- Birth: July 9, 1838, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania
- Death: December 29, 1876, Ashtabula, Ohio
Philip Bliss was born in 1838 to a dedicated Christian family living in Pennsylvania’s mountains. His first memories of his father, Isaac, were of daily family prayers. His father also loved music and ingrained a love of singing in Philip.
Bliss had little schooling, mostly his father’s singing and his mother’s teaching. At age eleven, he left home to make a living for himself. For five years he worked in logging and lumber camps and sawmills. He made a public confession of Christ as his savior at age twelve, although he never knew a time when he did not love Christ.
In 1851, Bliss became assistant cook in a lumber camp and was later promoted to log cutter and then sawmill worker. Between these jobs he attended school. He was undecided as to what vocation he wanted, so he prepared himself for whatever might come. Along with this, he spent some money on his musical education and began to participate in Methodist camp meetings and revival services.
At age seventeen, Bliss went to Bradford City, Pennsylvania and completed his requirements for teaching credentials. He obtained a teaching position at Hartsville, New York. In 1857 he met J.G. Towner, who conducted a vocal school in Pennsylvania.
Towner recognized Bliss’ unusually fine singing voice and offered to provide formal voice training. He also made it possible for Bliss to go to a musical convention, where he met William B. Bradbury, a noted composer of sacred music. It was Bradbury who convinced Bliss to surrender his talents to the Lord.
Bliss eventually met and married Lucy Young, a poet who also came from a musical family and encouraged his musical talents. Bliss took music pupils to supplement his income and later became an itinerant music teacher, traveling with a $20 melodeon and an ancient horse.
Though he enjoyed teaching music, Bliss recognized his limitations and longed to study under an accomplished musician. His wife’s grandmother provided him with $30 to attend the Normal Academy of Music of New York, after which he became a professional music teacher in earnest. He also began to compose music at this time.
One night, while passing a revival meeting where D. L. Moody was preaching, Bliss went in to listen. As the singing was weak, his voice stood out. Moody sought him out and asked him to come to his Sunday evening meetings. He urged him to become a singing evangelist.
In 1873 Bliss joined his friend Major Whittle at a revival. The Holy Spirit filled the hall and many souls were brought to Christ that night. The following afternoon, as they met for prayer, Bliss surrendered his life to Jesus Christ anew, giving up his secular song writing, his business position, and his church work so that he could devote full time to singing of sacred music in evangelism.
Using his talents for the Lord, Bliss wrote many hymns and other songs. He published “Gospel Songs,” “Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs” in 1875, and was co-editor of “Gospel Hymns No. 2” a year later. He labored for the love of God, declining copyright benefits. The royalties, an amount of about $60,000, were distributed to worthy charities instead.
In December of 1876, Bliss died in a train wreck near Ashtabula, Ohio. Though he had survived the wreck, he went back to rescue his beloved wife and they both perished in the flames.