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Dr. D. Brink Towner: Composer of Gospel Songs and Hymns

by Jacob Henry Hall

Daniel TownerThe subject of this sketch, Daniel B. Towner, was born March 5, 1850, at Rome, Pennsylvania, [United States], where he was reared, and received an academic education. His father, Prof. J. G. Towner, was a singer and a music teacher of quite a reputation, and it was from him that the son received his early musical training.

At the age of seventeen he was exploited through Pennsylvania, southern New York and eastern Ohio as "the wonderful boy bass," appearing in many concerts where he sang the popular bass solos of the day, such as "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep," "The Old Sexton," "Down by the Sea," "The King and the Miller," etc., etc.

A few years later he began to teach vocal music and conduct musical institutes and conventions. He also gained quite a reputation as an oratorio baritone soloist. During the years that he was thus engaged he was studying music with such men as John Howard, of New York, Dr. Geo. F. Root, of Chicago, Geo. Jas. Webb, of Boston, and others.

From his early youth he had dreams of some day being a composer and began to write songs and anthems even before he had studied harmony. Like many of our modern gospel song writers he began by writing secular songs, some humorous, and some sentimental. But as he became more actively engaged in the conducting of church music, these gave way for the gospel songs which have made him so widely known.

In December, 1870, Mr. Towner was married to Miss Mary E. McGonigle, who was a beautiful singer, and they soon settled in Binghamton, New York, where he had charge of the music in the Centenary M[ethodist] E[piscopal] Church. During these years he was an ardent student and conducted many musical institutes and conventions in connection with his church work.

In the fall of 1882 he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where for two years he had charge of the music in the York Street M. E. Church. He was then called to the Union M. E. Church of Covington, Kentucky, where he remained until the fall of 1885, when he joined Dwight L. Moody in evangelistic work, conducting the music and singing solos in that connection in most of the large cities of the United States and Canada.

He also had charge of the music for several years at the College Students' Conference at Mount Hermon and Northfield, Massachusetts. In the fall of 1893, he assumed the superintendency of the music in the Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, where by his ability as an organizer and teacher he has succeeded in establishing one of the most unique and prosperous training schools for gospel singers in the world. It can be confidently said that most of the noted gospel singers of the present day [written 1915] have either been trained by, or have had personal contact with, Dr. Towner.

In September, 1900, the degree of Music Doctor was conferred upon him by the University of Tennessee.

Dr. Towner is one among the world's most prolific gospel song writers. He has published more than two thousand compositions, and this only represents a part of his work as a musical composer. He has edited in part, or wholly, fourteen books, three of which have been for male voices and one for female voices.

His songs have literally belted the world, and are to be found in most of the hymn and tune books both in America and the British Empire. In more recent years he has spent considerable time in Great Britain in connection large evangelistic meetings and prominent churches in London, Manchester, Dublin, Belfast, Dundee, and Edinburgh.

Dr. Towner is also by common consent one of the greatest evangelistic singers and leaders living. His ability to lead a great chorus and congregation is unsurpassed, while as a teacher of gospel song and composer he stands in the front rank.

The following are a few of his most popular compositions: "Anywhere With Jesus," "Trust and Obey," "Paul and Silas," "Redeemed," "Nor Silver Nor Gold," "Saving Grace," "The Hand that Was Wounded for Me," "Full Surrender," "Would You Believe," "Only a Sinner," "Victory in My Soul," "God's Skies are Blue," "Grace that is Greater Than Our Sin," "Love Took Him to the Cross," etc.

Dr. Towner has accomplished a great work for God and humanity, and we hope he may be spared for many more years of usefulness. [Dr. Towner died October 3, 1919.]

From Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers by J. H. Hall. New York: Fleming H. Revell, ©1914.

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