Will Lamartine Thompson

Will Lamartine Thompson-Hymnwriter

Born: No­vem­ber 7, 1847, East Li­ver­pool, Ohio.
Died: Sep­tem­ber 20, 1909, Pres­by­ter­i­an Hos­pi­tal, New York Ci­ty.
Buried: Ri­ver­view Ce­me­te­ry, East Li­ver­pool, Ohio.

Hymns by Will Thompson

Will Lamartine Thompson: A Life Poured Out in Praise

Will Lamartine Thompson was a man whose life and legacy are inextricably woven into the fabric of Christian hymnody. His songs, including the beloved “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” and “Jesus Is All the World to Me,” have touched countless hearts and drawn generations closer to the Savior. But to fully appreciate the impact of his music, one must first understand the story of the man behind the melodies.

From Humble Beginnings to Musical Mastery

Born on November 7, 1847, in East Liverpool, Ohio, Will was the youngest of seven children born to Josiah and Sarah Thompson. His father, a successful businessman and two-term member of the Ohio state legislature, and his mother, a woman devoted to charitable works, undoubtedly shaped young Will’s character and values.

Will’s musical gifts were evident from an early age, and he honed his skills through studies at Mount Union College, the New England Conservatory of Music, and even in the hallowed halls of Leipzig, Germany. But it was not just technical prowess that set Will apart; it was his deep desire to use his talents for the glory of God.

A Businessman with a Higher Calling

Though he found early success as a composer of popular secular songs like “My Home on the Old Ohio” and “Gathering Shells from the Seashore,” Will felt a higher calling. He once said, “No matter where I am, at home or hotel, at the store or traveling, if an idea or theme comes to me that I deem worthy of a song, I jot it down in verse. In this way I never lose it.”

This dedication to his craft, combined with a savvy business sense, led Will to establish the W. L. Thompson Music Company, which became one of the most prominent music publishing houses in the United States. But for Will, success was not measured in dollars and cents, but in the impact his songs had on the lives of others.

Hymns That Stirred the Heart

It was in the realm of gospel music that Will truly found his voice. Songs like “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling,” “Lead Me Gently Home, Father,” and “Jesus Is All the World to Me” flowed from his pen, melodies and lyrics intertwining to create hymns that stirred the soul and pointed the way to Christ.

Will’s music caught the attention of the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who often used “Softly and Tenderly” in his revival meetings. The song became so closely associated with Moody’s ministry that the evangelist, on his deathbed, is said to have told Will, “I would rather have written ‘Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling’ than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.”

A Legacy of Generosity and Grace

But Will’s legacy extends beyond the songs he wrote. He was a man who believed in using his resources for the good of others. In his hometown of East Liverpool, he donated land for public parks, stipulating that no alcohol or gambling would be permitted there – a reflection of his deep faith and moral convictions.

Even in his final days, Will’s thoughts were not on himself, but on the message he had spent his life proclaiming. As he lay ill in New York City, far from the Ohio town where he had made his home, perhaps the words of his own hymn brought him comfort:

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

A Guiding Light for Generations

On September 20, 1909, Will Lamartine Thompson passed from this life into the presence of the Savior he had loved and served so faithfully. But his legacy lives on, not just in the songs that continue to be sung in churches around the world, but in the example of a life poured out in praise and service.

In a world that often celebrates fame and fortune, Will Thompson reminds us that true success lies in using our gifts for the glory of God and the good of others. May his story inspire us to do the same, to let our lives be a song of praise to the One who gave us life and purpose.

As we lift our voices in the hymns Will Thompson penned, may we also strive to live as he did – with generosity, integrity, and an unwavering commitment to the Gospel. For in doing so, we will not only honor his memory but also follow in the footsteps of the Savior he loved, the One who is forever calling, softly and tenderly, to the hearts of all who will hear.

Don Chapman

Don Chapman

Composer/arranger Don Chapman has created HYMNDEX as a labor of love to help new generations learn about the lives, legacies and lyrics of historic hymn writers.