Thursday, December 15, 2011

Part Seven: The story of William MacEwan / McEwan of Glasgow (1871 - 1943) the 'World's Sweetest Gospel Singer'


Introduction: The story below has been assembled from a variety of online sources - newspapers, censuses, marriage certificates and ships passenger lists. If any readers know of errors here I would be pleased to hear from you. This is one of a series of posts to coincide with the 100th anniversary of William McEwan's first recording session in London in November 1911.


Part Seven: The 1930s and the last American recordings
As time goes on, the sources seem to dry up. I'm not sure if it's because, now almost 60 years of age, William MacEwan's career was slowing down, or whether his fame was waning, or if the news agenda had just moved on. It might also be that, at the point of writing this in December 2011, only some historical newspapers have been digitised - and therefore in future years as more come online then more information about him will become available. So far I've concentrated on US newspapers, so there may be additional information in British newspapers and evangelical publications of the time. Here are a few newspaper references from early 1930:

“…Mr William McEwan, of Long Island, N.Y., who is the evangelistic singer at the Methodist Church during the special meetings being held, entertained by a number of Scotch stories and also with some of his songs. Mr McEwan is a Scotchman, being born at Glasgow, Scotland, and he can tell a Scotch story…”
- ‘Five Visitors Attend Mt Union Rotary Club’; The Daily News, Huntingdon, 27.01.1930

“… he is now a gospel singer and has sung all over the world. He has sung in a large portion of the world with Chapman, Torrey, Beiderwolf, Gypsy Smith and Billie Sunday. He is an exclusive Columbia artist and his gospel song records may be bought at Laird’s drug store…”
- ‘Meeting Success in Evangelistic Work in Mt. Union”; The Daily News, Huntingdon, 28.01.1930

“…William McEwan of Long Island, N.Y., who is the evangelistic singer at the First Methodist Church during the special meetings in progress last week and this entertained with a number of Scotch stories and also with several Scotch songs. Mr McEwan is a Scotchman, being born in Glasgow, Scotland, and he is adept at telling stories of his mother country…”
- 1930, Jan 29, The Altoona Mirror (Pennsylvania)

The Seventh Recording Session, New York, Feb 1930
His seventh recording session came in February 1930, just two months after his sixth session, when he recorded three pieces with a harmonium and violin:

• Sunrise
(words by William C Poole, music by B D Ackley, published 1924)

• Throw out the Lifeline
(words by Edwin S Ufford, music by George C Stebbins, published 1890)

• Pull for the Shore
(words and music by Philip Bliss)

As with his sixth session, a fourth piece was recorded as well, but its title is unknown as it was never released as a record. For what it's worth, I think that "Pull For the Shore" is one of his strongest recordings, a popular hymn written in a sea shanty style by Philip Bliss (see here for background information on I have digitised it below for you to listen:

Light in the darkness, sailor, day is at hand!
See o’er the foaming billows fair haven’s land,
Drear was the voyage, sailor, now almost o’er,
Safe within the life boat, sailor, pull for the shore.


Pull for the shore, sailor, pull for the shore!
Heed not the rolling waves, but bend to the oar;
Safe in the life boat, sailor, cling to self no more!
Leave the poor old stranded wreck, and pull for the shore.

Trust in the life boat, sailor, all else will fail,
Stronger the surges dash and fiercer the gale,
Heed not the stormy winds, though loudly they roar;
Watch the “bright and morning Star,” and pull for the shore!

Bright gleams the morning, sailor, uplift the eye;
Clouds and darkness disappearing, glory is nigh!
Safe in the life boat, sailor, sing evermore;
“Glory, glory, hallelujah!” pull for the shore.

Philip Bliss's tragic death in 1876, trying to save his wife from a burning train wreck, had become world-famous in evangelical circles; here is a present-day video production about him:

The 1930 US Census
On 1st April 1930, the US Census recorded these details about the MacEwan household (who were living at no. 40, 3728 Brooklyn, New York) :
• William McEwan aged 59, first married at age 20, a "WW" veteran
• Mabel McEwan, born New York, first married at 18, now aged 36 (Mabel was his second wife)
• Charles McEwan, son, aged 19, born Scotland
• Clayton McEwan, son, aged 17, born Scotland.

The Eighth Recording Session, New York, Jan 1931
In January 1931 he completed eighth recording session, which were to be his last American recordings. Now aged 60, and accompanied with a harmonium and violin he recorded:

• God Is With Us
(words and music by Lewis E Jones, published 1923)

• Merrily Sing
(words by Haldor Lillenas, published circa 1921)

• I Would Be Like Jesus
(words by James Rowe, music by B D Ackley, published 1911)

• What A Day of Victory
(words and music by James Rowe, published 1917)

• Pardoning Grace
(words by A H Ackley, music by B D Ackley, published 1914)

• Sweetest Song
(words and music by A H Ackley, published 1913)

To be continued...