Saturday, December 17, 2011

Part Ten: 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 Ten: Epilogue

This series of blog posts is as far as I can take the story of William MacEwan. Others more skilled than I should feel free to get in touch with me if they want to use these blog postings as a basis for more detailed research. I would hope that some of William’s descendants might even have an archive of his diaries, newspaper clippings, family photographs and other artefacts which one day could be published to tell his story with more accuracy than I have been able to. If you are a descendant of his I would love to hear from you. However, if all of these things are long-dumped then I hope that this ten part series is a useful memorial for readers.

During my researches I have found another recording, unlisted in any of Frank Wappat's releases, so perhaps it was one of the originally unissued and unnamed tracks from December 1929 or February 1930. It is "He Hideth My Soul" (written by Co Tyrone born William James Kirkpatrick), Columbia issue number 81511. Listen to it here, and to MacEwan rolling his "r"s in good Scots style:

• He Hideth My Soul (click the black arrow to download to your computer)


For me the story is personal, in that William MacEwan’s records were part of everyday life here in Northern Ireland, among the evangelical Protestant communities that I, my parents and my grandparents grew up in and are still part of. He did more than any other to give ordinary folk the ability to have recorded gospel music in their homes in the era when the gramophone was cutting-edge technology, and established a whole new collection of hymns in the hearts of the people, many of which are still sung today. The songs he recorded, whilst classics to us nowadays, were modern and contemporary for his times. It is a shame that his recordings are now so hard to find, all out of circulation and unavailable to be bought and enjoyed.

Many Scottish evangelists and gospel singers have had a close relationship with the Ulster-Scots folk of Northern Ireland over the generations. There are many more whose lives deserve to be remembered today. Perhaps there are a few other projects like this one which will emerge in future years.

Meanwhile, with Christmas coming, here are two of William MacEwan’s Christmas recordings for you to enjoy, from his London recordings of August 1927.

• Angels Song (labeled “a Christmas number" - click the black arrow to download to your computer)
(words and music by Robert Lowry, whose parents were from Killinchy in Co Down; date of publication unknown)


• Crown Him King of Kings (labeled “a Christmas number” - click the black arrow to download to your computer)
(words and music by Eben E Rexford, published 1912)


William MacEwan, the son of Ayrshire weavers, the grandson of a man from Ireland, the boy who grew up in a Psalms-only Covenanter congregation in Glasgow, became one of the most influential voices in gospel music across the western world. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to give me positive and constructive feedback on this series. Please feel free to get in touch.

Mark Thompson,
Ballyhalbert, Northern Ireland,
December 2011