William Batchelder Bradbury was born on October 6, 1816, in York, Maine.
As a young man he moved to Boston, where he was a protégé of Lowell Mason who is called the Father of American public school and church music. He was also influenced by Felix Mendelssohn. He an American who prolifically put poems to music, as well as writing several poems himself. His work was being done while spiritual conditions were declining in England. He wanted some fresh tunes that children would understand and enjoy. These hymns were collected into hymn books and evangelistic teams like that of Moody and Sankey used them to introduce vibrant gospel singing to the world.
He served as the choir director and organist in several large Baptist churches, and distinguished himself in his work with children’s choirs. He led annual music festivals where 1000 children would come, all dressed alike, and sing together using many of his own compositions. During this time he introduced music education to the New York public schools serving as a music teacher.
William Bradbury is an American who prolifically put poems to music. He also wrote several poems himself. His work was being done when spiritual conditions were declining in England. He wanted some fresh tunes that children would understand and enjoy. He compiled 59 books of children’s songs, hymns and his own tunes from 1841 to 1867. At this time several evangelistic teams began work, and needed some fresh, vibrant songs as well. They took Bradbury’s songs written primarily for children and found that adults loved them as well. This resulted in his compositions being spread wide and far around the globe, especially since the Moody and Sankey team used them.
He owned his own music company and in 1867 (a few months before he died) employed Hubert Main. The company became Biglow and Main, and later was purchased by Hope Publishing Company in 1922.
Some of his compositions include:
When William Bradbury met Francis Crosby, he thanked God for her, and believed she could write hymns. He told her of an idea he of a poem he wanted and asked her to try her hand at it. On February 5, 1864, Fanny Crosby wrote her first hymn and gave it to him. She was in her 40’s, having been saved for 10 years.
On Christmas Eve, 1875, Ira Sankey was recognized from his photo in the newspaper by a passenger on the Delaware River in the steamboat they were using. He asked Mr. Sankey to sing one of his own hymns he had written, but Sankey refused, saying he liked “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us” better. This was to a tune that Bradbury had composed. Sankey went on and serenaded the passengers with this hymn.
He is now recognized as one of the pioneers in children’s music in the church as well as public schools, and served as one of the most important contributors to the development of early gospel music hymnody for this country.
He died January 7, 1868, in Montclair, New Jersey and was buried in the Bloomfield Cemetery of New Jersey, his life being cut short by tuberculosis.
The copy of the William Bradbury drawing is from the Cyberhymnal website at www.cyberhymnal.org
10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000). “Ira Sankey (Moody’s Song Leader)”
Bibliotheca Sacra, electronic edition. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1998)
M. Biglow email regarding the incorrect spelling of the company name: Biglow & Main, and its beginning as named being after Bradbury's death. Received on June 10, 2010. Much appreciated!
Mary Hammack, L., A Dictionary of Women in Church History, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997, c1984). “Crosby, Frances Jane.”
Hustad, Donald P. “A Spiritual Ministry of Music: Part II: Problems in Psychology and Aesthetics in Music,” Dallas Theological Seminary, Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1960; 2002), vol. 117, p. 216.
Kurian, George Thomas: Nelson's New Christian Dictionary (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pubs., 2001), “Bradbury, William Batchelder.”
Lagass, Paul; Columbia University: The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. (New York; Detroit: Columbia University Press; Sold and distributed by Gale Group, 2000), “Bradbury, William Batchelder.”
Morgan, Robert J. Real Stories for the Soul, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), p. 133.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. 101 Hymn Stories. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1982), p. 136.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. 101 More Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1985), p. 74, 83.
Zuck, Roy B. The Speaker's Quote. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997), p. 205.