Today’s hymn, Victory In Jesus, was written by Eugene Monroe Bartlett, Sr., considered to one of the founding fathers of Southern gospel music. He wrote hundreds of songs, both sacred and secular, but this one is probably the most enduring and still sung in evangelical churches today, one of my favorites.
Eugene Monroe Bartlett was born on Christmas Eve 1883 (according to 1900 census, although most list his year of birth as 1885) in Waynesville, Missouri to parents Hiram Frasier and Mary Elizabeth (Atwell) Bartlett. Not long after his birth the family moved to Sebastian County, Arkansas, home to some of my ancestors and kin. At an early age Eugene became a Christian and later developed a talent for music.
He was educated at the Hall-Moody Institute in Martin, Tennessee and the William Jewel College in Liberty, Missouri, trained in music and education. He married Joan Tatum in 1917 and together they had two children, Eugene, Jr. and Charles.
In 1918 he founded the Hartford Music Company in Hartford, Arkansas, publishing hymnals and conducting singing schools throughout the South. According to Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, “in later years his schools brought together such well-known teachers as James Rowe and Homer Rodeheaver” (look for a future Church Traditions themed article on singing schools). Eugene’s goal was to teach people to sight read through the use of shaped notes (an assigned tone for each note on the eight-note scale). He also edited a music magazine called Herald of Song.
He served as president of Hartford Music Company until 1935 and during that time branch offices were opened in Nacogdoches, Texas and Hartshorne, Oklahoma. Eugene continued to write gospel songs, many suited for what came to be known as Southern gospel music with its classic four-part harmonies. He also wrote secular songs popularized at the Grand Old Opry like You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down and Take An Old Cold Tater and Wait.
With his success in the music publishing business, Eugene was able to help other writers and musicians get their start, including Albert E. Brumley who wrote gospel classics like Turn Your Radio On and I’ll Fly Away. Brumley arrived in Arkansas to attend the singing school without sufficient funds to pay his tuition. Eugene let him enroll for free and stay in his own home. After stepping down at the music company, Eugene worked for a time for Stamps-Baxter Music Company and the James D. Vaughan Music Company, and continued to conduct singing schools throughout the South.
Eugene didn’t pen the words and music for Victory in Jesus until 1939, following a devastating stroke which left him bedridden. Partially paralyzed and unable to travel any longer, he wrote the upbeat tune which perhaps might have reflected his own Christian testimony in three stanzas:
I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory.
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.
I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.
I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory.
He struggled to write the song, taking almost a month to complete it. Eugene Bartlett died on January 25, 1941, and in 1973 was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. His songs have been sung by quartets, choirs, bluegrass and country musicians and more. Some of his other gospel songs include (you can click on the link to hear them — enjoy!):
The opening notes of Victory In Jesus are inscribed on Eugene’s tombstone:
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.