Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BLISS, Philip Paul, singing evangelist, born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, 9 July 1838; died near Ashtabula, Ohio, 29 December 1876. His early years were passed in the wilds of Pennsylvania and Ohio, and his education was of the most rudimentary description; but he possessed an innate passion for music, which at first was only cultivated by listening to his father singing hymns. When about ten years old he, for the first time, heard a piano, and was unable to resist the temptation that lured him through the open door and into the room. tie stood spellbound until the music ceased, and the player, becoming aware of his presence, barefooted and in rags, harshly ordered him away. Until 1855 he worked on a farm and at wood-cutting, but so faithfully improved his occasional opportunities for study that by 1856 he had obtained enough education to teach a school in Hartsville, Allegheny County, New York The following winter he, for the first time, attended a singing-school in Towanda, Pennsylvania The same winter he attended a musical convention in Rome, New York In 1858 he taught school in Rome, his vocal powers developing through constant exercise. In the summer of 1860 he was providentially enabled to attend the norreal academy of music at Geneseo, New York, and in the following winter began to teach music and to compose songs, which soon attained local popularity. During 1865 he was drafted into the army, and reported for duty at Carlisle barracks; but, as the war was over, he was soon discharged. During the twelve years beginning with 1864 he wrote the songs that have made him famous. In 1865 he formed a business partnership with a Chicago firm, and held musical conventions and gave concerts throughout the northwestern states. His fame as a "singing evangelist" did not spread beyond the localities whither his engagements led him until a chance meeting with died L. Moody, the famous revivalist leader, brought about a warm friendship between the two, and resulted in his self-consecration to missionary labors that carried his songs all over the world. But it was not until 1874 that he deliberately devoted himself to evangelistic work, though he had always been religiously inclined, and had united with the Baptist Church at Elk Run, Pennsylvania, when thirteen years old. A fine personal presence, a native gift of effective speech, and a wonderful voice, gave him an irresistible power over miscellaneous audiences. His singing, though not scientific, according to classical standards, appealed strongly to the hearts of the multitudes. According to an expert, the "chest range" of his voice was from D flat below to A flat above, and this without straining or confusing the vowel sounds. The motive of his most famous song was supplied by a message signaled by flag during the civil war from Kenesaw mountain, Georgia, to Altoona Pass, twenty miles distant, over the heads of the enemy. It ran thus : "Hold the fort ; I am coming. W. T. Sherman." These words and the inspiring air that Mr. Bliss composed to accompany them are sung wherever English is spoken. Others of his compositions have commanded a popularity hardly second to that of "Hold the Fort." Among them are " Down Life's Dark Vale we Wander," "Hallelujah I 'tis done ! Jesus Loves Me," and "Pull for the Shore, Sailor!" As a conductor of popular meetings for the purpose of stimulating religious zeal, Mr. Bliss was remarkably successful; his services were in demand throughout the United States and Canada, and his influence as a revivalist was extraordinary. He lost his life in a railway disaster near Ashtabula, Ohio. where a bridge gave way under the train. When last seen alive Mr. Bliss was striving to rescue his wife from the burning wreck. His "Memoirs," by died W. Whittle, with contributions by died L. Moody and Ira died Sankey, were published in 1877. The published collections of his songs are "The Charm" (1871) ; " The Song Tree" (1872) ; "The Joy" (1873) ; and "Gospel Songs" (1874).
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