Is that a hymnbook in his hand?

I love the Hymns of the Church [1] [1.1]

I enjoy singing [2], playing them on the Piano and Guitar [3] and occasionally will give them a go in a Choir [4].

I happened to be looking in my bookcase the other day and found a book entitled, “Our Latter-Day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages” by Karen Lynn Davidson. My mother had given me this book for a present many years ago. It lists every Hymn in the book and outlines some of its history, background and its author.

I quite like this book. It seems that, for the most part, singing in the Church is done automatically, with little to no thought about the words, message or intent. Music to me has many similarities to drugs. You take a drug and its action is independent of your thought and desire. The drug will just work and bypass your conscious mind and (depending on the drug type) just start on your central nervous system. When I hear music, I feel like I have taken a drug. It affects me to the core and does so immediately. I am calmed, spiritually uplifted, disgusted or ready to go for a run – all depending on the style of music I am listening to.

In reading this book, there are a few of the Hymns that have something interesting about them. I would like to write a few posts on these Hymns.

The first one is Hymn 27 – Praise to the Man.

The text to this song was written by William W Phelps (1792-1872) shorty following the death of Joseph Smith. It originally appeared (anonymously) in Times and Seasons on 1 August 1844.


As you can see above, the original words in the second verse read, “Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins / Stain Illinois, while the earth lauds his fame”. Now obviously reads, “Pleads unto heav’n, while the earth lauds his fame”. This was changed in the 1927 Hymn book [5].

Phelps led a very interesting life in the church – details for those who are not familiar with him can be found on Wikipedia (not a bad (short) summary of his life).

The words have been thought to be sung to three tunes over time. 1 Star in the East (as above). 2. Hail to the Chief and 3. The current tune entitled Martyr which is a version of Scotland the Brave. See below for You Tube video of a piper playing this tune.

As far as I can tell, this is one of only a few Hymns that are entirely about someone specific (as opposed to something like faith or missionary work or someone in general like “a” prophet) other than the members of the Godhead [6].

This hymn has recently attracted some negative attention as certain aspects of Joseph Smiths life have come to prominence – aspects of polygamy have been principle amongst these. Others just have issue with singing “praise” to a man – prophet…[7] yes, usher of the final dispensation…yes [8] – but – fallible and like you and me.

Here is a video of the 166th Annual General Conference with the Choir and Congregation singing Praise to the Man. I found this quite interesting for a few reasons:

  • A LOT of old faces (1996)
  • It was in the Tabernacle
  • Pres Hinckley looking at the Choir
  • A couple of GA’s having a chat
  • Lots of people not knowing the words
  • Bad hair and clothes!!


  1. What are your thoughts on this Hymn – do you like it?
  2. Is it contradictory for us to say “We don’t worship Joseph Smith”, but then sing praises to him?
  3. Should the bagpipes get a start in Sacrament meeting?


[1] Caveats are – 1. Should be more of them, 2. Should have more from other religions (such as Amazing Grace), 3. Should have some that are more upbeat and 4. Can’t wait for a more liberal policy regarding instruments and styles of music in Sacrament Meetings

[1.1] I think I may be on my own, if last weeks post by Hawkgrrrl is the yardstick!!!

[2] Enjoyment does NOT equal talent

[3] Enjoyment does NOT equal talent

[4] Enjoyment does NOT equal talent but at least you’re not the only one up on the stand

[5] I’m sure the Mid Western State appreciates the lack of reference to assassins and blood

[6] Joseph Smiths First Prayer

[7] Or insert your own answer here

[8] Or insert your own answer here