Enforced Retirement, But Great Activity
In 1887 a break in Mr. McGranahan's health compelled him to give up active work in the evangelistic field. It was then that he builded his beautiful home among his old friends at Kinsman, Ohio, and settled down to devote himself, in his semi-retirement, to the composition of music which would still make him a sharer in the evangelistic work of the period, at the same time earnestly longing and praying that, if the Master willed, he might again enter the evangelistic field, and be used directly in that in which his heart so delighted—the winning of souls. This wish was denied him, but the Church is richer in its hymnology through his disappointment. Though his health demanded limited hours at his desk, yet he was a prodigious toiler while he could work, and a large number of his best hymns were written in these days. He left a large number of unpublished hymns, which Mrs. McGranahan, with the aid of her nephew. Prof. Hugh H. McGranahan, will edit and publish in the near future.
The Kinsman home, in the years of his retirement from public life, became the center of healthful social life and deep religious influence in a way that will cause it to be remembered as a model home. Mr. McGranahan was a prince of entertainers. He loved good fellowship, and was masterful in blending the highest of the social with the deepest of the spiritual so that the former was sanctified and the latter made effective in every-day life. Without effort, apparently, on his part, his guests would be treated to the most delightful social feast, and, with all the naturalness that ought to be, some appropriate hymns and a word of prayer would close the pleasant hours.
Without children of his own and a great fondness for young life, his large circle of nieces and nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, as well as other friends, counted a visit to "Uncle James" something to be looked forward to from one time to the next with special delight. His sunny disposition drew all life to him, but it was especially true of the young lives who found in him so faithful a friend.
His home life was ideal. It required no wall mottoes to proclaim that his was a Christian home. The very atmosphere was permeated with the spirit of the Master. He lived near his Savior, and in the glad assurance of a present salvation and a confident expectation of his Lord's second coming, he was the apostle, at home and abroad, of a Gospel of Good Cheer and Love.
Never did husband and wife more beautifully and fully supplement each other than did Mr. and Mrs. McGranahan. Rich musical gifts, with which both were endowed, first brought them together. The harmony of those two rare voices as they blended so beautifully in some uplifting Gospel song, was like the harmony of the two lives that blended so perfectly that they seemed made for each other.
The Last Days
For eleven years diabetes had waged a steady warfare against Mr. McGranahan's health. Valiantly and cheerfully he had met its attacks, but the inevitable had to come. During the winter of 1906-7 he had suffered much from increasing weakness, and when spring began to appear he was quite emaciated, and his growing weakness was indication that the end might not be far away. In his anxiety to relieve Mrs. McGranahan as far as possible of the burden of caring for him, as well as a hope that a change of treatment might enable him to regain strength for some further service for the Master, he went to the hospital at Meadville, Pa., where he remained till within three weeks of his death. The treatment was beneficial and contributed much to his comfort in his last weeks. His mind was stayed on God, and he was kept in perfect peace. He expressed himself as longing to depart and be with Christ, which was far better, but regretted leaving in loneliness the wife who was so dear to him. His concern for her, even to the last, was very tender. As the end drew near he longed to return to the Kinsman home. His desire was granted, and tenderly he was taken back to the place so dear to him. The change revived him, and his friends found him so bright and cheerful that it was impossible to believe that the hand of death was upon him. Slowly he seemed to "slip away," as he himself expressed it, until on July 9, after three days of unconsciousness, he went home to meet the Savior whom he loved so well, and served so faithfully, and a great host of kindred spirits who closely associated here had gone on before.
The precious body, in which so choice a spirit had dwelt, was laid where the piano had stood in the room that had been consecrated by the birth of many an inspiring hymn, and where his voice, now hushed forever on earth, had so often lifted souls near to their Christ. Death had stilled the voice and closed the eyes, but had not robbed his face of its kindly smile and loving benediction that lingered for the hundreds from far and near who had been drawn thither by the love they bore him.
On Friday, July 12, the funeral services were held in the home. Mr. W. R. Moody had left the Northfield Conference of which he was in charge, that he might bring a tribute of love to his father's friend and his, and representing his wife who is a daughter of Major D. W. Whittle, the "true yoke fellow" of Mr. McGranahan in evangelistic work, his well-chosen words made very real that glorious reunion of those choice spirits in the better land. Rev. E. A. Jester, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Cambridge, Ohio, but formerly a fellow townsman of Mr. McGranahan, came to tell what the influence of that godly man had been upon him, and how much he had loved him. Rev. F. A. Kerns, for several years Mr. McGranahan's pastor, and now of Youngstown, Ohio, spoke feelingly of the life that had been so much to him in his early ministry, and whose taking away he felt so keenly. Rev. L. P. McCulloch, pastor of the Kinsman church, of which Mr. McGranahan was a member, very appropriately conducted the services and spoke fitting words from a heart sore with a great personal loss. The Church choir, who were all warm friends of Mr. McGranahan, and from him had received such constant help and encouragement, sang from his own hymns messages of Faith and Hope.
Flowers in profusion were lavished upon the casket. Loving friends had lined the grave with white, and festooned it with beautiful floral and green covering, and in this, located in the beautiful Kinsman cemetery, was placed the body of James McGranahan, to await the coming of the returning Lord, which blessed hope entered so fully into his life.
Many incidental references to the influences of Mr. McGranahan's life were heard in conversation among the friends at the funeral, such as these: "No voice ever reached me as did his;" "James is gone, but a life like his will never die;" "When I first knew him his voice was said to be impaired, but he still had more music in his voice than I ever heard in any other man;" "He came into my life at the time I was young in the ministry, and I thank God for the blessing of knowing him;" I never met with him but that my Savior was more to me because He was so much to him."
If James McGranahan sent forth a piece of music, or wrote a letter of business or friendship, it would go winged with a fervent prayer that it might be used to the glory of God. With a like fervent prayer this sketch of his life, so inadequate and so poorly portraying it, is written by one who has prized his love as one of the Heavenly Father's best gifts, and who is profoundly grateful for all the help and inspiration from the home and lives of these consecrated servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, Mr. and Mrs. James McGranahan.
His was a voice that was tuneful in song,
Sweet are the notes he has woven in song.
Tender his strains, yet so earnest and strong.
Oft as his music rings out on the air,
Rest thee, dear brother, so gentle and true,
From James McGranahan... In Memoriam. Pittsburg, PA: Murdoch, Kerr and Co., .
>> More James McGranahan