In the wake of the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley, two stories have been circulating about hymns that have been written that have connections to the Prophet. Although many “true stories” that circulate on the internet are nothing more than fabrications, both these stories are based in truth.
The first story comes from LDS songwriter Janice Kapp Perry. Here is the story in her own words:
The Story Behind the Hymn “What Is This Thing That Men Call Death?”
During President Hinckley’s funeral the Tabernacle Choir sang a hymn text written by President Hinckley which I set to music in December. I would like to share with you the story of how it came to be:
About two months before my niece Kathy Blacker died, on January 11, 2008, she found a three-verse poem by President Hinckley among her files. Although she was resigned to dying, she had some fears about the dying process and his words greatly comforted her, especially the second verse which described exactly what she was feeling. She wrote to President Hinckley’s office to ask permission to have the poem printed on her funeral program, and she received
a very nice letter from his secretary, Don H. Staheli, saying that President Hinckley gave his permission for her to do so. The letter also conveyed some very comforting words from President Hinckley which were helpful to Kathy in her final weeks, and he said he would remember Kathy in his prayers.
Kathy then suggested that I write and ask permission to give the poem a hymn setting. I did so, and Brother Staheli conveyed President Hinckley’s permission for me to write the hymn. After offering some heartfelt prayers that I might be able to write appropriate music for his profoundly beautiful and moving text, I wrote the hymn setting and sent a copy to President Hinckley’s office for approval at the end of December. I received no immediate response.
Kathy passed away January 11 and after her funeral I sent a copy of her funeral program to President Hinckley’s office so he could see how nicely his poem was displayed along side my brother Gary Kapp’s painting of Christ. When I heard President Hinckley had passed away last Sunday night I was feeling a little sad to think I hadn’t received a letter with his official approval. But the very next day after his passing, the hoped-for letter arrived with his approval,
his permission for me to publish it in a future volume of my series “Inspirational New Hymns for Choir & Home,” and leaving it to my discretion as to whether to submit it to the Church Music Division. The timing was so unusual and I was extremely grateful to receive the letter as a tender mercy in my life.
Then on Monday afternoon Craig Jessop, Mormon Tabernacle Choir Director, heard about the hymn and had his office callme to obtain a copy of the hymn for consideration for President Hinckley’s funeral. On Tuesday, while traveling in California, I learned that the hymn would be performed by the Tabernacle Choir at President Hinckley’s funeral on Saturday.
Having seen the great comfort this hymn brought to my niece who died just two weeks before President Hinckley passed away, my great desire is for people throughout the world to have a free copy of these magnificent words of President Hinckley to comfort them in times of the loss of loved ones. This is just one more way his influence could be felt down through time.
Postscript to Janice’s Story
John Perry, the son of Janice Kapp Perry, has reported on the latest news about his mother’s hymn:
In the two weeks following the funeral we received more than 10,000 email requests for the sheet music, along with many requests for a recording. We don’t know if the recording of the Tabernacle Choir singing the hymn will ever be released in an audio format, but we had so many requests that we decided to do our own recording of the song.
So Prime Recordings is happy to announce that our new recording of “What Is This Thing That Men Call Death?” is available for free download at www.LDSTunesNow.com. There will be both a vocal and an instrumental version of this hymn available, both of them free of charge . This free download and use applies only to our recording of the song. Other artists may record the song in the future, and all applicable copy prohibitions will apply.
You don’t need to be signed up or registered with www.LDSTunesNow.com in order to get the recordings. The website has just agreed to host the songs for download because of the large volume of downloading we expect. Also, the .pdf file of the written music is being hosted for free download at www.LDSMusicNow.com, with the English, Spanish, and Portuguese versions available (and Japanese soon to follow).
KTVX Channel 4 in Utah did a feature on the new recording (clips from the studio of the recording, along with interview snippets with the arranger, engineer, and singers). You can view the video here.
Story Behind “A Prophet’s Prayer”
The second story comes from Kent Olmstead, who is a longtime member and assistant moderator of LDSMusicians.com . He sent the story behind “A Prophet’s Prayer,” which was written by Ashley Harris:
Commissioned by the stake president of the Roswell Georgia Stake, Ashley happily accepted an assignment to put to music the words offered by the Prophet President Gordon B. Hinckley in a special prayer to the youth on November 12, 2000. The song was to be performed for the youth at an upcoming youth conference. Two weeks later, Ashley performed the song, entitled “A Prophet’s Prayer,” on Sunday, January 20, 2008, for the Georgia, Roswell Stake Youth Conference.
The song was so well received, Ashley was asked by the stake presidency if she would consider making a recording of it. The following Saturday, January 26, 2008 Ashley and her producer Kregg Barentine recorded the song in Mesa, Arizona.
Sadly, President Gordon B. Hinckley passed away the following evening, on Sunday, January 27, 2008. To Ashley the timing felt more than coincidental. Ashley offers this song as a memorial to President Hinckley with her sincere hope that this song may bring comfort and reassurance of the deep and abiding love our dear prophet has not only for the youth of the church, but for us all.
Click here to listen: [ A Prophet’s Prayer ]
Here is the text of President Hinckley’s prayer, which Ashley set to music and performed on the recording at this link.
“A Prophet’s Prayer”
O God, our Eternal Father, as Thy servant I bow before Thee in prayer in behalf of these young people scattered over the earth who are gathered tonight in assemblies everywhere. Please smile with favor upon them. Please listen to them as they lift their voices in prayer unto Thee. Please lead them gently by the hand in the direction they should follow.
Please help them to walk in paths of truth and righteousness and keep them from the evils of the world.
Bless them that they shall be happy at times and serious at times, that they may enjoy life and drink of its fulness.
Bless them that they may walk acceptably before Thee as Thy cherished sons and daughters. Each is Thy child with the capacity to do great and noble things. Keep them on the high road that leads to achievement. Save them from the mistakes that could destroy them. If they have erred, forgive their trespasses and lead them back to ways of peace and progress.
For these blessings I humbly pray with gratitude for them and invoke Thy blessings upon them with love and affection, in the name of Him who carries the burdens of our sins, even the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.