Sometimes you find a subject that intrigues you when you begin a study, then find out upon closer examination the subject was not exactly what you thought. Every purchased or checked out a book from the library by mistake but enjoyed it anyway? That may be frustrating or just another rewarding study to pursue you was not previously aware of. Such is the case with my study of the life of George F. Root. I began my study of this musician thinking it was the Root associated with Standard Publishing; however, that person’s name was Orrin Root. Orrin Root (1905-2003) served as the Editor-in-Chief of Standard Publishing Sunday school material including the beginning of Standard Lesson Commentary. A bit of wisdom from Orrin Root—“Write and edit not only to be understood, but also not to be misunderstood.” The Root who wrote some of the hymns we sing was George Frederick Root.
George Frederick Root (1820-1895), Lyricist & Composer
George F. Root was born in Sheffield, MA on August 30, 1820, and he was named after the famous composer George Frederick Handel. His family relocated to North Reading, just outside of Boston, when he was six years old. He was an accomplished flute player, and he claimed to have known 13 instruments by the time he was 13 years of age. He sat out to fulfill his dream of playing the flute for an orchestra, but life had other plans. He would learn to play organ and sing under the training of George J. Webb. In 1845 he relocated to New York and taught music at the New York Institute of the Blind where he met Fanny J. Crosby. He also taught at the Abbott Institute for Young Ladies too. During this time he also played organ at the Church of Strangers. Root and Crosby collaborated to write over 50 popular songs which were not religious in nature. After taking a tour of Europe in 1850, he returned to Boston where he was associated with Lowell Mason at the Boston Academy of Music. He would eventually return to New York in 1853 he would collaborate with Francis J. Crosby and others to produce more music. He was known to use a pseudonym of George Wurzel (wurzel is German for root.) for his writing too. In 1859 he relocated his family to Chicago to work with his brother who was in the music publishing business. Root would edit and publish several hymnbooks. He composed several wartime songs which were popular during the period. He is credited with creating the 1864 anthem of the Civil War called “The Battle Cry of Freedom.” After the Civil War, he was elected to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of United States. He also worked to establish what would become the New York Normal Institute of Conductors which trained musical instructors. He was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of Chicago of 1872.
He also published some 75 books and nearly 200 pieces of music. While Root was more known more for secular music of the period (which would include the Civil War), he did write some gospel music too. Hymnary.org lists some 120 hymns he had published. Some of the songs that we might be familiar with would include When Storms Around Are Sweeping which appeared in his book New Choir and Congregation of 1879. The tune for his march “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching” was coupled with Clarence H. Woolston’s words after Root’s death in 1913 to become “Jesus Loves The Little Children”. He also wrote the music for William O. Cushing’s 1886 song “When He Cometh”. According to Hymnary.org, “Why Do You Wait?” is his most popular hymn that he wrote and composed, and the name for the tune of this song is SHEFFIELD.
George F. Root married Mary Olive Woodman, and they had 2 sons (Frederick, Charles) and 4 daughters (Clara, Louise, Arabella, May, Nellie). He died in his summer home on August 6, 1895 in Bailey Island, Maine at the age of 74. He was buried in Harmony Vale Cemetery, North Reading, MA. His wife would be buried her too in 1904 along with several of the Root family. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
Why Do You Wait?
The song was written in 1878. Interestingly, Sacred Selections, a songbook I have admired and used for years, changed the wording of the song from “Why Do You Wait Dear Brother?” to “Why Do You Wait Dear Sinner?” Apparently there was concern about using an invitation song calling someone to be baptized by the name of “brother” would an issue for some. Of course the invitation is open to those who need to be immersed and erring ones which need to come home.
While that is understandable, it overlooks the fact that the Bible teaches us that we are brothers/sisters in the flesh too. The apostle Paul called those who were not Christians “brethren”—“For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Romans 9:3-5, NKJV.)
Paul could not sacrifice his soul for his brethren, and we cannot do so either. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ made that sacrifice for all! No matter how much we want someone to obey the gospel, it is their decision. Still, the question remains for them to ponder “What do you hope, dear brother, to gain by a further delay?” Why not now?
John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.
V. E. Howard, Editor, and Broadus E. Smith, Associate Editor, Church Gospel Songs & Hymns, Texarkana, TX: Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.