Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'Joy in the Morning'

History of Hymns: 'Joy in the Morning'

Natalie sleeth cropped
Natalie Sleeth

By Shawn Gingrich

“Joy in the Morning”
by Natalie Sleeth
The Faith We Sing, 2284

There’ll be joy in the morning on that day,
there’ll be joy in the morning on that day.
for the daylight will dawn when the darkness is gone,
they’ll be joy in the morning on that day.*

*© 1977 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188 All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Natalie Allyn Sleeth (née Wakeley) (1930-1992) was born into a musical family in Evanston, Illinois. She began studying piano at the age of four, participated in various choirs through her early school years, and graduated from Wellesley College (BA 1952), majoring in music theory, studying piano and organ, and singing in the college choir. Upon college graduation, she married Ronald E. Sleeth (1921-1985), a Methodist pastor and assistant professor in Homiletics at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston at that time. She served various churches as organist and choir director throughout her career. After a move to Texas where she served as music secretary at Highland Park United Methodist Church (1969-1976), she was encouraged in her musical endeavors by Lloyd Pfautsch (1921-2003), under whom she studied choral arranging at Southern Methodist University. She also studied music theory with Jane Marshall (1924-2019); and in 1968, she began to arrange and compose music. Her first anthem, “Canon of Praise” (Dallas: Choristers Guild, 1969) is this publisher’s all-time best seller. At the time of her death, she had written more than 200 published songs for church and school choirs.

One of Sleeth’s best-known anthems for four-part choir is “Joy in the Morning” (Hope Publishing Co. 955 / brass parts F955B), which was written for the West Virginia Wesleyan College concert choir on the occasion of her husband’s inauguration as president of the college in 1977. This anthem is Hope Publishing Company’s best-selling anthem of all time, having sold over one million copies. It has been released for three-part mixed choir (Hope C5140) and has been arranged by numerous other composers in full orchestration (by Mark Kellner), four-hand piano accompaniment (by Joel Raney), a handbell version (by Martha Lynn Thompson), which can serve as accompaniment for the choral anthems, and a new Easter adaptation incorporating Hymn of Joy for choir and brass (by Lloyd Larson). The hymn version we see in many denominational hymnals today was arranged by Roland Tabell (1934-2016), church musician and composer credited with many arrangements, compositions, hymns, and choruses.

Several other anthems by Natalie Sleeth were adapted as anthems including “Go Now in Peace” (The United Methodist Hymnal, 665), “Go Ye, Go Ye into the World” (The Faith We Sing, 2239), “God of Great and God of Small” (Worship & Song, 3033), and “Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet” (The Faith We Sing, 2020). Her most published and beloved hymn, also conceived first as an anthem, is “Hymn of Promise” – “In the Bulb there is a Flower” (The United Methodist Hymnal, 707).

Written first as an anthem in 1977, “Joy in the Morning” was first adapted as a hymn for the Covenant Hymnal (1996), the hymnal for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Though she did not realize it when she composed the anthem, the title was from Psalm 30:5, “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night but rejoicing comes in the morning” (NIV*). It describes the coming day and the new heaven and new earth we can expect, “daylight will dawn when the darkness is gone” (stanza 1), with “peace and contentment evermore” (stanza 2), and “love and forgiveness everywhere” (stanza 3). For those who know the anthem, it will be obvious that the refrain from the original, “And the glory of the Lord will shine upon us … will bring us truth divine,” is missing in the hymn setting. The entire text is available at https://hymnary.org/text/therell_be_joy_in_the_morning_on_that_da.

This versatile hymn can be used in many instances from the theme of second coming of Christ in Advent, to hope in eternal life for funerals, and a general celebration of the love of God. The rhythmic interest and easily-learned melody make it an accessible and enjoyable congregational hymn.

Natalie Sleeth received honorary doctorates from West Virginia Wesleyan College (1959) and Nebraska Wesleyan College (1990). Her Sunday Songbook: A Collection of Unison Songs for Any Age (Chapel Hill: Hinshaw Music, 1976) – the “Green Book” – a standard collection, is still available and may be found in the music libraries of many churches for use by children’s choirs. She described many of her compositions in a devotional book, Adventures for the Soul (Hope Publishing Co., 1987). Natalie Sleeth died of cancer at age 62 in Denver, Colorado, at the height of her career.


Natalie Sleeth, Author Biography, https://www.hopepublishing.com/470

Carlton Young, “Natalie Sleeth.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed May 24, 2019, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/n/natalie-sleeth.

*Verses marked NIV are from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Shawn Gingrich is director of music ministries, First United Methodist Church, Hershey, Pennsylvania. His undergraduate degrees are from Lebanon Valley College; he received a Master of Music degree from Westminster Choir College, and the Doctor of Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. He is also an adjunct instructor at Messiah College, artistic director of Hershey Handbell Ensemble, and president of the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts (2017-2019).

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