Charles H. Gabriel
18 August 1856–14 September 1932
CHARLES HUTCHISON GABRIEL was born in Iowa, August 18, 1856, and spent the first seventeen years of his life on a farm, building up the strong constitution which has enabled him to bear the strain which must necessarily fall upon the most copious popular composer of our time. At the age of seventeen he started out to hold singing classes and institutes throughout the Southern, Western, and Northern states, being thus brought into close contact with the people whose needs he so well understands how to meet. He later located in California, where he was recognized as the leading composer on the coast.
Mr. Gabriel has issued a large amount of music during the last thirty years, and we have not the space to give the long catalogue. He has been recognized as a leading writer of music for Sunday-schools, having issued twenty-four books for Sunday-schools and evangelistic meetings, his songs being found in almost every book that is issued. His first sacred song success, “Send the Light,” is recognized as one of the best missionary songs extant, while scores of others, among which are: “Let the Sunshine In,” “Calling the Prodigal,” “The Way of the Cross Leads Home,” etc., have large popularity. His “Glory Song” is no doubt the most popular song he ever wrote. The song may now be heard in many tongues and dialects. It has been translated into at least seventeen languages. It has appeared in print in leaflets, newspapers, magazines and books no less than 17,000,000 times. It is enjoyed by all classes and conditions from the street urchin to the nobility.
Mr. Gabriel has also been a prolific writer of anthems, having issued fourteen books in this particular line, besides many anthems prepared for other authors. In no field, perhaps, has he done more brilliant work than in cantatas for children, of which he has written seven, both libretto and music. His “Dream of Fairyland” was exceedingly successful, and is still selling on its merits. His Christmas cantatas, of which he has written thirty-eight, have all been popular, tens of thousands of many of them having been sold. He has also prepared eleven sacred cantatas for adults; three secular operettas and one sacred cantata—“Saul, King of Israel,” which he considers his best work.
In his early days he was much interested in and a teacher of military bands, and has in print a goodly number of marches, waltzes, etc., for these organizations, beside instruction books for organ and piano, piano duets, solos, etc. He is also the compiler of three books of music for female voices; three for male voices; one class book; three primary song books; three children’s concert collections; more than one hundred special day programs, etc.
Mr. Gabriel's music is nothing if not melodious. Even a comparatively commonplace theme under his pen receives some touch that gives it a perennial freshness, and while he rarely writes difficult or severe music, there is unbounded variety in it all. Having received little or no instruction, and being a self-made man, he has a style peculiarly his own. Copying no teacher or instructor, but following the natural bent of his genius, he is little hampered by purely scholastic rules of form, and hence is free to produce many effects and contrasts which other composers are apt to lose; yet his freedom deserves no censure, as it amply justifies itself in every case. He gives himself wholly to composition and his work is in constant demand by the various publishers of sacred music. Personally, Mr. Gabriel is a very genial and kindly-spirited man. His large success has not spoiled him, but seems rather to have added kindliness and helpfulness to his naturally generous disposition. He has no sense of rivalry with other composers and no inclination to emphasize their limitations or shortcomings. There is probably no composer in the land who has more friends among music writers, both famous and obscure, than Mr. Gabriel. He resides in Chicago and is one of her honored citizens. May he live long and continue to give vent to his musical genius.
by J.H. Hall
Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers (1914)
Instead of two or three singers and leaders, as was true when I joined the ranks threescore years ago, there are so many now that it would be difficult to enumerate them, Of the writers and their songs, there are those of the present day whose names will go down the years as being among the most illustrious in the annals of Christian song. It has not been my privilege to know all of these, personally, as they belong to another generation, but I know them by their works, and freely accord them the place they have so well merited.
The most outstanding figure among them, however, is he whom I have had in recent years the honor to count among my friends. I refer to Mr. Charles H. Gabriel, who has been acknowledged to be the most gifted and brilliant writer of Gospel songs during the last twoscore years. He is, therefore, not far removed from the generation of early writers, with whose names his has been engraved on the hearts of the people, and upon the scroll of fame. It would seem, however, that he stands to-day midway between that illustrious company and the writers of the present time, and that he has many years yet to “make the songs for the people,” and to bless the world with his delightful and heart-appealing melodies.
He is the author of “The Glory Song,” “He Lifted Me,” and “The Sparrow Song,” so much used by Mr. Alexander in all parts of the world. Mr. E.O. Excell used to say, “It is to Gabriel’s songs ‘Hail Emmanuel,’ ‘He Is So Precious to Me,’ ‘The Way of the Cross,’ and many others, I owe so much for any success I have gained.” Mr. Rodeheaver also bore witness to the value of his compositions when he said, “Without ‘Brighten the Corner,’ ‘Sail On,’ ‘My Wonderful Dream,’ and ‘Awakening Chorus,’ not to mention others, I could not have held the immense choirs and tremendous audiences I have had to quiet and control.”
His song, “Higher Ground,” is sung universally, and I regard it as one of the privileges of my late life to have known him and to have come under the influence of his genial and kindly personality; and also to receive from him tokens of friendship and cordial regard I value beyond estimation. That the future may deal kindly with Charles H. Gabriel, that his gifted pen may be used to enrich the field of sacred song for generations yet to come is the prayer of his host of friends and admirers.
by George C. Stebbins
Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories (1924)
Featured Hymns & Tunes:
Collections of Hymns and Songs:
J.H. Hall, “Charles H. Gabriel,” Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1914), pp. 348-352: Archive.org
Charles H. Gabriel, Gospel Songs and Their Writers (Chicago: The Rodeheaver Company, 1915): PDF
Charles H. Gabriel, The Singers and Their Songs: Sketches of Living Gospel Hymn Writers (Chicago: The Rodeheaver Company, 1916): PDF
Charles H. Gabriel, Personal Memoirs of Chas. H. Gabriel (Chicago: K.G. Bottorf, 1918): WorldCat
George C. Stebbins, Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories (NY: George H. Doran, 1924), pp. 324-325: PDF
Obituary, Chicago Tribune (15 Sept. 1932).
Melvin Wilhoit, “Charles Hutchinson Gabriel,” A Guide to the Principal Authors and Composers of Gospel Song of the Nineteenth Century, dissertation (Louisville: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1982), pp. 125-142: SBTS
A. Merril Smoak Jr., “Charles H. Gabriel: The Turning Point,” The Hymn, vol. 34, no. 3 (July 1983), pp. 160–64: HathiTrust
Terry W. York, Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (1856-1932): Composer, Author, and Editor in the Gospel Tradition, dissertation (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1985).
Bert Polman, J.R. Watson, & Carlton Young, “Charles Hutchinson Gabriel,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
Charles H. Gabriel at Hymnary.org:
Mel R. Wilhoit, “Charles H. Gabriel,” Grove Music Online:
University of California Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive: