Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933), Grandfather of Gospel Music
CHARLES ALBERT TINDLEY
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:
- After a While
- Better Day Is Coming By and By, A
- Better Home, A
- Christ is the Way
- From Youth to Old Age
- Go Talk with Jesus about It
- Go Wash in the Beautiful Stream
- Have You Crossed the Line?
- Heaven's Christmas Tree
- Here Am I, Send Me
- He'll Take You Through
- Heavenly Union, The
- Home of the Soul, The
- I Believe It
- I Have Found at Last a Savior
- I Know the Lord Will Make a Way
- I Will Go, if My Father Holds My Hand
- I'll Be Satisfied
- I'll Overcome Some Day
- I'm Going to Die with My Staff in My Hand
- I'm Going There
- In Me
- It May Be the Best for Me
- Joyous Anticipation
- Just Today
- Leave It There
- Let Jesus Fix It for You
- Lord, I've Tried
- Lord Will Make the Way, The
- Mountain Top Dwelling
- My Secret of Joy
- Nothing Between
- Our Suffering Jesus
- Pilgrim's Song, The
- Saved and Satisfied
- Some Day
- Someone Is Waiting for Me
- Spiritual Spring Time
- Stand by Me
- Storm Is Passing Over, The
- Stranger Cut the Rope, A
- We'll Understand It Better By and By
- What Are They Doing in Heaven?
- Will You Be There?
- Your Faith Has Saved You
Cleveland, J. Jefferson and Verolga Nix, eds. Songs of Zion. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981.
Eskew, Harry and Hugh T. McElrath, Sing with Understanding, 2nd ed. Nashville: Church Street Press, 1995.
McClain, William B, Come Sunday: The Liturgy of Zion. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990.
Young, Carlton, Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.