“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 10:28
Young Will Thompson showed an early interest in music, and had written several songs before finishing high school. After graduation he went on to study music in Germany. He returned home and started a music store and went into the mail order business, selling sheet music and music books. He marketed his music, in part, by sending copies to various minstrel shows. He quickly became successful, and was known as the millionaire “Bard of Ohio.” He wrote one of his most popular songs, “Gathering Sea Shells on the Sea Shore” in ten minutes. It sold 246,000 copies.
At this time Thompson became a Christian and while attending a Moody evangelistic meeting decided to devote himself to writing and promoting Christian music. He wrote “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” in 1880. It quickly became popular as a hymn of invitation in evangelistic meetings, and was soon incorporated into church hymnals as well. Thompson wrote “Jesus is All the World to Me” in 1904, and it became quite popular as well. He was as successful with Christian music as he had been earlier with secular music. It’s believed he sold two million books of quartet music.
Dwight L. Moody, the most famous evangelist of his day, used “Softly and Tenderly” as an invitation hymn in his meetings. Thompson visited Moody as he lay dying, and Moody told him, “Will, I would rather have written ‘Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling’ than anything I have been able to do in my life.” That’s quite a tribute from someone as accomplished as Moody.
Even though he became quite rich, Thompson continued to live a life of service. He supported various civic and religious activities generously. He was also aware of the fact that small town people had very little exposure to good music, so he loaded a piano on a horse-drawn wagon and went through small Ohio towns giving concerts of his music.
Thompson became ill on a trip to Europe in 1909, and died shortly thereafter.