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Bliss, Philip Paul (09 July 1838–29 December 1876), hymnodist and musical evangelist, was born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, the son of Isaac Bliss and Lydia Doolittle, farmers. As an adolescent, he worked on farms and in lumber camps. Bliss proclaimed his personal conversion to Christ in 1850 and joined a Baptist church. After attending a select school in East Troy, Pennsylvania, in 1855 and working on a farm during the summer, he taught school in Hartsville, New York, during the winter of 1856. The following year he received his first formal instruction in music at J. G. Towner’s music school in Towanda, Pennsylvania. During 1858 Bliss taught school in Rome, Pennsylvania, where he boarded with the Young family. In 1859 he married Lucy Young, the oldest daughter of his hosts; the couple had two children. In the early 1860s Bliss taught music at Pennsylvania schools during the winter months, worked on his father-in-law’s farm during the summer, and attended occasional normal academies of music in Geneseo, New York....

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Campbell, Lucie E. (1885–03 January 1963), gospel composer and teacher, was born in Duck Hill, Mississippi, the daughter of Burrell Campbell, a railroad worker, and Isabella Wilkerson. Her mother was widowed several months after Lucie’s birth, and the family soon moved from Carroll County to Memphis, the nearest major city. Lucie and her many siblings struggled to survive on their mother’s meager wages, which she earned by washing and ironing clothing. Given the family’s insubstantial income, it could afford a musical education for only one child: Lucie’s older sister Lora. Lucie eventually learned to play piano, however, through her own persistence, a gifted ear for music, and a little help from Lora....

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Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson

Davis, Gary D. (30 April 1896–05 May 1972), guitarist and religious singer, was born in Laurens County, South Carolina, south of Spartanburg, the son of John Davis and Evelina (maiden name unknown), farmers. One of eight children, he grew up on a farm he later described as being so far out in the country “you couldn’t hear a train whistle blow unless it was on a cloudy day.” Partially blinded as a baby, Davis was placed in the care of his grandmother. He showed an aptitude for music as a boy, first playing harmonica and later, with his grandmother’s help, constructing a guitar. When he was between the ages of seven and ten his mother gave him a guitar, and over the next several years he became proficient, possibly learning from a local musician, Craig Fowler, and an uncle. By age ten he was singing in a Baptist church and playing for local dances. In his teens Davis began adding blues to a repertoire that already included country dance tunes and religious songs....

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Oatman, Johnson, Jr. (21 April 1856–25 September 1922), gospel hymn writer, was born near Medford, New Jersey, the son of Johnson Oatman, a merchant, and Rachel Ann Cline. Educated at Herbert’s Academy, Vincetown, and the New Jersey Collegiate Institute, Bordentown, he was licensed and ordained as a local preacher in the Methodist Episcopal church but never held a pastorate. He married Wilhelmina Ried in 1878; they had three children. After working for many years with his father in Lumberton, New Jersey, he became associated with a life-insurance company in Mount Holly, New Jersey. In failing health in 1893, he retired to the seaside resort community of Ocean Grove, New Jersey. A “stronghold of Methodist Victorianism,” Ocean Grove was a permanent site of carefully-regulated summer camp meetings patronized by urban middle-class evangelical Protestants in search of rest, wholesome recreation, and spiritual renewal (Jones, p. 33)....

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Rodeheaver, Homer Alvin (04 October 1880–18 December 1955), evangelist, musician, and music publisher, was born in Cinco Hollow, Ohio, the son of Thurman Hall Rodeheaver, who was in the lumber mill business, and Francis “Fannie” Armstrong. As a young man growing up in the mountain logging village of Jellico, in East Tennessee, he was exposed to rural singing school music and fiddle dance music from the Scots-Irish settlers in the area. As a boy he also learned to play the cornet. He attended Ohio Wesleyan College in 1896; there he switched to trombone, played in the college band, took music courses, and served as a cheerleader. He interrupted college to serve in the Fourth Tennessee Band in the Spanish-American War, and after the war, though initially drawn to the law, in about 1904 he joined evangelist ...

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Sankey, Ira David (28 August 1840–14 August 1908), singing evangelist and gospel songwriter, was born in Edinburg, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, the son of David Sankey and Mary Leeper. Sankey’s father was a Pennsylvania state representative, collector of internal revenue, member of the State Board of Equalization, and newspaper editor. During Sankey’s childhood his father also farmed in West Central Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border. The family attended King’s Chapel near Western Reserve Harbor, where Sankey was converted during revival meetings in 1856. In 1857, when Sankey’s father accepted the presidency of a local bank, the family moved to New Castle, Pennsylvania, where Sankey joined the New Castle Methodist Church. By 1860 he was Sunday school superintendent and choir director....

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Ira D. Sankey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108534).