Posted by: rcottrill | July 26, 2010

Today in 1933 – Charles Tindley Died

American pastor and hymn writer Charles Albert Tindley’s story is an amazing one of striving to overcome hardship and succeeding, by the grace of God. He was born in 1851, the son of Charles and Esther Tindley. Charles’s father was a slave, but his mother was a free woman. Thus, he was born free but brought up among enslaved people. His mother died when he was 4 years old, and he was separated from his father a year later. Charles was raised by his Aunt Caroline.

In that day, white slave owners considered it dangerous for blacks to receive an education. But after the Emancipation Proclamation young Charles taught himself to read and write. He moved to Philadelphia, where he worked as a janitor in a small church, attending school in the evenings and taking a correspondence course. He mastered Hebrew and Greek, largely on his own, and prepared himself for Christian ministry.

In 1902 he became the pastor of the church where he had once worked as a janitor. It grew steadily under his leadership, until, at the time of his death, it had 12,500 members. Most unusually for the time, it was an integrated congregation, with both blacks and whites serving in leadership positions. In spite of Pastor Tindley’s objections, the church was renamed the Tindley Temple Methodist Church.

As well as being a busy pastor, Charles Tindley wrote a number of fine gospel songs. In fact, he is considered one of the founding fathers of American gospel music. Twenty years after his death, his son Elbert and his wife Hazel ministered in music in our church in Ontario, singing some of the songs written by his father.

Charles Tindley wrote We’ll Understand It Better By and By. And his song I’ll Overcome Some Day became the inspiration for the secular Civil Rights song We Shall Overcome. Some of his songs grew out of incidents in his daily life. Pastor Tindley was working in his study one day when a puff of wind from the open window blew some papers over the notes he was jotting down. The thought came to him, “Let nothing between,” and the idea for a song was born. I have an old recording of son Albert singing it, and I can still see his shining face as I listen.

Nothing between my soul and the Saviour,
Naught of this world’s delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between.

Graphic Sack FullOn another occasion, a worried believer came to see Tindley, pouring out all his troubles and complaints. The pastor offered this counsel, based on I Pet. 5:7, “Put all your troubles in a sack, take ‘em to the Lord, and leave ‘em there!” Out of that conversation grew the hymn Leave It There. In succeeding stanzas, he lists several kinds of difficulty we can commit to the Lord in prayer: financial distress, illness and pain, hurts caused by others, and the problems of old age.

If the world from you withhold of its silver and its gold,
An you have to get along with meagre fare,
Just remember, in His Word, how He feeds the little bird;
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

Leave it there, leave it there,
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
If you trust and never doubt,
He will surely bring you out.
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

Here’s a link to a unique rendering of Leave It There. From 1927 to 1929, black gospel singer and song writer Washington Phillips recorded a series of 18 songs. His style is unmistakably his own. And the instrument he plays has remained something of a mystery. It has a zither-like sound, but some have concluded it must have been a home-made stringed instrument he invented himself.

(2) More from Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts is so significant to English hymnody that I wanted to include a hymn here or there that was not tied to a particular date. There Is a Land of Pure Delight came to mind. As he sat is his home at Southampton, looking out across the water at the green verdure of the Isle of Wight, he thought of the glories of heaven that await the believer beyond the “narrow sea” of death. (For more about Isaac Watts see Today in 1674.)

There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.

There everlasting spring abides,
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours.

Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green:
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.

But timorous mortals start and shrink
To cross this narrow sea;
And linger, shivering on the brink,
And fear to launch away.

O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy doubts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!

Could we but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.


  1. Charles TIndley’s father was enslaved, but his mother was a free woman. Thus, he was born free but brought up among enslaved people.

    I thought that you might want to correct your entry.

    Fath Davis RUffins
    Curator, Smithsonian Institution

    • Thank you very much. It writing the enormous amount of material I do, along with all of the research involved, it’s easy to miss some of the details. I will correct the blog immediately.

  2. Thank you Ms. Fath Davis Ruffins for requesting the correction and Thank you rcottrill for correcting so quickly. I was doing research on my family tree when I stubble upon this article about C.A. Tindley. Charles was raised by his Aunt Caroline after the death of his mother. Caroline Miller Robbins was my great great great grandmother. I grew up listening to my grandmother and her siblings proudly talk about how our family became free. It may not mean a lot to some but for my family we are very proud of the fact that the Arnold Miller (Charles’s maternal grandfather) family were free people contrary to so many articles I have seen. Thank you both again.

    • You’re most welcome. I do try to be accurate. And I will happily add in the detail about Charles being raised by his aunt.

  3. Dear Mr. Robert Cottrill,
    Thank you for posting this information about Charles Tindley. I was so pleased to find it. I’m a singer and one of my favorite hymns of all time is Stand By Me. My husband and I are performers and the pinnacle song of our show is this beautiful hymn. I hope his son Albert will one day see this and know his Father’s music is still blessing so many people!
    What a wonderful legacy.

    Bobbie Davenport West
    Nashville, TN

    • Good to hear from you. I’ve sung Mr. Tindley’s “Leave It There” as a solo a number of times. Good, practical, “shoe leather” theology.

  4. Thanks for posting. I am intrigued by hymns stories and once I found out about those of Charles Tindley his quickly became one of my favorites. I think the Methodist churches should feature him during Black History month. What a powerful witness of one being all that God wanted him to be! Stand By Me and We’ll Understand It Better By and By have always been among my favorite hymns.

  5. […] Read more about Charles Albert Tindley over here. […]

  6. Thank you Thank you Thank you

  7. Hi Robert, you actually have a recording of Charles Tindley singing “Nothing Between”! Could you digitize it and share it with us?

    Also, the song “Nothing Between” is the first hymn that I’ve come across that has the words “self-denial” in it (last stanza). That’s amazing, considering the normal self-loving, self-pleasing nature of the flesh.

    In Lk 9:23 Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

    • Ah, the treasures I could share, if only I knew how to digitalize–and if only I had the time! Here in the office I have a turntable, and computer programs ready to go, plus pages of instruction from my son on how to put disks on MP3’s. The idea was that if I could do that it would save a lot of space and I could dispose of the hundreds of disks I have. But with all the writing projects I have on the go, I’ve never gotten around to figuring out how it all works. Yes, I’d love to put Tindley and other treasures on my blog…sometime. 🙂

      As to “self-denial,” the word also appears in the third stanza of Charles Gabriel’s More Like the Master.

  8. Thanks. You have an encyclopedic knowledge of the hymns.

    How about the phrase “habits of life”. I think that phrase is unique to this hymn.

    To digitize the disks, you could use a handy recorder like this one:

    I have one myself, and you have record stuff without using the PC. Later you can transfer the music using an SD card. Tomorrow, I’m helping a friend record some bag pipe music.

    • Well, I’ve learned a few hymns over the years, but I make no claim to an “encyclopedic knowledge.” If you go to the Search feature on the Cyber Hymnal, here, you can look up any word or phrase you like. It’s a great way to find a hymn when all you can remember is one little phrase. (“Habits of life” seems to be nowhere else in the 8,100 hymns Dick Adams has posted there.)

  9. Sorry, I should say that you have “a very impressive” knowledge of the hymns instead.

    Thanks for all the articles that you have shared on your blog.

    • Your welcome. We keeps at it. 🙂

  10. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  11. My mothers niece is married to Tindley’s son Charles Albert. I just found this out this past week as she came to visit my husband and I in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma from Ohio. This is so amazing to me because my husband and I pastor a church and I do the praise and worship. I am so excited to possibility do a new version of Stand by me and it is need to see music in my family history like this that I never knew existed. I do have never had formal lessons other than at His feet and it is just exciting to me. I will share this website with his wife. Thanks! three2love

    • Thanks for sharing this personal connection. It’s amazing the folks we can sometimes find in our family tree! 🙂 God bless.

      • Thanks so much! I was mistaken as she is married to the grandson Charles Elbert with an E and not the son who has passed on. Even in his late 70’s he recalls his grandfather with very fond memories and again this is neat to be in our family tree none the less. Blessing! three2love

      • Ah! Makes more sense. Charles Albert was a middle-aged man back in the 1950’s, when I met him. Thanks for the correction.

  12. Dear Sir,
    Do you have a story about tindley’s,”Stand By ME?’
    ANY detail will be appreciated,the words are so powerfull,There muct be a story behind that song!
    Thank YOu!
    Terry Phillips

    • I checked through the resources I have available, but I’m sorry to say I have nothing on Pastor Tindley’s song, “Stand by Me.” I have some biographical notes here, if that’s any help. And the Cyber Hymnal can give you his picture, here. It’s interesting to me that the man was six foot four. Years ago, I met his son, and he was quite a small man. Anyway, I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.

  13. Let me rephrase that, is there a book that tells the stories behind the hymns/gospel songs he wrote, like 101 hymns stories, etc. or any book about his life and songs…..

    • It seems to me that when Charles’s son Elbert sang at our church many years ago, my father obtained a book from him of his father’s songs. But it was lost somewhere. There are many short biographies of Charles Tindley on the Net, and likely a number of books about him. One is Charles Albert Tindley, Prince of Preachers, by Ralph H. Jones (published by Abingdon Press, 1982). You could likely track it down on the Net at one of the used book sellers. I’ve done that a number of times with old books about hymn writers.

      The book more specifically of the kind you describe is Beams of Heaven: Hymns of Charles Albert Tindley. It was compiled by S. T. Kimbrough, Carlton R. Young, and James Abbington, and published by the General Board of Global Ministries for the United Methodist Church. However, it appears to be out of print. If you can track down a copy, that should give you what you want.

    • Here you go, if you’re willing to pay $45 for it! See…

  14. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  15. […] […]

  16. Can anyone tell me the history behind “Beams Of Heaven”. How did Pastor Tindley come to write that? What was going on at that time?

    • I can shed only a general light on the subject of Charles Tindley’s gospel song, Beams of Heaven as I Go (also called Someday). (If you are a reader unfamiliar with the song, the Cyber Hymnal has it here.) I don’t know of a story behind this particular song, but it fits the general purpose of much of Charles Tindley’s music. A couple of historians quoted in Carlton Young’s Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (p. 229-230) say:

      “Tindley wrote songs incorporating the black folk imagery which attempted to interpret the oppression African Americans faced as they settled in the cities of the North.”

      Between 1915 and 1970 something like six million black Americans fled from the oppressed conditions of the Southern States and headed north (and also to the west coast) seeking a better life. It has been called the greatest under-reported story of the twentieth century. Though Pastor Tindley’s song predates the most intense period of migration, it was also going on earlier, and I believe it speaks to those involved in this migration.

      You can find out more about this and other music of the Black Methodist tradition in the book Come Sunday, by William McClain. But I also highly recommend another book: The Warmth of Other Suns, a 2010 historical account of the period by award-winning African American author Isabel Wilkerson.

      I wish I could be of more specific help on this one, but the above provides some general background.

  17. Thank you for ths history about Mr. Tindley. I listened to Washingon Phillips recording and heard the last verse. It is usually not listed in any listing on the Internet so I appreciate hearing it for myself. I will be using the verse as it is so comforting. May God bless your work.

    just like to study the hyms and find easy ones to play on my guitar

    • Your note was a blessing this morning. Glad you enjoyed Mr. Tindley’s song. He wrote some very practical life-related ones that still can speak to us today. Thanks for your wish for God to bless my ministry. He has, for many years, and I know He’ll continue to do so. God bless you too. 🙂

  18. Mr. Tindley and wife stayed in my home in the 1940s as we had a revival in Elgin Illinois and she played the piano and he preached each night for a week and I also sang with them as I was a little girl. Tindleys also had a son that did not come with them.

    • Thanks for the interesting anecdote. These make the articles on the blog more interest. God bless.

  19. This morning the words to the hymn “Leave it There” came to my mind and then I found the story of the author’s life and another of my favorites he wrote “We’ll understand it Better By and By’ Thank you for this site.

    • And thank you for the encouragement. I began studying hymn history over 50 years ago. Now the Internet has given me a way to share some of what I’ve learned. Praise the Lord!

  20. This is one of the great gospel songs that I first heard nearly sixty years ago, my friend the late Jake Hess sang it often with great meaning. Perhaps its power can be stated this way: “Truth in simplicity”. Although I have had a long biblical and theological education, it is what F.B. Meyer called the simple truths that are essential.

    Richard Murian
    Alcuin Books

  21. I am amazed by all the comments and the articles about Rev. Charles Tindely. I was a teenager when my mother took me to Tindley Temple Church Reunion they were honoring the Rev. Charles Tindley. I meet a nephew of Rev. Tindley his name was also Charles, my mother seem to know him very well he said to me we are cousins and he has the same first name as my grandfather Charles B. Miller, then the history began to flow. I have always been a history buff. Rev. Arnold Miller is my great-great-grandfather, the brother of Ester Miller Tindley. I am also very familiar with Rev. Charles Tindley’s hymns and the many stories my mother shared with me. I would love to get in touch with more family members who know our history. Velinda D. Banks

  22. Really good work here. I did an oral history of Ralph Jones, the biographer of Reverend Tindley, back in the 1980’s while working on my book, “One More Day’s Journey,” a history of Black Philadelphia. Mr. Jones gave me lots of information about Rev. Tindley since he was raised in his church. Anyone that’s interested can find the interview in the Blockson Archives at Temple University. Reverend Tindley was a great man, and his message resounds through the ages!

    • Thanks for your insight and information. I’ve enjoyed (and sung) a number of Pastor Tindley’s songs, as well as meeting his son and listening to him and his wife sing them many years ago.


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