William B Bradbury
William Batchelder Bradbury is credited for creating a style of children’s music, especially Sunday School tunes, that would be remembered for generations to come. Hall describes him as “kind, patient, and full of sympathy for others.” Hall also stated, “He will always occupy a prominent place in American musical history.”
Bradbury loved music from an early age. Born in York, York County, Maine, on October 6, 1816, and coming from a good family, he would spend many hours studying and practicing music between the hours he spent helping on his father’s farm and in the shoe shop. He was exposed to piano and organ after his family moved to Boston. This new opportunity to express his musical genius contributed to his devotion to music.
He found a mentor and friend in Dr. Mason after attending his singing classes and in attendance at the Bowdoin Street Church choir. One night while singing in Mason’s choir, Dr. Mason told him about an opportunity to teach several singing classes at Machias. He excitedly accepted the job and worked there for a year and a half. After getting married, he moved to St. John’s, New Brunswick, but the people did not accept his music.
Returning to Boston, he took a job as the music minister at First Baptist Church of Brooklyn. The people there were hesitant to use the organ; however, they warmed up to the idea after hearing him play. He then took control of the choir and organ at the Baptist Tabernacle, New York City, and began a singing class for children. This was the inception of what some called the Sunday School movement. His classes became very popular, with over six hundred students in a class at the Spring Street Church. So influential were these classes that out of them grew the “Juvenile Musical Festivals,” an annual musical event held at the Broadway Tabernacle. These concerts included around 1,000 children (mostly girls). The concerts were so extraordinary that Hall describes them thus, “When all were ready, a chord was struck on the piano- a sight that can be far more easily imagined than described. Of the musical effect produced by such a chorus we will not attempt to speak.”
Every year Bradbury’s concerts were better and better, and eventually, they were teaching music in the public schools. He began writing songs for children and published several volumes of them. Bradbury wanted to study in Europe with some of the greats, so he and his family traveled to several countries - including England, Germany, and Switzerland- to learn under some great teachers. When he returned to New York, he continued teaching classes and working on his music. During this time, he and his brother manufactured pianos under the name Bradbury Pianos.
William B. Bradbury died on January 8, 1868, leaving behind a collection of 59 books he edited (many of them his works). His legacy lives on. Hall describes his work: “(his) melodies have an easy, natural flow, and his harmonies are simple and natural, and many of his hymn-tunes and gospel songs still in use are among the best that American writers have produced.” His contribution to Christian hymnody lives on in the hearts of God’s people as the melodies of “Just As I Am,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” “Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” and others continue to resound in churches and homes across the globe.
Bradbury's tune "Zephyr" was paired with Anne Steele's little-known poem "A Dying Saviour," shown below:
Stretched on the cross the Saviour dies;
Hark! his expiring groans arise!
See, from his hands, his feet, his side,
Runs down the sacred crimson tide!
But life attends the deathful sound,
And flows from ev’ry bleeding wound:
The vital stream, how free it flows,
To save and cleanse his rebel foes!
To suffer in the traitor’s place,
To die for man, surprising grace!
Yet pass rebellious angels by –
O why for man, dear Saviour, why?
And didst thou bleed, for sinners bleed?
And could the sun behold the deed?
No, he withdrew his sick’ning ray,
And darkness veiled the mourning day.
Can I survey this scene of woe,
Where mingling grief and wonder flow;
And yet my heart unmoved remain,
Insensible to love or pain!
Come, dearest Lord, thy pow’r impart,
To warm this cold, this senseless heart;
Till all its pow’rs and passions move,
In melting grief and ardent love.
Hall, J., 1971. Biography of gospel song and hymn writers. New York: Fleming.
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