Posted by Craig Borlase on 25 May 2016

Elvis Presley was a paradox. A part of him appeared committed to laying down the blueprint for every other teenage pop heartthrob to come; there was his love of Rock n Roll, his descent into Vegas kitsch and the thing with the hips.

And yet that wasn’t all there was to him. While Elvis The Pelvis grabbed the headlines, he remained committed throughout his career to his lifelong passion for Gospel music.

It was no side-hobby either. Of the three Grammy Awards that Elvis won, none of them were earned by his hip wiggling or his kung-fu chopping. Instead, each of them were awarded for his Gospel music - including Best Inspirational Performance for his 1972 album He Touched Me. What’s even more amazing is the fact that the other awards came from his performance of a worship song that is still sung in churches today.

That song – How Great Thou Art! – was written by Stuart K. Hine. Born in the last six months of the last year of the 19th century in London, Hine was brought up in the Salvation Army, played the organ in church and sang in the choir.

He was 18 when the first world war started and was duly sent to France, returning safely to London in December 1919, knowing that his faith had seen him through.

Four years after the war he fell in love, and within a month of getting married set off with his new wife for Poland. Together they began a 16 year journey of missionary work in Eastern Europe.

As he observed the world around him and reflected on the experiences he gained through his work, a song grew within Hine.

He wrote that "the thoughts of the first three verses of How Great Thou Art! were born line by line AMID my unforgettable experiences in those mountains". It was there that he heard and saw thunder and lightning tear through the sky leading him to write:

Oh Lord my God when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works they hands have made
I see the stars I hear the mighty thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

From stunning bike rides through breathtaking mountain passes to conversations with faith-filled Russian refugees, the influences mounted up and the song grew.

Conversations with Polish and Russian exiles led him to think about the final home to which we shall all return, which led him to write:

When Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation
And take me home what joy shall fill my heart
Then shall I bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim my God how great thou art.

It was a slow process, taking more than a decade and a half, but the final verse was finished in 1948.

Within a decade it was becoming popular across the western world, and was prominent in Billy Graham’s evangelistic crusades.

George Beverly Shea became well known for the song, and with good reason too. But soon, however, the surging praise of How Great Thou Art! would emerge from another singer’s lungs… a man who couldn’t have been more different.

With thanks to Trevor Simpson for background research. For more info visit http://elvisthebestofbritish.co.uk

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