He wrote hundreds of Christian songs. He published hundreds of other songs he didn’t write. Thoro Harris was one of the most prolific African-American hymn writers of the early 2oth century. Since the 1930s his compositions have been consistently selected for publication in hymnals of various denominations.
Thoro was born in Washington D.C. to a father who was a black doctor and a mother who was white. He attended college in Battle Creek, Michigan. Afterwards, Thoro moved to Boston, Massachusetts where, in 1902, he produced the first of many hymnals. Since not many episodes from his life are available, this post will give more attention to the content of some of Thoro’s most enduring songs.
The first song below represents Thoro’s most repeated theme: our relationship with Jesus. The second one is an outstanding example of his recurring theme of Jesus’ second coming. For variations on those and other themes, check the links I’ve provided.
“MORE ABUNDANTLY” (1914)
For a person hearing this song for the first time, the final verse introduces the way into the life that Jesus said He came to give “more abundantly” (John 10:10): “Come to Him believing, Hearken to His call; All from Him receiving, Yield to Him your all; Jesus will accept you When to Him you flee; He will grant His blessing more abundantly.”
The first verse asks the listener very directly if they’re actually living the abundant life. It tells how to be certain as a believer to live life to the fullest. It says, “Are you trusting Jesus, All along the way? Does He grow more precious To your heart each day? Are you His disciple? Test His Word and see, He will give the Spirit more abundantly.”
“HE’S COMING SOON” (1918)
Queen Liliuokalani [PD-1923]
For this song Thoro borrowed the Hawaiian tune “Aloha Oe,” written by Queen Liliuokalani. The Pacific island flavor especially helps the chorus that’s coupled with Jesus’ words (Mark 13:33-15) to remind us of our destination to a land that surpasses anything here on earth: “He’s coming soon, He’s coming soon; With joy we welcome His returning; It may be morn, it may be night or noon— We know He’s coming soon.”
The final verse echoes I Thessalonians 4:18: “This hope we cherish not in vain, But we comfort one another by this word.”
Other hymn writers have penned lyrics to songs for children. Not many have three that have survived as strongly as the following songs by Thoro.
“JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILDREN” (1921).
There are two versions of this song. The first, written shortly before 1900, includes lyrics by C. H. Woolston and a tune by George F. Root. That version begins with the words “Jesus calls the children dear.” Its chorus is today’s most familiar one: “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red, and yellow, black and white, They are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Thoro must have felt inspired to write his own version. He and C. H. Woolston are both credited in hymnals in which the songs begins with the line “In the lands beyond the sea Countless million children be.” The chorus also differs by stating “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Little ones are His delight, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
“I LOVE HIM BETTER EVERY DAY” (1926)
The chorus concludes with, “Close by His side, I will abide. I love Him better every day.” I’ve always heard it sung by spelling out the last word of each line in the chorus, so that the entire chorus says, “I love Him better every d-a-y. I love Him better every d-a-y. Close by His s-i-d-e, I will a-b-i-d-e. I love Him better every d-a-y. ” Thoro wrote the verses and Major Sydney Cox of the Salvation Army added the refrain.
This third song from the 1920s bearing Thoro’s name addresses, in a very disarming way, a topic that got the children of Israel into trouble.
Verse one says, “In country town or city, Some people can be found, Who spend their lives in grumbling at everything around. Oh yes, they always grumble, No matter what you say, For these are chronic grumblers, And they grumble night and day.”
The chorus follows with “Oh, they grumble on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday Grumble on
Thursday too Grumble on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Grumble the whole week through.” The remaining verses describe where people grumble, to whom, and about what.
MINISTRY IN THE MIDWEST
“Gospel Quintet Songs” by Thoro Harris
A Christian musician named Peter Bilhorn invited Thoro to Chicago, Illinois. In the windy city, Thoro took a job as an editor at the Glad Tidings Publishing Company, promoting the songs of many other hymn writers through the songbooks he edited. One of his collaborations was adding music to L. B. Tolbert’s words for “Hide Thou Me.”
“HIDE THOU ME” (1926)
The song’s slow, moving tempo sounds more like African-American songs of the 1920s and 1930s, like those of Thomas Dorsey and others.
Thoro’s music fits the lyrics. Vrese one: “Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my life in vain. I’m tempted then to murmur, and of my lot complain; But when I think of Jesus, and all He’s done for me, Then I cry, O Rock of Ages, hide Thou me.”
From the early 1930s until his death in 1955, Thoro lived in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He became known for his friendliness and for serving as a church organist. He eventually purchased and operated a boarding house known as the Piedmont House. Here’s his most well-known song from that period.
“ALL THAT THRILLS MY SOUL IS JESUS” (1931)
This hymn has survived with strength beyond any of Thoro’s other songs. The chorus boldly proclaims “All that thrills my soul is Jesus; He is more than life to me. And the fairest of ten thousand, In my blessed Lord I see.”
The verses mention reasons for living a Christ-centered life. Key phrases are “Who can cheer the heart like Jesus, By His presence all divine?,” “Love of Christ so freely given, Grace of God beyond degree,” and “Ev’ry need His hand supplying.”
Thoro passed away in Eureka Springs on March 27, 1955 at age 80.
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