In 2006, Alan Jackson made his way into the gospel music community and released his first gospel album. Titled Precious Memories, it contained recordings of some of Jackson’s favorite hymns.
One of the hymns that Jackson recorded for the album was “Softly and Tenderly.” The song has been around for over a century, and it has circulated far beyond its origins in the American Restoration Movement. It is one the most frequently translated gospel songs and has spread appealingly into the collection of various fellowships of Christendom.
A Typical Lullaby In The Gospel Hymn Tradition
“Softly and Tenderly” was composed and written by Will L. Thompson as early as 1880. Thompson was a member of the Churches of Christ, where several of his gospel songs and hymns continue in use.
In addition to being a composer of gospel, secular, and patriotic songs, Thompson was a music publisher. When his songs were rejected by publishers of his day, he was forced to start his own music publishing company, Will L. Thompson & Company, with offices in Chicago and East Liverpool, Ohio.
Had it not been for Thompson’s persistence, “Softly and Tenderly” (which was originally known as “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling”) would not have seen the light of day. It is from this company that this hymn was published as part of other songs.
First appeared in Sparkling Gems Nos. 1 and 2 – a collection compiled for Thompson’s company in 1880 – “Softly and Tenderly” was described by UM Hymnal editor, the Rev. Carlton R. Young as “a typical lullaby in the gospel hymn tradition that characterizes Jesus as a mother, gently rocking and comforting a child.”
He commented, “This attribute contributes to the continuing popularity of this genre of religious song that presents Jesus as waiting, caring, and forgiving in intimate—and for many, compelling—metaphors.”
“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. Come home, come home. Ye who are weary come home. Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling, “O sinner come home,” the song goes.
The Most Widely Known Among Thompson’s Compositions
“Softly and Tenderly” is definitely the most widely known among Thompson’s compositions. It is reported that when Dwight L. Moody, the most famous evangelist of his day, was in the hospital barred from seeing visitors, Thompson had arrived. Moody insisted on letting Thompson in, upon which Moody told him: “Will, I would rather have written “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.” Moody used the song in many of his crusades too.
Numerous artists have ever since recorded the Christian hymn. In addition to Alan Jackson, The Million Dollar Quartet, Pat Boone, and Amy Grant also recorded the song. In 2017, Reba McEntire, Kelly Clarkson, and Trisha Yearwood recorded the song for McEntire’s Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope.
The song was also featured in the films. “Softly and Tenderly” was a recurring song in The Trip to Bountiful in 1985, an Oscar-winning movie about an older woman in the 1940s who wanted to return one last time to her girlhood hometown of Bountiful. It was also featured in the film Urban Cowboy at the funeral of Bud’s (played by John Travolta) uncle as well as on a funeral scene of the TV show, True Blood. The hymn was also used during the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
Tune in below to see Alan Jackson pour his heart into his performance of “Softly and Tenderly.” We hope this song will bring a ray of sunshine into your day.
Alan Jackson, Softly and Tenderly, Will L. Thompson
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