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“How Great Thou Art”


WORLD Radio - “How Great Thou Art”

Stuart Hine wrote the popular hymn in the Carpathian Mountains 75 years ago

Mahalia Jackson, “Queen of the Gospel Singers,” August 30, 1955 Associated Press/Photo by Edward Kitch

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, March 28th. Thanks so much for turning to WORLD Radio to start your day. Good morning! I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A Holy Week observance of a well-loved hymn!

This year marks the 75th anniversary of one of the best known hymns of our time. It was originally a Russian hymn, based on a Swedish poem. Myrna, you dug into the musical history here and I can’t wait to hear it.

BROWN: Ok, here we go!

GEORGE BEVERLY SHAY: Oh Lord my God when I in awesome wonder

George Beverly Shay was one of the first to make the hymn popular. He sang it live during Billy Graham’s crusades in the 1950’s.

ELVIS PRESLEY: I see the stars

In 1968, Elvis Presley’s rendition earned him a Grammy Award.

ELVIS: I hear the rolling thunder…

Throughout the decades it’s been recorded hundreds of times.

CARRIE UNDERWOOD: Thou power throughout…

Carrie Underwood from the Ryman Auditorium

UNDERWOOD: the universe displayed

Gospel great, Mahalia Jackson

MAHALIA JACKSON: Then sings my soul…

Country music’s Dolly Parton…

DOLLY PARTON: …my Savior God to Thee

…and pop music’s Jennifer Hudson with the a capella group, Pentatonix.

JENNIFER HUDSON & PENTATONIX: How great thou art. How great thou art. How great thou art…

ASBURY REVIVAL: Then sings my soul

But often the most stirring renditions of the hymn How Great Thou Art come from the church pew—simple, poetic and reverent.

PHIL LOOSE: You want to join in, too, because we could all sing it now together without having a piano or guitar or anything because we know it so well.

That’s Phil Loose. He spent much of his career in the music industry studying hymns like How Great Thou Art and hymn writers like Great Britain’s Stuart Hine, born in 1899.

LOOSE: I was actually able to see the decision card a young Stuart Hine signed. It looks to be sepia-toned now. He signed it on February the 22nd 1914, age 14. And it says, “Being convinced that I am a sinner and believing that Jesus died for me. I now accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and my Lord.”

Stuart Hine in the 1920s

Stuart Hine in the 1920s Photo courtesy of Stuart Hine Trust CIO

Hine married almost a decade later in 1923 and traveled to Poland to serve on the mission field. In 1934, he set off alone on a three-hundred mile mission to the Carpathian Mountains.

LOOSE: They are a range of mountains. They’re an arc across Central Europe. They are about 930 miles long. It can’t have been an easy journey for him.

Difficult, indeed since Hine preached and distributed Bibles from a bicycle.

LOOSE: It must have been an amazing adventure to go on, where new friendships are made. New food is eaten, new cultures and indeed new hymns.

Loose says while serving the people of the Carpathian Mountains, Hine was inspired to write the first three verses of the famous hymn. An interpretation from verse two:

LOOSE: “I look down from lofty mountain grandeur.” We know what that means, and maybe it’s a phrase we are not used to saying, but clearly he’s looking down across the Carpathian Mountains, the lofty mountain grandeur. Here’s the brook. He feels the gentle breeze. He sees all the Lord has created and he says, “You have made this all.”

Stuart Hine died in 1989. Four years prior to his passing, he set up the Stuart Hine Trust, a charitable organization that owns and administers his catalog. Phil Loose, is one of the ten trustees. He helps distribute royalties from the hymn to ministries that fulfill Hine’s calling and mission. This year marks the hymn's 75th anniversary. Loose says they have big plans.

LOOSE: We want to bring this hymn into a place where a new generation can rise up and worship and discover this hymn for themselves.

In 2022 the Stuart Hine Trust commissioned Contemporary Christian music artist Matt Redman. They asked Redman to lead a team of songwriters, musicians and other CCM artists to create and perform a brand new verse for the hymn.

MATT REDMAN: I felt a lot of trepidation over that. Because this is a very well-loved hymn and people have very strong feelings about things they love, you know.

But Redman says he also saw this as an opportunity to give back to the people whose land had inspired Hine decades earlier.

REDMAN: But what a lot of people don’t know is that he wrote in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine, he wrote these words that we sing today. So it feels like a particularly poignant time to have a new version.

HOW GREAT THOU ART, UNTIL THAT DAY: Until that day when heaven bids us welcome and as we walk this broken warring world.

How Great Thou Art, Until That Day was released earlier this year. Proceeds from the sale of the song will help provide humanitarian relief and rebuilding efforts in Ukraine. It’s an effort most people will likely support. But will they be as receptive to the hymn’s new sound?

For instance, along with the added verse, there is a tempo change. And instead of hearing “rolling thunder” it’s “mighty thunder.” Similar to other renditions, verse two, the most descriptive of all the verses, is missing. But to its credit, How Great Thou Art, Until That Day helps bring the story of Stuart Hine, the Carpathian Mountains and the people of Ukraine full circle. Rooted in Biblical soundness, this new version continues to tell another story—the greatest story ever told—the story of God’s creation and our redemption through His Son.

UNTIL THAT DAY: And when I think that God His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in. That on the cross my burden gladly bearing. He bled and died to take away my sin…

LOOSE: Well that is the verse that takes us right to the core of faith and it’s only because of what Jesus did on the cross that we can say we’re forgiven. We are restored. We are renewed.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Myrna Brown.

UNTIL THAT DAY: Then sings my soul my Savior God to Thee…how great Thou art, how great Thou art.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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