Friday, March 27, 2020

Identifying songwriter John R. Bryant

The following brief biography of John R. Bryant is found in Union Harp and History of Songs on page 127. The song Waldin/Walden is on the preceding page. According to James, Bryant is the original composer of the air of The Lifeboat, found on page 162. Other sources would indicate he was also an arranger rather than the original composer.

History of “Waldin.”

This tune was composed in 1882 and published in the December (1883) Number of the “Musical Million,” by Professor A. J. Showalter, who was at that time correcting harmony for Adline S. Kieffer, editor of the above-named paper.

Professor Bryan(t) was born in Newton County, Ga., 1861. He was educated in the common schools of that county, finally completing his musical education at Emory College under the late R. M. McIntosh, in 1887. He has composed nearly twelve hundred gospel and Sunday school songs. A great many of them are published in various tune books. He married Miss Mamie Johnson, and is at present living in Atlanta, Ga. The above hymn is one of Dr. Watts’ first-class compositions, and ranks among the standard hymns of the country.
In Union Harp and History of Songs, Joseph S. James preserves information that allows us at this late date to identify composer and music teacher John R. Bryant. There are a few errors that can be corrected, but James has provided the Sacred Harp community a great service. At the time James wrote the biography, 1909, John R. Bryant was living in Atlanta, Georgia. He died the next year.

John Randolph Bryant was born March 25, 1861 in Newton County, Georgia, the son of Samuel J. Bryant and Laura Pennington. In 1885 he married Minnie (rather than Mamie) Johnson in Newton County. They had five children, according to his death notice in the Atlanta Constitution. Bryant was a songwriter and editor of at least one songbook.[i] The 1900 Newton County, Georgia census lists him as a “music teacher.” John R. Bryant died May 21, 1910 in Fulton County, and according to Bryant family genealogists, was buried at the Red Oak Church Cemetery at Covington, Newton County, Georgia.

John R. Bryant is the composer of four tunes found in The Sacred Harp, Fourth Edition with Supplement, edited by J. L. White. In addition to Walden, which is in Union Harp and History of Songs, Bryant composed the tunes Payne on page 435, The Better Country and Loftin, both on page 508.

[i] Tears and Triumphs: For Revivals, Sunday Schools & the Home, L. L. Pickett, M. W. Knapp, Jno. R. Bryant, Columbia, SC: L. L. Pickett, 1894. Hymn Time Cyber Hymnal lists Bryant as the author of 46 hymns and two tunes in this and other books.

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