Monday, September 21, 2015

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) and the Parables (part 1)

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)


I am please about the diversity of music that I have been able to include in the book. Chapter 1 includes a discussion of a kontakion by Romanos the Melodist, the great Byzantine poet and hymn writer. One of the topics in Chapter 3 is Anna Jansz, who is immortalized in the 18th Hymn of the Ausbund. Chapter 5 has a discussion about the blues song, “The Prodigal Son,” by Robert Wilkins and also delves into the relationship between blues music in general and the Prodigal Son parable.

In Chapter 4 I have a discussion of the famous lyricist/hymn writer Fanny Crosby, and I discovered that some of her lyrics incorporated parables in ways that are more complex than they first appear. So let me offer some insights into her work and the parables in the next few posts:

Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby wrote lyrics for over 8000 hymns, which makes her in all likelihood the most pro­lif­ic hymn­ist in his­to­ry. Crosby became blind as an infant, which her family attributed to incompetent medical care for an inflammation of the eyes. Although she could perceive some light, Crosby remained blind for the rest of her ninety-five years.

Crosby entered the New York Institution for the Blind in 1835, and, because of her talent, soon became a spokesperson for the school. In 1844, for example, along with other students from the Institution, she spoke to a group of dignitaries—including members of the U. S. House and Senate. She recited some of her poems and sought to enlist their support for the blind and other disabled persons. Her poems were also published in such magazines as Saturday Evening Post, and she published her first book of poetry in 1844, The Blind Girl and Other Poems, a book that served primarily as a fund-raising vehicle for the Institution (Blumhofer 2005: 62-65; Aufdemberge 1997: 675)

After graduation, Crosby served on the school’s faculty from 1847-1858, where she met and became friends with a young Grover Cleveland, who taught at the school, served as secretary to the superintendent, and often took dictation of Crosby’s poetry (Blumhofer 2005: 87). Crosby began attending revivals at Methodist Broadway Tabernacle, and in the fall of 1850 had a dramatic religious experience, the culmination of which occurred during the fifth stanza of Isaac Watts’s hymn, “Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed?” (Ruffin 1976: 68).


Crosby left the Institution for the Blind in 1858, when she married Alexander van Alstyne, and the couple moved to an economically disadvantaged area of Lower Manhattan so they could contribute their “superfluous” money to others and work in rescue missions. After Alexander’s death in 1902, Crosby moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she lived until her death in 1915. One of her last public appearances was at Carnegie Hall in New York City at the age of 91 (Aufdemberge 1997: 675).
 

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