Hollywood had a fascination with Shall we gather at the river

Cheryl E Preston

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Shall we gather at the riverNorthern Baptist Association Sreenshot

From the Civil War to the pandemic

SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER is a beautiful Christian hymn that speaks of the saints gathering together in the afterlife. Sometimes the song is known simply as At THE RIVER or BEAUTIFUL RIVER. This hymn was written in 1864 by poet, gospel music composer, and Baptist minister Robert Lowry (1826-1899). It is now in the public domain and once upon a time Hollywood seemed captivated by the hymn.

Lowry wrote the beloved hymn one afternoon in the midst of the Civil War. He was exhausted from the heat and lay down and began having visions about the crystal river in heaven. He began wondering why so many people wrote about the river of death and decided the focus should be on the river of life and thus this beautiful song came into being. He wondered to himself "Shall we be among the privileged few who stand before the throne singing the praises of the Savior?" and "Yes, we'll gather." came to mind.

SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER has been sung for generations during Sunday morning worship services and has been recorded numerous times. During the pandemic in 2020, a group of people got together to sing it with backup from a piano. Celebrities Burl Ives, Willie Nelson, Randy Travis, and Patti Page are among a number of celebrities who have sung their own versions of the tune.

Old Hollywood was fascinated with the song

Hollywood back in the day seemed to have a fascination with this song as it has been utilized in countless movie soundtracks, especially westerns. Director John Ford admitted that SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER was one of his favorite hymns and he featured in many of his most famous films. The melody is played paradoxically in STAGECOACH (1939), TOBACCO ROAD (1941), MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), THREE GODFATHERS (1948), WAGON MASTER(1950), twice in THE SEARCHERS (1956), and 7 WOMEN (1966).

You will also hear SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER in THE OREGON TRAIL (1959) MAJOR DUNDEE and CAT BALLOU both in 1965. HANG EM HIGH (1968) THE WILD BUNCH*1969) and JEREMIAH JOHNSON in 1972. The song was also used in the 2013 pastiche western, THE LONE RANGER. In non-westerns you will hear SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER IN HOBSON'S CHOICE (1954), ELMER GANTRY (1960).

There was a caricatural rendition of the song with different lyrics used twice in WHO'S MINDING THE MINT? (1967). It was meant to be humorous but some might consider it irreverent. You can also hear SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER in the movie version of THE HANDMAID'S TALE. (1990). The hymn's title is used as the name of an episode on the second season of FALLING SKIES and can be heard during the film A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL. This Christian classic alsoopens the film AIMEE SEMPLE MCPHERSON.

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I write, about breaking news, and current events. I wrote a newspaper column from 1997 to 2007 and have written for various online platforms since 2012 including Yahoo Contributor Network, Hubpages, and Vocal Media.

Roanoke, VA
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