by Bernard R. DeRemer
Although he never had a music lesson, Charles H. Gabriel:
• Composed more than 7,000 songs;
• "Seldom violated any of the rules of harmony or good musical and literary form";
• Compiled or helped compile 174 books of gospel songs, cantatas, other volumes;
• Became "the most gifted and brilliant writer of gospel songs for 40 years."
Gabriel was born in 1856 on an Iowa farm, where his early education was limited to a few winter months each year.
He encountered his first musical instrument, which he never could identify later, at age 9. Later he rode 10 miles just to see and hear a melodeon. As he plowed fields or did other chores, music was constantly running through his mind.
During field labors, he would sometimes take a moment's rest "to write down the notes and words of a song that had found its way into his head."
With his early interest and aptitude, by age 16 he was teaching singing and had begun his lifelong ministry of composing music.
One of his first compositions, "Waiting on the Shore," appeared in the Musical Messenger during 1875. Gradually, his musical output began to soar.
It is said that no gospel song in history "has ever attained the international popularity of his ‘Glory Song' in so short a time." In only five years, it was "sung around the world, largely because of the great Torrey-Alexander revivals as well as other meetings."
"When all my labors and trials are o'er,
and I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore,
Will through the ages be glory for me.
Oh, that will be glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me;
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me!"
Some 30 million copies were published.
Gabriel lived most of his life in Chicago, where he became associated with the Hope Publishing Co. Then for a longer time he served as music editor for the Rodeheaver Publishing Co. There his work was credited with being a major factor in the success of that distinguished firm.
Homer Rodeheaver, the famous music director, testified that "Without ‘Brighten the Corner Where You Are' (and others)...I could not have held the immense choirs and tremendous audiences I have had to quiet and control."
A few of Gabriel's many numbers still widely used today include "He Lifted Me," "Since Jesus Came Into My Heart," and "Send the Light."
His own favorite was "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," which Ethel Waters greatly popularized with her distinctive, soulful renditions during Billy Graham crusade meetings.
When asked about trashy music of that day, Gabriel declared that music committees were made up of those who could not distinguish "devotion from commotion." One can only speculate at his reaction if he were to survey today's musical field.
Gabriel married Amelia Moore in 1888.
His son, Charles Jr., served on the staff of the Chicago Tribune and had charge of the musical program on Station WGN, Chicago. There he had the distinction of starting the radio team of "Sam and Henry," which became "Amos ‘n' Andy" (radio's all-time favorites). He also became program director for NBC in San Francisco, and collaborated with his father on several hundred compositions.
In 1926 Gabriel moved to California to enjoy retirement, but alas, experienced "years of sickness and continued attempts to clear up copyright renewal controversies." It seems his business acumen did not equal his musical aptitude.
After a period of failing health, he went to be with the Lord in 1932. Today, he deserves to be remembered as "one of the most prolific composers in the history of gospel hymnody," whose numbers continue to bless and challenge multitudes.