Question of the Week: Dianne Wilkinson

Yesterday, I made the case for bringing back the hymn “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.” Legendary songwriter Dianne Wilkinson posted to comment that the song is her all-time favorite hymn. This intrigued me to no small extent, since it’s a hymn that even many churches that sing hymns have forgotten. So I emailed to ask if she’d be willing to discuss her high regard for the song for a follow-up post. She replied:

Dianne: Daniel, Daniel…I’m delighted to talk with you about this masterpiece!  I love everything written by Miss Fanny!  My favorite co-writer with her is Mr. W.H. Doane, but Mr. Lowery has written what I believe is the most beautiful melody to ANY of her songs.  I think most people would say “Blessed Assurance” is their favorite Fanny Crosby song, and it, too, is a masterpiece…but this one here is my favorite.

Daniel: What elements of the lyric and melody make “All the Way my Savior Leads Me” your favorite hymn?

Dianne: I LOVE what “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” says, lyrically.  Miss Fanny, even in her blindness, always expresses her total trust in God to protect her and provide for her.  It’s SO prominent in her songs, as well as her firm belief in Eternal Security.  I was saved when I was in my early 30s, but it was much later when I learned the secret of how to have the abundant life we are promised…it’s turning loose of that last shred of control in your own life and completely ceding your will over to God’s, minute by minute, present and future.  MEANING it, and LIVING by it…not just saying it.  I don’t know when in Miss Fanny’s life she learned this, but I KNOW she did.  She couldn’t write about it so eloquently if she had not.  She is such a MASTER (“mistress” just won’t work here!) lyricist and poet that ALL her songs are wonderfully crafted throughout.  I can imagine her sending the completed lyric to this song to Mr. Lowery, and as soon as he started reading, the beautiful melody just start coming to him.  I like to think they didn’t have to change a single syllable to make it “fit”!  And OH, the melody!!  When I just sit at my piano and play this song…no singing…the beauty of the melody moves me to tears.  It’s just perfection to me.  I not only love the grand old hymns of the 19th century, I grieve to think that so many of them are being dropped from hymnals and that someday there not be young people who know “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”.  Roger Darlin’ Bennett and I talked about this wonderful hymn often.  Like so many things we had in common…it was his favorite, too.

Daniel: As discussed in yesterday’s post, there have been very, very few recorded versions in Southern Gospel—so whether SG or otherwise, do you have any favorite recorded versions?

Dianne: I don’t believe I have a recorded version of “All the Way My Savior Leads Me.”  I know who sings it the best to my ear…my brother (my very dear brother, James Branscum, pastor of Mercer Baptist Church in Powderly, Kentucky).  I love to hear him sing it, and I love to accompany him on the piano.  I believe if Miss Fanny could hear him, he’d be her favorite, too.  Maybe a LITTLE bias there!

Daniel: Is there anyone you would love to see offer a new rendition of the song?

Dianne: With Tim Parton to arrange an a capella version right there in the group, I think Legacy Five could do this beautifully.  I don’t think only the majestic hymns like “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” lend themselves well to a capella…”All the Way My Savior Leads me” would be lovely done this way.  Wayne Haun could also do a great arrangement for Ernie and Signature Sound.  I’ll jump track here and say the Isaacs would be amazing on this song, with the acoustic instruments and soft fiddle.  My MY!!!! Honestly, any group with a tight blend and wonderful harmony could do this beautiful song with a great arrangement – not overdone…but simply done, to showcase the song itself and not the production.

Thanks for letting me talk about this beautiful collaboration of Miss Fanny Crosby and Mr. Robert Lowery.  Those folks paved the way for people like me, and I will be eternally (literally!) grateful.

Daniel: Thank you! And thank you especially for taking the time to do this while it was fresh on the readers’ minds!