The History of LDS Hymnbooks Part 7: The 1948 Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sometimes musicians (both in our tradition and others) think of themselves, more or less, as musical dieticians for their religion when assembling hymnbooks. Some types of hymns are deemed to be higher quality (and therefore spiritually healthy) while others are looked at as the spiritual equivalent of junk food. Like hymnodists in many other Christian churches in the 20th century, a major goal of the LDS music committee while it lasted was to wean church members off what they thought was junk food songs to hymns that they believed would be more sustaining to the soul. This Church music committee continued to oversee the production of a new hymnbook in the early post-WWII era. The era was one in which Mormonism was at a high point for respectability and ecumenism, and this hymnbook reflected that milieu. Previously, the Latter-day Saint Hymns and the Deseret Sunday School Songs were used side-by-side in the Church, with the Deseret Sunday School Songs being most commonly used, but they were supplanted together by the new hymnbook, simply titled Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and released in 1948.

BX 8685.2 .A1 1950 front-cover

The 1950 edition of Hymns

With the deaths of Evan Stephens and George Careless in the early 1930s, the pioneer-era musicians that had dominated LDS hymnody had passed away, leaving the torch to a new generation of LDS musicians. Whereas the previous generation had heavily emphasized homespun music and were often heavily influenced by operatic composers like Arthur Sullivan, the new generation largely turned to more classical Protestant sources for inspiration. The music committee even specifically noted that many of the finest and favorite hymns in the Mormon tradition were adopted from Protestant sources rather than Mormon ones and suggested that they seek out more hymns from the Protestant tradition.[1] They were also influenced by the research and writings of Sterling Wheelwright, who felt that Mormon hymnals were losing their relevance through focusing on upbeat but trivial hymns rather than intimate and meditative ones.[2]

The music committee, now proceeding with direct oversight from an executive committee of four apostles, sponsored an ongoing hymn contest for Mormons and set about collecting Protestant hymns. The latter were often slightly edited to conform to LDS theology. Frank Kooyman provided several of the new Mormon hymn texts that the committee favored, such as “Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls” and “When in the Wondrous Realms Above.” New musical compositions were encouraged to be dignified, singable, and similar to older styles of hymns (particularly the Johann Sebastian Bach chorales),[3] perhaps best exemplified by Temple Square organist Alexander Schreiner’s neo-Bachian settings for hymns.[4] The world-renowned classical composer Leroy Robertson also submitted music that was deemed suitable for many of the texts that were accepted by the committee. It was acknowledged, however, that the general membership of the Church might prefer the lighter hymns the committee was seeking to eliminate over the “better standard of musical expression” they were pushing for. Thus, committee head Tracy Cannon suggested that the transition be performed gradually.[5]

The resulting hymnbook dropped many of the Evan Stephen hymns and incorporated less hymns by committee members than the previous hymnbook had. Leroy Robertson had twelve, Alexander Schreiner eleven, and Tracy Cannon only had five. Protestant hymns formed approximately half of the 387 hymns selected for inclusion. Despite the involvement of apostles, some Church leaders questioned the hymns chosen by the committee after publication, and members tended to complain about the size and poor binding of the book. Due to this lackluster response, the music committee yielded and revised the hymnbook, releasing a modified second edition in 1950. This second edition dropped some of the well-respected Protestant hymns in favor of some popular hymns included in previous LDS hymnbooks that they had deleted. This change, in turn set precedent for the waning control of the music committee and their ability to push for what they deemed to be properly ascetic over lighter popular music in the Church’s hymnbooks.


Hymn Examples:

“When in the Wondrous Realms Above” is one of the new hymns created by Frank Kooyman and Alexander Schreiner for the 1948 hymnbook. It is still included in the current LDS hymnbook as a sacrament hymn, though with different music by Robert P. Manookin. Image was not included to avoid copyright infringement.


Break Forth

“Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light” is an example of the Protestant, old-style hymns that the music committee favored for inclusion in the hymnbook. It is also an example of the more complicated hymns that were included in a section specifically for choirs.



Land of the Mountains High

“Land of the Mountains High” (Utah, We Love Thee) shows some of the Utah-centric hymns that continued to be included in the official LDS hymnals up through the time that the 1948 hymnbook was in circulation. Most (though not all) were eliminated in the 1985 hymnbook, and it is likely that even fewer will make the cut for the forthcoming global hymnbook.



[1] Harold B. Lee et al. to First Presidency, 25 October 1944, CMC Files 1939-49.

[2] See Michael Hicks, Mormonism and Music: A History, p.135.

[3] See Church Music Committee (CMC) to “Dear Friend,” 1 August 1945, CMD Circular Letters, HDC.

[4] CMC Minutes, 7 December 1944.

[5] Cannon to G. W. Richards, 19 October 1945, CMD General Files, HDC.

4 comments for “The History of LDS Hymnbooks Part 7: The 1948 Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  1. The Other Clark
    July 5, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Another great installment. I remember this edition best for the numberless pencil rubbings I made during sacrament meetings with the embossed tabernacle organ on the cover. Is there any difference between those bound in brown, and those bound in navy blue?

  2. Grandpa
    July 5, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Other Clark: The HYMNS came out in navy blue, brown, and red — those are the colors I remember. But they were otherwise the same book. I have several blue ones in my collection, but I wish I had a red one because most people laugh when I tell them it existed.

  3. July 5, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Their goal, if I remember correctly, was to make a variety of colors for the same hymnbook so it could match color schemes in different chapels. They talked about doing the same for the next hymnbook, but just went with green again.

  4. Clark Goble
    July 5, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    That’s interesting. I never knew there was a red one. I remember the blue ones from when I was a young kid. I assume that was the most common version. As a kid I remember being disappointed when we lost the embossing you could trace out with a pencil on paper with the switch to the green hymnals. That picture you have from the 50’s captures the embossing quite well.

    BTW – weird question but what font is that they are using? I put the text through a font identifier but none of its suggestions seemed plausible. Some of the hymnals appear to be using William Calson’s cut typeface but that one is really weird.

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