During the vibrant days of Panama’s West Indian presence, there was a popular saying whenever someone questioned the veracity of what someone else was saying. Their tart response to the liar’s statement was “No Sankey Doan Sing So.” This exemplified the veneration attached to Ira D. Sankey’s hymnals which were freely circulated throught the U.S., Canada and the English speaking Caribbean as well as Panama amongst the population of West Indian descent. If it didn’t appear in Brother Sankey’s hymnal, it wasn’t Gospel truth.
Ira D. Sankey was a man given to sacrifice although throughout North American Evangelist history he is often relegated to secondary memory behind, for instance, the figure of Dwight Moody. He was nonetheless, a tireless crusader for the word of God and his mission moved him to minister with song, particularly his voice, as he was a gifted singer.
It appears that Ira Sankey was born with this mission but, his walk with God took a dramatic and definite turn when he met Dwight Moody as well as Fanny V. Edwards who was a member of his choir. Ira Sankey and Fanny Edwards were eventually married in 1863 and she would always remain one of his most ardent supporters and collaborators in his many evangelizing projects. They had three sons; Henry, the oldest, John Edward, and I. Allan (Ira Allan), the youngest.
According to his descriptive obituary:
“Ira was noted for his fondness for music and his ability to sing well even as a child; he joined the church of his father and mother when he was fifteen years of age and soon became leader of the choir, superintendent of the Sunday-school, and president of the Young Men’s Christian Association. It was while filling these positions and in connection with various other lines of Christian work that he developed his remarkable power of rendering sacred songs impressively.”
Sankey first met Dwight L. Moody, a delegate from Chicago, during an international convention of the Young Men’s Christian Association in Indianapolis in 1870, having been sent as a delegate from New Castle, Pennsylvania. Upon hearing Sankey sing Moody immediately invited him to come to Chicago and assist him in his evangelical work there. He decided to accept, and six months after their first interview Sankey resigned his position back home as Sunday School Superintendent and joined Mr. Moody in Chicago.
In 1871 they accepted an invitation to visit England, and began their work there in June, 1873. It was during this first visit that Ira Sankey’s singing began to attract international notice; his thrilling “compass of voice, clear enunciation and evident sincerity” impressed his audiences throughout Great Britain to the extent that before returning to America “the names of Moody and Sankey had become household words throughout Europe.
Ira Sankey is probably best known for his songbooks and hymnals the most popular of which is Sacred Songs and Solos, first published in 1873 during a Dwight Moody crusade to London. You may peruse the Hymnal by clicking here; I guarantee it will be an uplifting experience.
Of course, what he is most remembered for in Panama is his prolific series of hymnals and songbooks that, at one time, could be found in every Home Church or Beji’nite Church on the Isthmus. They were often referred to as simply The Sankey and many an eager voice was raised during the worship services of figures like Madame Campbell, Mother Lindo, and Mother Wright, all pious heads of Home or Beji’nite Churches to praise God through the singing of the Psalms.
These Home Churches, as we, at the Silver People Heritage Foundation, refer to them provided an important source of biblical teaching to a population of people in dire need of spiritual counseling, prayer and isntruction. These churches were also known as “jump up” churches as they had the unique quality of expression in which the faithful often went into “The Spirit” or spirit filled trance and many a healing and blessing service was highlighted by people falling out in trance and speaking in tongues.
Ira D. Sankey was born on Aug. 28, 1840 in Edinburg, Pennsylvania and died on August 13, 1908 and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit his memorial here.
Probably the last words to procede out of Ira D. Sankey’s lips on the day of his death were the words of one of his favorite hymns:
“Some day the silver chord will break
And I no more, as now, will sing;
But oh! The joy when I awake
Within the Palace of the King.”
The Silver People of Panama still owe a loving debt to this wonderful man of inspired song.