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Genesis: The Origins of a Song: Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?

This article is reprinted from the July 2023 SEBA Breakdown, written by Lady Outlaw.

The popular old Baptist hymn, Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?, written in 1897 by Eliza E. Hewitt and set to a melody by John R. Sweney, can be found as No. 787 in the Baptist Sankey hymnal.

It has been recorded numerous times by American country and bluegrass music artists such as George Jones, Ferlin Husky, Alison Krauss, the Cox Family, Reba McEntire, and many others.

The only biblical reference to stars in a crown is found in twelfth chapter verse 1 of the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse of John in the New Testament of the Christian Bible: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars…” The twelve stars on her head appear to represent both the twelve patriarchs of the tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles.

Miss Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (1851-1920) was born in Philadelphia, Pa. She was educated in the Philadelphia public schools, and after graduation as valedictorian from the Girls’ Normal School became a teacher. This career was halted by the development of a painful spinal malady caused by an unruly student striking her with a slate, which caused her to be an invalid for many years.

A gradual improvement came about, and during a slow convalescence, she studied English literature and began to sing and write. Wishing to be helpful to her church, she wrote poems for its primary department, some of which attracted the attention of Professor John R. Sweney. He wrote to her requesting more, and set some of her works to music, including one of the better known hymns, Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?

Among her other most popular hymns have been, Sunshine In My Soul, Stepping in the Light, Not One Forgotten, More About Jesus, and The Very Same Jesus.

Despite her health problems, she was deeply interested in Sunday school work, and superintended a Sunday school for the Northern Home for Friendless Children. This was followed by similar work in the Calvin Presbyterian Church. At one point, she had a class of 200 students.

During a visit to the Indians of the Onondaga Reservation, she was adopted into their tribe, which led to other unique and enjoyable experiences.

As she reflected over the events of her lifetime, she said, “After all, what hymns are so dear to us as the old church favorites? In looking over my life, would humbly and gratefully say: ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

John Robson Sweney (1837–1899), an American composer from Pennsylvania, was a Professor of Music at the Pennsylvania Military Academy for twenty-five years and collaborated with William J. Kirkpatrick to produce and publish over 1,000 hymns and over sixty hymnals.

At the age of nineteen, he studied music under Professor Theodore Bauer, a celebrated German teacher, and took lessons on the violin and piano. He worked as a leader of a choir, at children’s concerts and entertainments, and as the conductor of a glee club.

When the Civil War broke out, he took charge of the band of the Third Delaware Regiment and continued until the military bands were discontinued by the government. After returning from the war, he was appointed Professor of Music at the Pennsylvania Military Academy, then located at West Chester. When the Pennsylvania Military Academy was relocated to its present site in Chester, Pennsylvania, he remained in West Chester and continued teaching and leading the locally successful “Sweney’s Cornet Band”. About 1869, he was recalled to the Pennsylvania Military Academy in Chester.

In 1871, he began the composition of sacred music, soon becoming widely known and in great demand as a music leader of large congregations. It was a common saying among evangelists that “Sweney knows how to make a congregation sing.” For ten years or more he directed the music program at Bethany Presbyterian Church and Sunday school in Philadelphia, one of the largest Sunday schools in the United States.

Sweney wrote over one thousand sacred songs, and was editor or associate editor of about sixty books. Among his most popular songs are: In the Morning, Light after Darkness, Sunshine in the Soul, More about Jesus, Tell Me How, Oh, ’tis Glory, The New Song, and I Will Shout His Praise in Glory. His most popular and widely known hymn is Beulah Land.

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