William James Kirkpatrick was born in Duncannon, Pennsylvania to a schoolteacher and musician, Thomas Kirkpatrick. In 1854, he went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to study music and learn a trade; he spent over three years as a carpenter. But he was more interested in music than mechanics, devoting all his leisure time to its study. His ambition at the time was to become a violinist.
In 1855, Kirkpatrick joined the Wharton Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and from then on devoted himself mostly to sacred music, giving his services to the choir and Sunday school. As there were few church organs in that day, his violin and cello were in constant demand for choir rehearsals, singing societies, and church programs. During this time he wrote a number of unpublished hymn tunes and anthems.
Kirkpatrick studied vocal music under Professor T. Bishop, then a leading oratorio and ballad singer. He became a member of the Harmonia and Handel and Haydn Sacred Music Societies, where he heard the greatest singers of the day and became familiar with the principal choral works of the great composers. Kirkpatrick’s first published composition was When the Spark of Life Is Waning, which appeared around 1858 in the Musical Pioneer in New York. He went on to publish about 50 hymn collections, many in collaboration with John Sweney.
William James Kirkpatrick Hymns and Lyrics