If you are interested in looking up other histories, the following are the best resources that I have found: here, here, and here.
1. "The Lily of the Valley"
words by: Charles William Fry
music by: William Shakespeare Hays
In England during the Victorian era, many were concerned about the orphans, the poor, the homeless and those beaten by the rise of the Industrial Revolution. One man, William Booth, went to create the Salvation Army, in 1878, to serve these people in London. The same year, a group tried to create a location in Salisbury but the reaction there was not good; Every time they tried to preach they were hit with eggs and bricks. Charles Fry, a musician in the area saw how badly the people of the town treated the Salvation Army workers and he took three of his sons to act as body guards for the workers. There weapons were two cornets, a trombone and a tuba. Their small band was accepted. A few years later, in 1881, Charles Fry wrote the hymn "Lily of the Valley". It was published on December 29th 1881 in the Salvation Army magazine The War Cry. In August of the following year Charles Fry died. It is thought that the melody was adapted from a secular song of William Shakespeare Hays with original lyrics to “The Little Ole Log Cabin Down the Lane.”
2. "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee"
words by: Henry Jackson van Dyke
music by: Ludwig van Beethoven
Van Dyke attended Princeton University, and then served as pastor of the brick Presbyterian Church in New York City for seventeen years. Additionally, he was popular writer, professor, and diplomat. It is thought that he penned the words of this hymn during a stay as a guest speaker at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, among the Berkshire Hills in 1907. His aim was to produce suitable words for the tune Ode to Joy- taken from the final movement of the Ninth Symphony as composed in 1824. This music had already been arranged as a hymn tune in 1864 by an English-born musician; however, the noble melody lacked an adequate text. One of my sources claims that one morning at the breakfast table, VanDyke handed the manuscript to Mr. Garfield, the Williams college president, saying, "Here is a hymn for you. Your mountains were my inspiration. It must be sung to the music of Beethovan’s ‘Hymn to Joy.’" It was first published in 1911 in VanDyke’s Book of Poems, third edition as well as in the Presbyterian Hymnal in 1911. At eleven and a half Ludwig van Beethoven could deputize for Neefe, one of his early instructors and an accomplished musician. At 12 he had some music published. He went to Vienna in 1787, but quickly returned when he heard that his mother was dying. He became deaf at the age of 29 and died in 1827.
3. "Standing on the Promises"
words by: Russell Kelso Carter
music by: Russell Kelso Carter
“Standing on the Promises” was written by Captain Russell Kelso Carter, a Pennsylvania Military Academy student and professor, in 1886. The military influence can be heard in the martial rhythm of this hymn. He taught chemistry and natural sciences and after three years in California raising sheep, civil engineering and advanced mathematics. Six years after returning to the Military Academy, he resigned his teaching position and became a minister. Carter’s life was full of physical such as heart trouble in his 30’s. In this case, when his health fell to critical conditions, and it seemed there was nothing the doctors could do, he found healing in prayer and standing on the promises of God. In all, over 68 songs are attributed to him.
4. "Trust And Obey"
words by: John Henry Sammis
music by: Daniel Brink Towner
The text of this hymn was written by John Henry Sammis, who was born in Brooklyn, NY. When he was 23 served for several years volunteering as a YMCA secretary before deciding to become a minister. He was known as a good friend of composer Daniel Brink Towner, who provided the music for many well-loved hymns including “At Calvary”. In 1893 Towner, who had majored in music, became the first head of the music department at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL. In 1886, he was leading singing for Dwight L. Moody in an evangelistic meeting at Brockton, MA. During the course of the campaign, Towner heard a young man who evidently knew little about the Bible or Christianity say at one of the meetings in answer to a question, “I am not quite sure–but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.” Thinking that the idea would make a good song, the composer jotted down the statement and sent it off with the story behind it to Sammis so that he could turn the concept into a full hymn. The hymn first appeared in the collection Hymns Old and New in 1887. In 1901, Sammis moved to California to become a faculty member at the Moody Bible Institute of Los Angeles.
5. "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"
words by: Joseph M. Scriven
music by: Charles C. Converse
By all means, Scriven learned early in life to give his grief’s to the Lord. On the eve of his wedding day, his bride was tragically found drowned. This crushed him. He left his homeland of Ireland and moved to Rice Lake, Canada. There, he fell in love again and became engaged to Miss Eliza Catherine Roche. Again, disaster struck. A short time before they were to be married, Miss Roche contracted pneumonia and died. He moved 10 miles away to Port Hope where he found Jesus to be his best friend and decided to give his life to be a friend and a help to others. He became known as the "Good Samaritan of Port Hope." He wrote the poem "What A Friend We Have in Jesus" as an encouragement for his sick, widowed, and elderly mother. She was going through a particularly sorrowful time in Dublin, and he could not come to her side due to financial constraints. He never intended anyone would see it, but a friend, James Sackville, saw it scribbled on scratch paper while tending him when he was ill, and asked who wrote it-"The Lord and I did it between us." The poem was published soon afterwards. It was titled, “Pray without Ceasing.” , found a copy of the poem and asked who penned it. Scriven replied, SThen since he was working on a hymnal, and since Charles Converse was a good friend, Mr. Sankey took one of his tunes and put the words with it and name it: “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” It was the last hymn to be added to the book, but it became the first as a favorite. Interestingly, Mr. Sankey had published the words using the credit given to them in the pamphlet to the Scottish preacher and hymn writer, Horatius Bonar. Years later, Dr. Bonar told Mr. Sankey that he never wrote the words, and he did not know who did. The actual writer became known 8 years after its publication!
6. "Amazing Grace"
words by: John Newton
In the year 1746, a slave ship along the coast of West Africa. Its purpose is to snatch unsuspecting people and sell them as slaves in the far off countries. The captain of this ship was known far and wide for his debauchery, vulgarity and blasphemy. But one day in 1748, while reading the book "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis, this captain, John Newton, comes face to face with his sin and turns his life over to Jesus, the Savior of sinners. After his conversion and dedication to Christ, he became a pastor and hymn writer. His most famous of hymns (probably the most popular hymn in the English language) "Amazing Grace", is a testimonial of his conversion to Christ. The tune is an early American melody of unknown origin. It appears to have begun life as a plantation folk song known as "Loving Lambs." It is sometimes attributed to William Walker, the son of a Welsh immigrant and the modern harmonization is usually credited to Edwin Othello Excell.**
*** I was able to find here video, which I saw months and months ago, that has more a music lesson on sprirituals and information on “Amazing Grace”… Watch it!