Saturday, December 17, 2011

Part Eight: The story of William MacEwan / McEwan of Glasgow (1871 - 1943) the 'World's Sweetest Gospel Singer'


Introduction: The story below has been assembled from a variety of online sources - newspapers, censuses, marriage certificates and ships passenger lists. If any readers know of errors here I would be pleased to hear from you. This is one of a series of posts to coincide with the 100th anniversary of William McEwan's first recording session in London in November 1911.


Part Eight: The final (London) recordings, death in 1943 and posthumous recognition in 1973

By the end of January 1931 William MacEwan’s American recordings were all completed. The last sea journey I can find for him is on board the SS Auranta on 27 April 1931, apparently alone, sailing from New York to Glasgow. He is listed as a singer aged 59, with the address 9 Leyden Street, Maryhill, Glasgow.

The Ninth Recording Session, London, December 1931
William’s ninth recording session was back in London in December 1931 at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. Backed by a pipe organ and violin he recorded these six pieces:

• God be with you till we meet again
(words by Jeremiah Rankin, music by William Tomer, published 1880)

• When the roll is called up yonder
(words and music by James Black, published 1893)

• O Love that Wilt not let me go
(words by George Matheson, Music by Albert Peace, published 1882)

• Some time we’ll understand
(words by Maxwell Cornelius, music by James McGranahan, published 1891)

There were three other tracks recorded at this session, two by an ensemble called the “Savoy Hotel Orpheans” and one other simply called “test record”.

The Tenth and Final Recordings, London, March 1932
His last ever recording session was back at Christ Church on Westminster Bridge Road in London, around March 1932, again backed by pipe organ and violin. This time an entire gospel service was recorded. The Rev Harold Dixon Longbottom (1886 – 1962) prayed and gave the Bible reading.

(Note of interest to Ulster readers: HD Longbottom had been assistant minister of “Protestant Reformers Memorial Church” in Liverpool since 1913. He was also a leading Orangeman and local Councillor in the city. He was Leader of the now-defunct Liverpool Protestant Party from 1927 – 1964, and was Mayor of Liverpool in 1950-51. “Protestant Reformers Memorial Church” joined the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster in 1982. I am not suggesting that MacEwan shared Longbottom’s views or interests.)

The service was released as a double sided 12” record and included MacEwan singing:

• God Will Take Care of You
(words by Civilla Martin, music by Walter Martin, published 1904)

• The Old Rugged Cross
(words and music by George Bennard, published 1913)

• My Mother’s Prayer
(J.W. Van de Venter - written 1895)

• I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
(Words: Horatius Bonar, 1846. Music: John Dykes, 1868)

• We will talk it o’er together bye and bye
(words and music by Mrs C H Morris, published c. 1914)

• Abide With Me
(Words: Henry Lyte, 1847. Music: William Monk, 1861)

William’s voice was never again recorded, although I have no doubt that he would have continued to sing at public events as he had done throughout his life. There is now a gap of 11 years where at this point I have no other information about him.

Death in New York, 23 June 1943
The final document I have found is his death certificate; it says that he died of cancer on 23 June 1943 at 1.15am, at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, aged 71. He had been hospitalized for 6 days. The certificate is signed by his daughter Jean McEwan Roche and it seems that William had been living with Jean before he went into hospital – his final address is that same as Jean’s given address – 69 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Today the building is Academy Restaurant - pic below from Google Maps Street View.


His trade/occupation is stated as singer/evangelist. Interestingly his first wife Jeanie, who had died about 20 years earlier, is stated as being his spouse – rather than his still-living second wife Mabel. Perhaps that is because the certificate was filled in by his daughter Jean, whose mother was Jeanie.

William MacEwan was buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. I have emailed the cemetery office to see if they can trace his grave and send me a photo of his gravestone, but have had no reply as yet.

Mabel seems to have lived to a ripe old age; I have found a death record for her dated February 1972 which gives her last residence at 10530 Hartsdale, Westchester, New York, SSN 451-38-7893. She was aged 78.

Royal recognition in Scotland
The following year, in September 1973, 30 years after his death, William MacEwan was officially recognised by the Crown when the Lord Lyon King of Arms in Edinburgh issued a Letters Patent and a new Coat of Arms to William’s daughter in law, bearing the motto “Crescendo”.

To be continued