Glorious Gospel

Ira David Sankey

Ira David Sankey (1840-1908) was a gospel singer and composer from Pennsylvania. He introduced a musical style that would influence church services and evangelical music for generations, and some of the hymns that he wrote are still sung today.

Together with the preacher Dwight L. Moody, Sankey carried out a series of religious revivial campaigns in the United States and Britain in the late 19th century, and they became principal figures in the northern, urban, white revivalism of this era in the U.S. Moody would preach and Sankey would sing old and new hymns with his strong baritone voice.

Congregational singing was an integral part of Sankey and Moody’s ministry, and Sankey was careful to select hymns that were melodically accessible and easy for the congregation to learn. He also insisted that any accompanying music was to be played softly, to put more emphasis on the words and their message. These strategies were widely adopted by other revivalist musicians.

In addition to writing his own hymns, Sankey also collected and compiled hymns and helped popularise them. His two compilations “Sacred Songs and Solos” and “Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs” came to be especially influential.

Sankey was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1980.

In 1990, the 150th anniversery of his birth was celebrated in New Castle, Pennsylvania by mass choirs performing a retrospective of his songs.

Short facts

Name Ira David Sankey
Birth August 28, 1840, in Edinburg, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death August 13, 1908 , in Brooklyn, New York City, USA
Occupations Gospel singer

Gospel composer

Gospel compiler and publisher

Instruments Vocals

Portable reed organ


Sankey did not have any formal voice training, but he did attend a 12-week session that prepared music teachers and choirmasters for their work. Despite his lack of formal training, he employed a sound vocal technique.

Sankey sang with very clear enunciation, and was known to carefully use pauses for dramatic effect. For his solos, he would often accompany himself on his portable reed organ.


Ira David Sankey was born in 1840 in Edinburg, a community in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, USA. His parents were David Sankey and Mary Leeper Sankey, and Ira David was one of their nine children. The father was a banker and Methodist lay preacher, who had previously been a state senator.

Both parents encouraged young Ira’s interest in music and would sing hymns with him at home in the evenings.

At the age of 16, Ira Sankey attened a revivalist meeting in a nearby church where he experienced a religious conversion. When the family moved to New Castle, Pennsylvania the following year, Sankey joined the local Methodist Episcopal Church, where he was soon appointed Sunday school superintendent and choirmaster.

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Sankey enlisted and joined the Twelfth Pennsylvanian Regiment where he remained until 1863. During his time in the army, he formed a choir and assisted the army chaplain.


Sankey married Fanny Victoria Edwards, a singer in his choir, in 1863.

The couple had two children: John E. Sankey and Ira Allan Sankey.