How Great Thou Art

The Story Behind "How Great Thou Art"

"How Great Thou Art" is a well known and beloved song that Elvis Presley not only recorded in the studio, but also included in most of his live shows throughout the 1970s.  He received two of his three Grammy Awards for this song.  The first in 1967 was for Best Sacred Performance (a 1966 studio recording for the album of the same name) and the second in 1974 was for Best Inspirational Performance (a live concert performance in Memphis).

The original version of the song was written in the 1880s as a poem by a Swedish preacher named Carl Boberg.  One summer day he had been caught in a raging thunderstorm.  He was awed by the powerful lightning and strong winds of the terrific storm that disappeared as quickly as it had come, leaving in its wake bright sunshine and singing birds.  He made his way home and, inspired by the things he'd seen and felt, wrote nine verses of poetry, which he set to an old folk melody.  By 1886 it had been published as "O Store Gud" and was used in worship services throughout Sweden.

By 1907 Pastor Boberg's lyrics had been translated into German and soon after World War I it the work was also translated into Russian.  In 1927, while serving as a missionary in the Ukraine, Englishman Stuart K. Hine heard the Russian version.  He translated the first three stanzas--rewriting and adding to them.  When World War II started he returned to England.  In 1948, while visiting a refugee camp in Sussex, England, he overheard a couple of Christians who were fleeing Communism testify to each other about the joy they anticipated in the second coming of Christ.  This inspired Hine to write his final verse and to seek out a publisher who printed the song in a leaflet.  During an evangelical crusade by the Reverend Billy Graham, one of these leaflets was given to one of the crusade's featured singers, George Beverly Shea, following Graham's sermon.  "How Great Thou Art" became a regular part of the musical programming for the Billy Graham organization and soon became a song known worldwide through their crusades. 

"How Great Thou Art" was then recorded by many artists, including The Sons of the Pioneers, The Statesmen and The Blackwood Brothers.  Elvis first recorded the song on May 25, 1966 at Studio B in Nashville for  his "How Great Thou Art" album.  Countless artists have recorded it through the years.