The history behind LDS hymns is rich with fascinating stories and quirky facts. Don't believe us? Just check out these fun finds about the history and form of some favorite hymns of LDS Living readers and other common conference tunes:
How Great Thou Art
Today's version of this hymn is loosely based on a German translation of a Russian translation of a Swedish hymn, "O Mighty God." In 1923, English missionaries heard the song in German and translated it from memory, and added new pieces based on the breathtaking scenery they witnessed in their travels.
However, at that time, they only wrote the first three verses.
The fourth verse didn't come until after World War II. Those same missionaries added the last verse, inspired by refugees in Britain who constantly asked, "When can we go home?" Thus, the fourth verse focuses on the joys of our heavenly home.
HYMNS FUN FACT: Only 168 of our 358 hymn contributors are LDS.
We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet
In the 1985 version of "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," the melody of this popular LDS hymn was actually changed. Near the beginning of the third line, one note changed from an A to a B.
This unusual edit was done to match how the Saints actually sang the song; a large portion of them sang with the B note instead of as it had been originally written.
HYMNS FUN FACT: The original hymnal collected by Emma had no tunes--only words.
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Before the current hymnal was published, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" was a little-known hymn. The 1985 hymnbook committee elected to remove it from the new hymnal in favor of other works because so few members knew the song.
However, after the revised hymnal was published, Mack Wilberg wrote an iconic arrangement of the hymn, bringing it into the forefront of members' minds. Today, due to its renewed popularity, many members still question why the hymn was ever removed as it is now one of the most beloved LDS songs not in the official Church hymnal.
HYMNS FUN FACT: Over 6,000 submissions of texts and tunes were reviewed for the 1985 hymnal.
I Am a Child of God
When Sister Naomi Randall penned the lyrics of "I Am a Child of God" in the middle of the night under inspiration, the original chorus said "Teach me all that I must know." Later, President Spencer W. Kimball heard the song and mentioned that the word "know" in the chorus concerned him. He asked Sister Randall if she would change it to "do," and she happily agreed.
Reflecting on this alteration, she said, "I wondered why I didn't include that thought at the time the lyrics were first written. But as time went on, I came to feel very sincerely that this was the way the Lord wanted the song to evolve, because it became a teaching moment for members all over the Church and impressed upon their minds that knowing the gospel is not all that is required; it is the day-by-day doing the Lord's will and keeping the commandments that help us reach our eternal goal."
Also, the Children's Songbook version of this hymn has an additional verse:
I am a child of God His promises are sure Celestial glory shall be mine If I can but endure
HYMNS FUN FACT: The LDS hymnal is very small compared to other church hymnals. In fact, many Protestant hymnbooks have twice as many hymns as the 341 in the LDS hymnal.
The Spirit of God
Two verses of "The Spirit of God" found in Emma Smith's 1835 hymnbook have been omitted in recent hymnals:
We'll wash, and be wash'd, and with oil be anointed Withal not omitting the washing of feet: For he that receiveth his PENNY appointed, Must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat.
Old Israel that fled from the world for his freedom, Must come with the cloud and the pillar, amain: [And] Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua lead him, And feed him on manna from heaven again.
HYMNS FUN FACT: Emma's original collection of 90 hymns was published in a 3X4 1/2" pocket-sized book. Only 26 of those original hymns made it into the 1985 hymnal.
I Stand All Amazed
This Latter-day Saint favorite has undergone musical revision three separate times in various versions of the hymnal.
In the 1909 hymnal, the tenors actually sang the melody line, with the women's parts singing harmony. Additionally, the women sang the lines "that he should care for me, / Enough to die for me" alone as the men repeated "wonderful, wonderful" and harmonized on "care for me" and "die for me."
In the 1950 hymnal, the chorus remained the same, but the melody was given back to the soprano line.
Finally, in the current 1985 version of the hymnal, the chorus was simplified to make the song easier to sing, though some Saints still miss the unique patterns of the original arrangement.
HYMNS FUN FACT: It used to be the music director's responsibility to decide which tunes the congregation would sing with which words.
I Know That My Redeemer Lives
Originally written as seven short verses in Emma's 1835 hymnal, the verses of "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" were later combined to include two in each verse. However, this left one additional verse without a pair--this last verse instead became the chorus.
HYMNS FUN FACT: The 1950 hymnal had a separate section for choir hymns.
Redeemer of Israel
William W. Phelps originally adapted the lyrics for "Redeemer of Israel" from hymn text written by Joseph Swain, making slight modications to give the lyrics a more Latter-day Saint flair. You can compare the texts below:
O thou in whose presence
Where dost thou at noontide
O why should I wander
He looks, and ten thousand
Redeemer of Israel,
We know he is coming
How long we have wandered
As children of Zion,
Restore, my dear Savior,
He looks! and ten thousands
HYMNS FUN FACT: In 1873, the Sunday school would publish its own hymns in The Juvenile Instructor.
High on the Mountain Top
Two verses of "High on the Mountain Top" that were in the 1950 hymnal were removed in the 1985 printing:
Then hail to Deseret! A refuge for the good, And safety for the great, If they but understood That God with plagues will shake the world Till all its thrones shall down be hurled.
In Deseret doth truth Rear up its royal head; Though nations may oppose, Still wider it shall spread; Yes, truth and justice, love and grace, In Deseret shall find ample place.
HYMNS FUN FACT: A man named Evan Stephens composed 16 of the hymns--the most of any composer in the hymnal.
How Firm a Foundation
Prior to the 1985 hymnal, the first verse of "How Firm a Foundation" ended with the phrase: You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled.
However, because this phrase sounds awkward to modern-day Saints (and as some will admit, easily misheard as "Yoo-hoo unto Jesus!"), the 1985 hymn book committee rephrased it to be: Who unto the Savior.
HYMNS FUN FACT: A separate "Manchester Hymnal" was published by European Saints in England and used until 1890.