In 1957, less than a decade after writer Stuart K. Hine wrote the 1949 hymn “How Great Thou Art,” vocalist George Beverly Shea introduced the song to U.S. audiences during one of preacher Billy Graham’s crusades at New York’s Madison Square Garden. According to author Don Cusic’s book The Sound of Light, Shea performed the song nearly 100 times during the 16-week crusade, which averaged 19,000 in attendance each night.
Since then, “How Great Thou Art” has become one of the most well-known hymns, sung weekly in congregations around the world and performed by notable artists such as Elvis Presley, who made the song the title track to his second gospel project in 1967 and won two Grammys for his recordings of the song, including best inspirational performance and best sacred performance. In 2011, Carrie Underwood earned a hit with her version of the song, and later included it on her 2021 gospel album, My Savior. The song was included on a list of “365 Songs of the Century” released in 2001 by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
To honor the 75-year anniversary of “How Great Thou Art,” sixteen CCM and country artists came together to update the song with a new verse and creating “How Great Thou Art (Until That Day),” which releases today. Chris Tomlin (“Holy Forever,” “How Great Is Our God”), Matt Redman (“10,000 Reasons”), Lady A member Hillary Scott (“Thy Will”), Cody Carnes, Kari Jobe, solo artist and Maverick City Music member Naomi Raine, TAYA, Ryan Ellis, Jon Reddick, Blessing Offor, Brian Johnson, Jenn Johnson, Matt Maher, Pat Barrett, Benjamin William Hastings, and Mitch Wong joined together to record the new version.
The Stuart Hine Trust, which owns and administers Hine’s catalog, commissioned Redman, as well as writer-artist Wong (a writer on CeCe Winans’ Grammy-winning hit “Believe For It”) to craft a new verse to the song, one that would lend hope and resonance with current events. Maher and Steve Marcia produced the new version, with string arrangement by Tommee Profitt.
“Normally, you can’t adapt this hymn,” Redman tells Billboard. “There is a pattern with old hymns, if they are in the public domain, of adapting them, adding a chorus, reworking them. But with ‘How Great Thou Art,’ the Stuart Hine Trust is still the publisher and normally they would deny anyone who tried to mess with it. So I was quite surprised when they approached and said, ‘Would you like to write a new section?’”
Hine wrote the song in 1949, though its origins stretch back to an 1800s Swedish hymn. Hine was a missionary in the 1930s, living and traveling in the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe, which now includes Ukraine. Proceeds from the new version of the song will support humanitarian efforts to aid those impacted in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“We tried to tie into the old verse structure, but with a melodic lift and words saying, ‘Hey, we can’t avoid or ignore that we live in a broken, warring world, and we have to face that, but we’re also going to sing with hope,” Redman says, adding, “I feels like a bit of a weird word, ‘War,’ to put in a hymn, but that’s our reality, whether it’s on a personal level or on a national, actual war level, that’s the world we live in. I don’t want to sing a song that feels escapist or doesn’t engage with reality.”
The artists came together to record vocals at both Gold Pacific Studios in Los Angeles, as well as Nashville’s RCA Studio B — the same Music City studio where Presley recorded his version of “How Great Thou Art” in 1966. “Matt Maher got to play the piano from the Elvis version, so it was quite a special full-circle moment,” Redman notess.
“I felt like we landed on a fresh approach that felt very true to the old hymn,” Redman says. Tomlin begins the song with a solo vocal, followed by Scott. From there, vocalist after vocalist lends their vocal, sometimes solo and other times wrapping in harmonies, building into full-on vocal choruses. “The most wonderful thing for me was all of these people are fantastic vocalists. We’d have Naomi Raine sing, and Kari Jobe and Blessing Offor, then Hillary Scott comes in — I don’t know quite how she carries that completely pure voice, but with that tiny edge to it. The vocals all work so well together.”
Looking ahead in celebrating the song’s 75th anniversary, Redman says that there could be additional versions of “How Great Thou Art” (including the new verse) on the way: “The Stuart Hine Trust has commissioned, I believe, an orchestral version, a choir version, welcoming different versions of the new arrangement as a way of resourcing out to the wider church.”
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