James William Osborn
1890 - 1986
James W. Osborn, a singer, pianist, and conductor, played an important role in music in Seventh-day Adventist higher education in the first half of the twentieth century. He taught music at four SDA colleges and in retirement was a frequent contributor to church publications.
James was born in Atchison, Kansas, on June 29, 1890, the youngest of nine children of Jesse McGee and Anna Elizabeth Gwinn Osborn. He started his career teaching music at Broadview Theological Seminary, later Broadview College and then Broadview Academy, from 1916 to 1920. During that time his mother lived with him and, according to an article in the Lake Union Herald written at the time of their departure, she was "devoted to the interests of the school."
In 1920 he became "Musical Director" at Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University, a position he held for the next eight years. By the end of his first year he had established himself not only as a singer and conductor but also as an accomplished pianist. At the beginning of his second year he was featured in a recital reviewed as "extraordinary," his playing described as "characterized by a rich velvet tone, brilliance of execution, and delicate nuances."
Osborn married Francheon S. Roth in the District of Columbia. on December 18, 1923. They would have one child, a son, Gordon Roth Osborn, on July 5, 1927.
One of Osborn's students, Harold Hannum, who had distinguished himself as a performer and student leader on campus, serving as editor of the school paper, The Sligonian, graduated in 1923 and returned in 1924 to be an assistant in the music program, teaching piano and accompanying Osborn's choral groups. They also performed in piano recitals together and enjoyed a reputation in that decade as outstanding duo pianists.
In 1928 Osborn traveled to Europe, where he studied piano and became an L.A.R.M. (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music) in London. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1929, he became chair of the piano program at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University. During his five years at EMC, he taught the first class in school music and wrote about the importance of music in spiritual development and its value in evangelism.
In 1934 he returned to WMC to serve as Director of the Music Department. Near the end of six years at WMC, he was invited by the General Conference to assist Harold Hannum, unofficial chair of a committee to create a new hymnal to replace Hymns and Tunes, which had been in use for 55 years. More recently it had been supplanted by Christ in Song, regarded by some as the church's de facto hymnal. Final selections for the hymnal were made in 1939 and the hymnal was released in 1941. Although criticized by some as flawed, with too many "high church" hymns, and by others as having too many gospel songs and poor tunes, it continued in use until 1985.
In 1940 he became professor of piano and music theory at Pacific Union College for two years before going to Southern California to assist as an instructor in the Bible Correspondence program at the rapidly expanding Voice of Prophecy radio program. He also became a real estate broker in the Loma Linda area. In 1951 he wrote the music for a poem written by H.M.S. Richards titled "The Unseen Year," which was published in The Ministry. In the mid-1950s, he recorded an album of piano-organ duets with C. Warren Becker, titled Keyboard Reveries, which was released by Chapel Records in 1958.
He was an ongoing contributor to The Review and Herald, and The Ministry in the 1950s through the 1970s. In 1952, he penned an article, "The First Church Service," for The Ministry, about the lack of reverence in SDA worship services. In the following year he wrote a series of articles in the Review and Herald on spiritualism. A related article, "Spirits Like Frogs," was printed in The Ministry in 1958. He also wrote "Virtuoso Christianity," for the Review and Herald in 1975, in which he compared the experience of living a victorious Christian life to that of a pianist learning to play a challenging piece. He was living in Napa, California, at the time of his death on December 24, 1986, at age 96.
Sources: 1890, 1900, and 1910 U.S. Federal Census records; Antcliff Clan and Kin Tree, Person listing for Jesse McGee Osborn(e), while his birthplace was also listed as Galesburg, Illinois, on his registration card for the WW II draft, all other record indicate this is his place of birth, all records at Ancestry.com; "Broadview Theological Seminary Notes," Lake Union Herald, June 9, 1920, 8; Columbia Union Visitor, August 12, 1920; Emma Mallatt, "A Piano Recital at W.M.C." The Sligonian, October 1921, 19; District of Columbia, Marriage Records, 1810-1953; 1930 U.S. Federal Census Records; U.S. WW II Draft Card for Gordon Roth Osborn, May 6, 1943 Masthead for The Sligonian, March 1922; The Sligonian, October 1924, 23; March 1925, 24; The Sligonian, May 15, 1927, 3; Faculty Directory in 1957 Pacific Union College yearbook, Diogenes Lantern (a special edition celebrating the first fifty years of the school) 287. The listing included the highest degree held by the teachers during their time at PUC; Lake Union Herald, August 14, 1929, 8; August 28, 15; "New Courses Begun," The Lake Union Herald, January 1, 1930, 5; J.W. Osborn, "Music," The Lake Union Herald, July 15, 1931, 4; J.W. Osborn, "Winning Souls by Music," The Lake Union Herald, May 10, 1932, 5; Charles E. Weniger, "Our New Church Hymnal," The Ministry, October 1939, 8-10; "Paging the Postman!" The Sligonian, October 30, 2; Wayne Hooper and Edward E. White, Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1988) 34-37; Pacific Union Recorder, December 25, 1961, 15; The Ministry, December 1951, 28; Chapel Records, LP 1525; The Review and Herald, January 15, 3,4; January 22, 5,6; February 12, 9,10; February 19, 7-9; February 26, 4-6; James W. Osborn, The Ministry, 1958, 12-15; James W. Osborn, The Review and Herald, July 3, 1975, 10; U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, Ancestry.com.