William Howard Doane

William Howard Doane

Born: Feb­ru­ary 3, 1832, Pres­ton, CT.
Died: De­cem­ber 23, 1915, South Or­ange, NJ.
Buried: Spring Grove Ce­me­te­ry, Cin­cin­na­ti, OH.

Cliff Barrows and Don Chapman discuss Crosby and Doane.

Santa Claus Cantata
Santa Claus Cantata

William Doane’s Delightful Christmas Cantata: “Santa Claus”

In 1879, Doane created a charming and accessible Christmas cantata entitled “Santa Claus.” This 48-page publication was designed to be performed by people of all ages and musical skill levels, including schools, Sunday Schools, and choirs. As the publishers, Biglow & Main, noted in their dedication, the cantata was conceived “to contribute to the enjoyment of the holiday season by furnishing a Musical Entertainment which might be given not only by the older people, but also by the Young Folks.”

The cantata, which can be performed with or without costumes, features simple solo and multi-part choral singing accompanied by piano or organ. It also includes non-musical recitations, making it accessible to a wide range of performers. The music is described as “bright and sparkling,” with a variety of musical elements such as solos, duets, choruses, songs by fairies, and even a visit from Santa Claus himself.

Doane’s “Santa Claus” cantata played a significant role in popularizing the Christmas cantata genre, and its circulation has been worldwide, with copies sold in the millions. This delightful and engaging work has become a beloved holiday tradition, bringing joy and merriment to countless performers and audiences alike.

Someone has recorded the entire Santa Claus Cantata – it’s a fascinating view into the music style of 1879 complete with old-timey piano and singing.

A man of remarkable talents and unwavering faith, William Howard Doane left an indelible mark on the world through his music, inventions, business acumen, and generous spirit. His life story is one of dedication, creativity, and a deep commitment to using his gifts for the glory of God and the betterment of society.

Early Life and Musical Beginnings

Born on February 3, 1832, in Preston, Connecticut, William Howard Doane was the fifth of eight children born to Joseph Howes Doane and Frances Treat Doane. From an early age, Doane displayed an exceptional musical talent, mastering the flute, violin, and double bass fiddle by his early teens. He attended Woodstock Academy, a private Congregational school, where he served as the choir director, honing his musical skills and leadership abilities.

A Successful Business Career and Innovative Inventor

Upon graduating from Woodstock Academy in 1848, Doane began his professional life in the accounting department of his father’s cotton manufacturing company. He later transitioned to J. A. Fay & Company, a woodworking machinery firm, where he rose through the ranks to become president by the age of thirty-four. During his tenure, Doane’s innovative spirit shone through, as he was credited with over seventy patents for advancements in woodworking machinery. His inventions significantly improved the quality of the company’s products, earning worldwide recognition, including the Grand Prix at the Paris Exposition of 1889.

A Prolific Hymn Writer and Collaborator

Despite his demanding business career, Doane’s true passion lay in music, particularly in the composition of hymns. He was a prolific writer, composing an estimated 2,300 works, including hundreds of original hymns and settings. Doane’s musical output extended beyond hymns, as he also composed secular instrumental, vocal, and choral pieces, including two cantatas based on the legend of Santa Claus. His Christmas cantatas played a significant role in popularizing the genre, bringing joy and inspiration to countless listeners during the holiday season.

The Fruitful Partnership of William Howard Doane and Fanny Crosby

One of the most significant collaborations in the history of Christian hymnody was that of William Doane and Fanny Crosby. Their partnership began in 1867 when Doane visited New York seeking a hymn for a special anniversary at the Five Points Mission. He was introduced to Crosby’s work and was so moved by her hymn “More Like Jesus” that he sought her out to collaborate further.

In her autobiography, “Memories of Eighty Years,” Crosby recounts their first meeting:

“In the year 1867 I met Dr. William H. Doane under very interesting circumstances. He had come from his home in Cincinnati to New York to visit his friend Dr. Van Meter of the Five Points Mission, and they were looking for a hymn that might be used on a certain anniversary. A number of standard hymns were given to Mr. Doane, but he did not find them appropriate. About this time I had been writing “More Like Jesus,” and Dr. Lowry asked me why I did not send it to Mr. Doane. I said, “Well, I will,” and accordingly sent it by a messenger boy.”

Doane was so impressed by Crosby’s work that he spent the entire day searching for her in the city. When he finally found her, he offered her twenty dollars for the hymn, saying, “The Lord had sent that hymn, and therefore meant that I should have the twenty dollars for it.” The following evening, Doane visited Crosby again and gave her the subject “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.”

This marked the beginning of a fruitful partnership, with Doane composing the music for many of Crosby’s hymns. Together, they created approximately 1,000 hymn texts, including beloved classics such as “Rescue the Perishing,” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “Near the Cross,” and “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.”

The story of “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” is particularly noteworthy. Crosby wrote the hymn after Doane gave her the subject, and it became one of the first songs they wrote together. In her other autobiography, “Fanny Crosby’s Story of Ninety-Four Years,” Crosby stated that she wrote the hymn in 1868 using the subject supplied by Doane.

The Doane-Crosby collaboration has left a lasting legacy in Christian hymnody, and their hymns continue to be sung in churches around the world. Their partnership is a testament to the power of spiritual connection and artistic synergy, as two talented individuals came together to create works that have inspired and uplifted generations of believers.

A Devoted Church Leader and Choir Director

Raised in a Presbyterian household, Doane converted to his mother’s Baptist faith while attending Woodstock Academy. This conversion marked the beginning of a lifelong commitment to serving the church through his musical talents, leadership, and generosity. At Mt. Auburn Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Doane served as the superintendent of the Sunday school program and as the choir director for many years. His dedication to his faith also led him to assume leadership roles within the denomination, including heading the Ohio Baptist Convention Ministers Aid Society.

A Generous Philanthropist and Benefactor

Doane’s success in business and music allowed him to become a significant philanthropist, generously supporting Baptist churches, educational institutions, and various religious and civic organizations. One of his most notable contributions was to the Granville Academy, a preparatory school for boys planning to attend Denison University. In recognition of his substantial support, which included funding the construction of music, art, and gymnasium facilities, the academy was renamed Doane Academy in 1895.

Doane’s philanthropic legacy extended to numerous other institutions, including Denison University, Moody Bible Institute, and the YMCA. His generosity, along with that of his wife and daughters, continued to impact countless lives long after his passing.

A Lasting Legacy in Music and Beyond

William Howard Doane’s remarkable life came to a close on December 24, 1915, in South Orange, New Jersey. However, his legacy continues to reverberate through the enduring popularity of his hymns, which are sung in churches worldwide, and through the institutions that bear his name, such as the Doane Administration Building and William Howard Doane Library at Denison University, and the Doane Memorial Music Building at Moody Bible Institute.

Doane’s impact extends beyond the realm of music, as his inventions in woodworking machinery contributed to significant advancements in the industry. His business acumen, coupled with his innovative spirit, helped to establish J. A. Fay & Company as a world leader in its field.

The life of William Howard Doane stands as a testament to the power of combining one’s talents, passions, and faith to create a lasting impact on the world. Through his music, inventions, business leadership, and philanthropy, Doane left an indelible mark on his community and the world at large. As we continue to sing his hymns and benefit from the institutions he supported, we are reminded of the enduring legacy of a man who dedicated his life to serving God and enriching the lives of others through his many gifts.

William Howard Doane House "Sunnyside"

William Howard Doane’s impressive mansion, known as Sunnyside, is a historic home located at 2223 Mt. Auburn Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio. Built around 1850 and purchased by Doane in 1879, the red brick residence features a unique entry flanked by two posts, one carved with “Sunny Side” and the other with Doane’s initials, “WHD.” Inside, Doane’s study housed a collection of rare instruments, while the music room boasted a magnificent pipe organ, with the first four measures of the Hallelujah Chorus frescoed above it. The first few measures of “Home Sweet Home” were also inscribed above the transom, a nod to Doane’s deep love for music. This impressive home served as a testament to Doane’s success as a businessman, hymn writer, and choral director.

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.