The History of LDS Hymnbooks, Part 8: The Hymnbook that Never Was

Increased oversight by Church leaders caused by the Correlation movement brought the tension between the Church Music Committee’s ongoing crusade for more sophisticated hymns and general Church membership’s tastes for enjoyable music in the hymnal to a head. Correlation was an effort to streamline and coordinate the Church’s various organizations (priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, Mutual, etc.) and the curriculum they were teaching in their meetings. Headed by Elder Harold B. Lee, Correlation resulted in a major overhaul to the structure of the Church and increased scrutiny to every publication it printed. The movement also shifted the Church’s relationship to the non-Mormon world as Church leaders pushed for a more uniquely Mormon and conservative mentality in the Church in response to what was felt to be encroaching worldliness.[1]

All of this impacted the music committee of the Church in the decades leading up to the 1985 hymnbook. As part of Correlation, the Church music committee members that had functioned prior to 1969 were released, and a new Church Music Department with a hymnbook committee was formed. The new committee set to work in late 1973 to create a distinctively Mormon hymnal. They planned to seek out upwards of 10,000 hymns drawn from as many Mormon and non-Mormon hymnbooks as they could find as well as newly-written hymns by Mormons and then winnow them down to about 500 hymns. An emphasis was placed on songs that would “proclaim the revealed truth in this day and time, hymns that are most meaningful to the present worldwide church,” meaning “less ‘Protestant-type’ hymns.”[2] Another specific hope of the committee was to produce a thoroughly international collection of hymns, including some specific to ethnic groups around the world.

The committee subjected the hymns that were included in the previous Mormons hymnbooks to harsh scrutiny, starting with the assumption that every one had to pass severe judgement to be included. Many were condemned for reasons like being “gloomy,” “pompous,” “choppy,” “racis[t],” “chauvinistic,” “pantheistic” and (frequently) “musically embarrassing to the church.”[3] These were from internal reviews of the committee, which were far more open about their feelings than the official reports to Church leaders. While somewhat less candid, the general tone and approach of their official reports seem to have been viewed as unduly harsh, which did not sit well with the general authorities involved.

Church leaders became increasingly involved as work progressed with the hymnbook. For example, Elders Ezra Taft Benson and Mark E. Peterson made it clear that they expected American patriotic songs to be in the hymnbook while Elder Thomas S. Monson insisted on “How Great Thou Art” being included.[4] The committee’s determination to keep “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light” was dashed against the wall of leaders’ opinions, as were their hope to delete “Who’s On the Lord Side Who.”[5] After over three years of effort, the committee sent the First Presidency a summary of their work. In response, the First Presidency decided that they disagreed with the approach the Music Committee was taking, released the committee and dissolved the Music Department shortly thereafter. This aborted effort to create a new hymnbook was not initially successful, but ultimately laid the foundations for the next hymnbook to be created by the Church.


Examples of Hymns:


Who's on the Lord's Side.jpg

“Who’s On the Lord Side Who” is one of many songs that the hymnbook committee wished to remove from the hymnbook. Their criticism of hymns was often harsh. For example, they rejected this one on the basis that it was “amateurish, jingoistic [and] self congratulatory [with music that] sounds like a cheap London dance hall tune.” [6] Church leaders pushed back against their suggestion that this hymn be removed, which resulted in its inclusion in the 1985 hymnal.


Each Cooing Dove.jpg

“Each Cooing Dove” was another hymn in the 1948/1950 hymnal that was met with strong criticism by the hymnbook committee. It was a lilting and sentimental gospel song, which was a style that had fallen out of favor with serious musicians. Because of this, one committee member called it “a blot on the church.”[7] It did not make the cut for the subsequent hymnal.


Omaha Tribal Prayer

The music committee wished to include a more diverse array of hymns than previous LDS hymnals had contained. Hymns from around the world and overtly ethnic hymns, like the Boy Scout favorite “Omaha Tribal Prayer” (shown above), were considered for inclusion.



[1] See Philip L. Barlow, “Shifting Ground and the Third Transformation of Mormonism,” in Perspectives on American Religion and Culture, ed. Peter W. Williams (Maiden MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 140-153 and Armand L. Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle With Assimilation (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994).

[2] O. Leslie Stone to First Presidency, 4 January 1974, CMD Correspondence, 1967-77.

[3] See Michael Hicks, “How to Make (and Unmake) a Mormon Hymnbook,” in A Firm Foundation: Church Organization and Administration, ed. David J. Whittaker and Arnold K. Garr (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 503-19,

[4] See Hicks, “How to Make (and Unmake) a Mormon Hymnbook.”

[5] See Hicks, “How to Make (and Unmake) a Mormon Hymnbook.”

[6] See Hicks, “How to Make (and Unmake) a Mormon Hymnbook.”

[7] Bradshaw Interview and Hymnbook Committee “Interim Report,” submitted to Dean Larsen, 24 March 1977.

11 comments for “The History of LDS Hymnbooks, Part 8: The Hymnbook that Never Was

  1. Grandpa
    July 7, 2018 at 10:46 am

    It appears that the question they forgot to ask was: “Which songs to the Saints ENJOY singing?” Their target audience was the only factor they left out of their discussion. I’m thankful so much feedback is being asked for in the upcoming hymnal project.

  2. Anonymous
    July 7, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Now the fireworks have begun. Eliminating racism and proposing ethnic inclusion as among “elitist” thinking. The LDS church is not as different from the overall American pattern as one would think.

  3. Mark B.
    July 7, 2018 at 11:53 am

    I have a good friend who was on that committee. One of the highlights: reviewing all the “lengthen your stride” submissions from members.

    And who wouldn’t want to sing a pirate song with an octave-long glissando in church?

    I’m not sure that a “songs they like to sing” standard helps much. Large numbers of members don’t sing now, half of those who do sing listlessly, and almost nobody pays any attention to the text.

  4. The Other Clark
    July 7, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    I hope this series at some point mentions that the 1985 Music Committee finally modernized the bass clef symbol. The 1948 book looks reversed, but it’s consistent.

    For at least 50 years, the Church has also published a song collection for choirs (originally “Sing Unto God” with a maroon cover, then “Choirbook” with a cream color.) Why not put the “serious music” in the choirbook, and the songs congregations like to sing in the hymnbook?

    Pre-corrolation, there was an MIA songbook with “Loch Lomond” and a bunch of Stephen Foster spirituals that were fun campfire songs, but with lyrics that would would probably be considered racist today.

  5. ji
    July 7, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    In history, there was so much effort to control the liturgy of the people’s worship in Europe. Many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of people killed or were killed in arguments about liturgy. Kings and councils “approved” books of hymns and prayers that the people were allowed to use.

    I hope there is no paternalism in the development of the new hymnbook. I hope it is all done with a sense of worship. But we’re human. God help us, and God bless those who serve on the new committee.

  6. July 7, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    “Now the fireworks have begun. Eliminating racism and proposing ethnic inclusion as among “elitist” thinking. The LDS church is not as different from the overall American pattern as one would think.”

    I would venture to say that most of the elitism came from attitudes about the quality of the music, not from considerations of racism or inclusion. (With my own knowledge of music theory, and having tired of those perky “sunshine hymns” by the time I got though seminary, I totally get that attitude.)

    I’ve heard that “How Great Thou Art” was considered for removal because Elvis had made a recording of it, and the music committee was concerned about it being too popular of a song. President Monson’s love of Broadway-style musicals and generally being a “man of the people” seem to line up well with him advocating for that hymn’s continued inclusion, regardless of concerns for being too popular.

  7. July 9, 2018 at 9:09 am

    I agree with Eric. When I wrote that the attitude was elitist, I was referring to how harsh they were with the music.
    The Other Clark, I agree with your idea for the choir book. I think one thing to remember, though, is that prior to the 1948 hymnbook, they kind of had been doing it that way, perhaps without realizing it. Both of the official hymnbooks that had music in them (Latter-day Saint Psalmody, Latter-day Saint Hymns) were essentially choir book hymnals while the Sunday School hymnals were the beloved congregational hymns hymnbooks. When the 1948 hymnbook was commissioned, it was replacing both the official hymnbook of the Church and the Sunday School hymnal, and tried to bring both serious and popular music together, hence the large choir sections in it. This hymnbook was meant to build upon that tradition. As a side note, at least one or two of the more choir focused hymns from the 1927 hymnal ended up in the current choirbook.
    It’s also good to keep in mind that the committee was following general trends in raising editorial standards and inclusiveness in hymnbooks. If you ever read, for example, some of the Community of Christ literature from their hymnbook committees, they sound similar to this hymnbook committee in a lot of ways.
    Also, I threw in a reference to the bass clef just for you on the next post, and I loved looking through the old MIA songbook when I was younger.
    Mark B. brings up a good point with lackluster singing being common even in a more populist hymnbook. Though, I would love to hear a pirate song tune with a hymn in sacrament meeting.

  8. Anonymous
    July 9, 2018 at 9:27 am

    “The committee subjected the hymns that were included in the previous Mormons hymnbooks to harsh scrutiny, starting with the assumption that every one had to pass severe judgement to be included. Many were condemned for reasons like being “gloomy,” “pompous,” “choppy,” “racis[t],” “chauvinistic,” “pantheistic” and (frequently) “musically embarrassing to the church.””

    I don’t think I read the OP wrong. I see your list of the committee’s criteria as including racist in quotes. Care to elaborate?

  9. July 9, 2018 at 10:12 am

    I can see where you get that from the way I wrote it. That’s mostly my fault. By way of explanation, the list that the racist label was in was an internal review for the music committee, focused on specific hymns. The review that church leaders saw was far less candid in its approach, but still blunt enough to lead to the committee being entirely cut out of the hymnbook compilation process. I don’t think they included the racist label for the review church leaders saw. When I said that their approach came across as elitist that was honestly my interpretation of their general tone and the response to it, not a specific quote from the church leaders. We have no record of their response in words, only actions (the release of the committee) with no specific reasons stated. Also, the racist remark was only one among many, and was not repeated nearly as often as criticism of the music. It is a very small part of the picture, and one that Church leaders may not have even been aware of (the committee feeling that way about a hymn in the prior hymnbook). So when I explained what I meant as being about the music rather than racism in the Church, that’s what was in the back of my mind. I’ll work on fixing the wording to make that a little bit more clear.

  10. July 9, 2018 at 10:23 am

    And don’t get me wrong, either. I do believe that taking a stance against racist language (or any other form of racism) is a good thing and not something that is elitist in tone.

  11. The Other Clark
    July 9, 2018 at 11:55 am

    For much of our history, we’ve promoted a “chosen people” rhetoric as part of the gathering of “the true blood of Israel.” Some of that history is reflected in our hymns. “Come Oh Thou King of Kings” includes lines about a “chosen race.” The only other hymn I can think of off the top of my head with racist/colonialist overtones is “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”.

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