Charles A. Tindley, 1851–1933

Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933), Grandfather of Gospel Music

born July 7, 1851, Berlin, Maryland
died July 26, 1933, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
buried Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

It is Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993), composer of “Precious Lord” and “There Will Be Peace in the Valley,” who is known as the “Father of Gospel Music.” But if that is true, then Charles Albert Tindley is the “Grandfather of Gospel Music,” for it was Tindley who virtually invented the style a generation before Dorsey began composing, and it was Dorsey’s hearing Tindley’s hymns at an annual meeting of the National Baptist Convention in Philadelphia that led Dorsey to begin writing religious music. Dorsey had previously been a successful jazz and blues musician who often made use of bawdy and brash lyrics. While Dorsey went on to successfully blend the sacred spirituals and hymns with the secular style of blues and jazz, he always acknowledged his debt to Tindley.

Tindley was born fourteen years before the end of the American Civil War, the son of slave parents. By age five, both of his parents had died. By age seventeen he had taught himself how to read. He moved to Philadelphia and found employment as the janitor for the Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church. He took night classes and later correspondence courses from Boston University, eventually being ordained in the Methodist ministry, serving appointments in South Wilmington, Odessa, Ezion, Wilmington, Delaware, and May, New Jersey. From 1899-1902 he served as presiding elder of the Wilmington district.

In 1902 Tindley was appointed pastor of the Calvary Methodist Church, the church that had employed him thirty years earlier as its janitor. This was to be his position until his death in 1933. During his appointment at Calvary, the church experienced great growth in numbers and ministry, growing to over 7,000 members that included African Americans, Europeans, Jews, and Hispanics. Upon building a new church building, the congregation changed its name over Tindley’s protest to Tindley Temple Methodist Church.

Tindley composed forty-seven hymns, some of which are still protected by US copyright law. Tindley’s hymns formed the basis of the black gospel hymn style for all who came after. They were based on the spiritual and the blues and included elements from white gospel style. Tindley wrote his hymns within the older tradition of African American worship and music that included distinctive preaching and singing styles, lining-out, shouting, hand-clapping, improvised melodies, rhythmic keyboard accompaniments, and congregational interjections of hallelujahs and amens. The congregation would often sing along with the choir or soloist. Later in the twentieth century the style included the addition of the electronic organ, especially the early Hammond organs, and percussion instruments. Tindley’s lyrics are a reflection of the daily lives of African Americans of the time, and speak of poverty, discrimination, suffering, with deliverance, freedom, and a better day coming.

There are five Tindley hymns in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989):

  •  no. 373, “Nothing Between My Soul and My Savior” (NOTHING BETWEEN)
  •  no. 512, “When the Storms of Life Are Raging” (STAND BY ME)
  •  no. 522, “If the World from You Withhold” (LEAVE IT THERE)
  •  no. 524, “Beams of Heaven As I Go” (SOMEDAY)
  •  no. 525, “We Are Tossed and Driven” (BY AND BY)

There are other Tindley hymns available onthis site, with others to follow:

  •  “Heaven’s Christmas Tree”
  •  “I’ll Overcome Someday”

“I’ll Overcome Someday” is the hymn that was transformed into the greatest of all the civil rights era’s freedom songs, “We Shall Overcome” (The United Methodist Hymnal, no. 533).

Tindley’s published hymns include:

  1.  After a While
  2.  Better Day Is Coming By and By, A
  3.  Better Home, A
  4.  Christ is the Way
  5.  Consolation
  6.  From Youth to Old Age
  7.  Go Talk with Jesus about It
  8.  Go Wash in the Beautiful Stream
  9.  Have You Crossed the Line?
  10.  Heaven’s Christmas Tree
  11.  Here Am I, Send Me
  12.  He’ll Take You Through
  13.  Heavenly Union, The
  14.  Home of the Soul, The
  15.  I Believe It
  16.  I Have Found at Last a Savior
  17.  I Know the Lord Will Make a Way
  18.  I Will Go, if My Father Holds My Hand
  19.  I’ll Be Satisfied
  20.  I’ll Overcome Some Day
  21.  I’m Going to Die with My Staff in My Hand
  22.  I’m Going There
  23.  In Me
  24.  It May Be the Best for Me
  25.  Joyous Anticipation
  26.  Just Today
  27.  Leave It There
  28.  Let Jesus Fix It for You
  29.  Lord, I’ve Tried
  30.  Lord Will Make the Way, The
  31.  Mountain Top Dwelling
  32.  My Secret of Joy
  33.  Nothing Between
  34.  Our Suffering Jesus
  35.  Pilgrim’s Song, The
  36.  Saved and Satisfied
  37.  Some Day
  38.  Someone Is Waiting for Me
  39.  Spiritual Spring Time
  40.  Stand by Me
  41.  Storm Is Passing Over, The
  42.  Stranger Cut the Rope, A
  43.  Today
  44.  We’ll Understand It Better By and By
  45.  What Are They Doing in Heaven?
  46.  Will You Be There?
  47.  Your Faith Has Saved You

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