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‘How Great Thou Art’ Gets New Ending on 75th Anniversary of Famed English Translation

How Great Thou Art
Musicians participate in a recording session for “How Great Thou Art (Until That Day)" at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tenn. Elvis Presley recoded his version of "How Great Thou Art" at RCA Studio B. (Photo courtesy Merge PR)

(RNS) — The well-known and beloved-by-many words of “How Great Thou Art” have had a long and varied trajectory from Swedish poem to German hymn to a tradition at Billy Graham crusades.

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the hymn’s popular English translation, Grammy-winning Christian singer-songwriter Matt Redman has teamed up with 15 other artists and released a new version, continuing the hymn’s transatlantic trek that has led it to be featured in countless hymnals and recorded on hundreds of albums.

“Someone wrote something out of the depths of their heart toward God and then it got wings,” Redman said in a late February interview. “It’s just phenomenal to think — isn’t it? — that Elvis recorded this and he gave it some extra wings. And then Carrie Underwood’s version is another version a lot of people talk about.”

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Redman first sang and played the hymn as a teenage guitar player in an Anglican church in the English village of Chorleywood because, he said, its chord structure was easier to manage than other hymns. Now, he has added to the complex history of the hymn after being approached by the British charity that owns the copyright for it, the Stuart Hine Trust.

Hine was a British missionary who published the English words in his gospel magazine in 1949. He was inspired by a Russian hymn — which was based on an original Swedish poem — when he was traveling hundreds of miles via bicycle to distribute Bibles and preach through the Carpathian Mountains that traverse Eastern Europe.

Singer-songwriter Matt Redman. (Photo courtesy Merge PR)

Redman worked with Australian native Mitch Wong on the commission of “How Great Thou Art (Until That Day),” which features a new verse, a different beat and a chance to provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans in the midst of war.

“We decided we’re going to have the word ‘war’ in this hymn,” said Redman, who noted that he thinks worship songs should not be considered “escapist” means to momentarily leave behind the problems of the world.

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“Now, that’s not a normal kind of hymn word. It’s not something people often would think of singing on a Sunday morning, but it felt like an important word.”

The new stanza of the hymn reads: “Until that day/When heaven bids us welcome/
And as we walk this broken warring world,/Your kingdom come,/ Deliver us from evil,/And we’ll proclaim our God how great You are!/With hope we’ll sing our God how great You are!”