Dr. Eskew

Dr. Harry Eskew

Harry Eskey

Harry Eskew

Allow me to introduce Dr. Harry Eskew, if there are any who have made it to this page and do not know him and his work. Harry Eskew remains, even in his retirement, one of the world’s premiere hymnologists. A distinguished researcher, writer, teacher and editor, he is also a practitioner with experience in effectively translating the fruits of his academic scholarship into the congregational worship context. What you encounter on this website can be “taken to the bank.” It is simply good stewardship for Harry Eskew to focus his considerable expertise and talent in this new undertaking. It seems so very right and comforting to those of us who continue to consider ourselves his students.

Terry W. York
George W. Truett Theological Seminary
Baylor University
Waco, Texas


Harry Eskew has been a teacher of hymnology for his entire adult life.  An active member of the Hymn Society in the United States and and Canada and a former editor of its journal The Hymn, with Hugh McElrath he wrote Sing with Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnology.  He also wrote the article on shape-note hymnody in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.  He now brings his passion and knowledge about hymnody this website.

Paul Westermeyer
Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
Professor of Church Music, Cantor
Director, MSM with St. Olaf College

Harry Eskew befriended me as a newly minted DMA when I submitted my first article to The Hymn. His encouragement helped me make the transition from “dissertation-ese” to material suited for a wider audience.

Paul Hammond
Oklahoma Baptist University


As editor of The Hymn, Harry Eskew encouraged many young scholars and writers in the field of hymnology. I was one of them. For his influence I am profoundly grateful.

David W. Music
Baylor University


When my friend Harry Eskew and I served on faculty together, he set the standard for scholarship that is trustworthy and relevant to the faith and life of the church.

Fisher Humphreys
Beeson Divinity School, Samford University (retired)


I am especially grateful to Dr. Harry Eskew for the opportunity to have served as his assistant during his tenure as editor of The Hymn. I found this to be a magnificent introduction to the world of hymnology—its history, current trends and issues, and people.

Joseph Scott
Louisiana State University


Harry Eskew and I were never in each other’s classes, but I learned much from him informally and am indebted to him for his intense in shape-note music and his consistent encouragement to all others with that interest.

Wallace McKenzie
Louisiana State University (retired)


I’ll never forget the day when Harry handed me a tattered copy of William Walker’s Southern and Western Pocket Harmonist and said, “Write a paper on this and tell me about it.” Projects like that and Harry’s own passion for hymns taught me to love hymnody, writing, and research.

Lee Hinson
Oklahoma Baptist University


Introducing Harry Eskew, Hymnologist

Harry Eskew, originally from Spartanburg, South Carolina, became interested in the stories behind hymns as a church music student at Furman University  (B. A. in Music, 1958).  He carried this interest further as a graduate student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Master of Sacred Music, 1960), where he wrote a thesis on the Spartanburg shape-note singing school teacher, compiler, and composer, William (Singing Billy) Walker (1809-1875).   In  his doctoral studies in musicology at Tulane University (Ph. D. 1966) where he studied with the renowned American music historian, Gilbert Chase, he wrote a dissertation on “Shape-Note Hymnody in the Shenandoah Valley, 1816-1868.”
In 1965 he joined the church music faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was Professor of Music History and Hymnology and also part-time Music Librarian, serving a total of 36 years.  He partnered with Professor Hugh T. McElrath (1921-2008) in authoring Sing with Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnology  (Nashville, 1980, 1995), a leading textbook now published by LifeWay and scheduled to be published in a 3rd edition by G.I.A. of Chicago, edited by Michael Hawn of Southern Methodist University and Paul A. Richardson of Samford University.         Much of Harry Eskew’s work has focused on early American folk hymnody, on gospel hymnody, and on hymnody of Baptists.  In addition to numerous articles, he partnered with David W. Music of Baylor University and Paul A. Richardson in authoring Singing Baptists: Studies on Baptist Hymnody in America (Nashville, 1994).
From 1976 to 1984 Eskew served as editor of The Hymn: A Journal of Congregational Song, the quarterly published by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.  He found this to be a great learning experience, putting him in touch with leading hymnologists and hymn writers of recent times, such as Erik Routley, Fred Pratt Green, Fred Kaan, Brian Wren, William J. Reynolds, Carlton R. Young, Jaroslav Vajda, Paul Westermeyer, Carl Daw, and others.
Active in his own denomination’s hymnic activity, Eskew was a member of the committees for Baptist Hymnal   (Nashville, 1975 ) and The Baptist Hymnal  (Nashville, 1991).  He also wrote a number of articles for Handbook to The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville, 1992).
Eskew has led numerous hymn events in churches and at the annual conferences of the Hymn Society as well as the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland.  In 2008 his former students and friends published Hymnlogy in the Service of the Church: Essays in Honor of Harry Eskew, a volume edited by Paul R. Powell and and published by Mark Lawson, president of MorningStar Music of St. Louis.  This volume includes 25 essays, a biography, and a list of Eskew’s published works.
In the early 1990s he and Hugh McGraw (known as “Mr. Sacred Harp”) and others established the South Carolina State Singing Convention in memory of William Walker.  This singing convention now meets on the Saturday before the third Sunday in March on the campus of Wofford College in Spartanburg.  He and Raymond Hamrick, distinguished Sacred Harp composer, and Loyd Landrum,  distinguished Macon church musician, established in Middle Georgia Sacred Harp Singing Convention in Macon which meets the Satruday before the third Sunday in April.
In 2009 Eskew was involved in leadership for several events in Spartanburg and elsewhere to celebrate the bicentennial of William Walker’s birth.  He also wrote bicentennial tributes to Walker that were published in the August 2009 issue of The Choral Journal and in the October 2009 issue of Baptists Today.  He gave particular emphasis to Walker having published together for the first time the words and music to “Amazing Grace.”

Books by or about Harry Eskew

Sing with Understanding: An Instroduction to Christian Hymnology. With Hugh T. McErath. 2nd edition. Nashvile: Available from Lifeway, $29.95

The third edition of Sing with Understanding is being revised by two
widely recognized hymnologists, Michael Hawn of the Perkins School of
Theology at Southern Methodist University, and by Paul A. Richardson
of Samford University.  It will be published, probably in 2012, by G.
I. A. Publications.   In addition to normal updating, it is
anticipated that the new edition will make extensive use of web
resources.  Meanwhile, the second edition will continue to be
available from Lifeway Christian Resources.

Singing Baptists: Studies in Baptist Hymnody in America. With David W. Music and Paul A. Richardson. Nashville: Available from LifeWay, $19.95

Hymnology in the Service of the Church: Essays in Honor of Harry Eskew. Edited by Paul R. Powell. Forward by Terry W. York. St. Louis: Morning Star Music Publishers, 2008. Available from the publisher for $35.00