Edward MacHugh, the Gospel Singer

During his lifetime, Edward McHugh made several trips back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, but there was a world of difference between his first trip and his last.1

Edward was 19 when he immigrated from Scotland to Canada in 1912 with his widowed mother, his two brothers, his sister-in-law and his brother’s seven children. Destined for Montreal, they traveled on the steamship S.S. Grampian in third class, or steerage. Edward would have slept on a bunk bed and shared his room with other family members, and meals would have been served at long communal tables in the dining room.2

Forty years later, in 1951, he traveled first class from Southampton to New York on the luxurious R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth ocean liner.3 He would have enjoyed a spacious stateroom, first class lounges and formal dining. He could have ordered anything he wanted from room service.4 There would have been plenty of space to store his eleven pieces of luggage.5

By that time, Edward had retired and was able to afford first class passage because of his successful career as a musician. This is the story of how a talented, working-class young man from Scotland and Montreal became famous in America as the Gospel Singer.

Edward, born in 1893 in Dundee, Scotland, came from a family of jute-factory workers of Irish heritage. His father was a yarn dyer.6 When the family arrived in Canada, they settled in Verdun, a district of Montreal located close to the factories that would have provided employment for the three McHugh brothers. Edward worked as a manual labourer in the rail yards on the locomotives.7

Shortly after his arrival in Canada, he made his public singing debut at Montreal’s Hunt Club, singing God Save the King. The Duke of Connaught, then the Governor General of Canada, heard him sing and was instrumental in sending him to study at London’s Royal College of Music.8 This college accepted both students who paid tuition and students who won entry through competitions.Given Edward’s humble background, it is probable he had a scholarship.

By 1919, Edward had decided to pursue a musical career so he left Montreal, settled in New York City and continued his studies .10

It took a few years for Edward’s career to take off, but in 1927, Edward was invited to sing The Old Rugged Cross, an evangelical hymn written in 1912,11 on Boston radio station WEEI.12 The next day, the station received 2,300 letters praising Edward’s baritone voice. His choice of hymn and the timing were excellent. Gospel songs had become increasingly popular as they were easier to sing than traditional hymns. 13

In 1938, Edward published a compilation of gospel hymns and poems.14 His fame grew and, by the 1940s, he was nicknamed the Gospel Singer and he was a regular on NBC radio.16

In 1947, an ad for Edward’s 15-minute radio program appeared in Billboard Magazine. It claimed, “Edward MacHugh, Your Gospel Singer, [. . .] who is said to have the most perfect diction of any singer without sacrificing warmth . . . ”19

It wasn’t just the quality of his voice that made him popular; he seems to have tapped into a need for comfort in troubled times. During World War II, his fans often requested he sing God Will Take Care of You,17 a song that must have soothed people whose loved ones were risking their lives serving their country.

When asked about gospel music, Edward replied, “A lot of people think that hymn-singing is ‘corny.’ That’s okay with me. I get my satisfaction in giving real pleasure to a great number of people and perhaps in being some small help in times of trouble and affliction.”18

It is clear that Edward’s beautiful baritone voice moved many listeners. He popularized hymns and gospel songs through his radio shows, compilations, records and concerts,20 and he sang songs of simplicity, devotion and encouragement in times of pain.

After he retired in the 1940s, Edward and his wife Jennie lived a quiet life in Norwalk, Connecticut. They had no children. During his retirement, Edward continued to make records and take part in religious festivals and church anniversaries. He passed away in 1957 at the age of 63 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.21

Note: At some time in his life, Edward changed his name from McHugh to MacHugh

  1.  “UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960,” database, Ancestry.com, Edward McHugh, Grampion,  Glasgow to Quebec, leaving May 11, 1912.
  2.  Gjenvik, Paul K., Glenvick Gjonvik Archives (GG Archives), Collection of Travel Brochures, online <http://www.gjenvick.com/HistoricalBrochures/CunardLine/FranconiaAndLaconia/1912/05-ThirdClassAccommodations.html#axzz4ZumLRf5j>, accessed 13 February 2017.
  3.  “UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960,” database, Ancestry.com, Edward McHugh, Queen Elizabeth, Southampton to New York, leaving October 6, 1951.
  4.  The National Railway Museum, York, England, U.K., photo and description of a first-class cabin on the Queen Elizabeth, 1950, online < http://www.nrm.org.uk/ourcollection/photo?group=British%20Transport%20Commission&objid=1996-7038_BTF_837_P_43>, accessed 13 February 2017.
  5.   “UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960,” database, Ancestry.com, Edward McHugh, Queen Elizabeth, Southampton to New York, leaving October 6, 1951.
  6.  McIntyre, Alistair, “Significant Scots, Edward McHugh.” Unknown posting date. Electric Scotland, online < http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/mchugh_edward.htm&gt;, accessed 13 February 2017.
  7. “Edward MacHugh,” obituary, Ottawa Journal, 6 February 1957, p. 5.
  8.  “E. MacHugh Ex-Gospel Singer Dies.”Undated clipping, ca.1957, from unidentified newspaper. Privately held by Sandra McHugh, Montreal, Quebec
  9. Wikipedia, Royal College of Music, Early Years,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_College_of_Music , accessed 13 February 2017.
  10. 1920 United States Federal Census, 1920, Manhattan, New York City, New York, Enumeration District (ED) 829, sheet 2, Ward 11 a.d., Dwelling 250, apt. 39, Edward McHugh: digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.comaccessed 27 February 2017)
  11. Wikipedia, The Old Rugged Cross, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Rugged_Cross, accessed February 13, 2017.
  12. McIntyre, Alistair, “Significant Scots, Edward McHugh.” Paragraph xx http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/mchugh_edward.htm
  13. Wikipedia, Gospel music,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_music#19th_century, accessed February 13, 2017.
  14. MacHugh, Edward, compiler. Treasury of Gospel Hymns and Poems.  Winoa Lake, Indiana: The Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Co., 1938.
  15.  “U.S. Border Crossings from Canada to U.S. 1825 1960, database, Ancestry.com, Edward McHugh, Buffalo, New York, U.S.A, June 16, 1935.
  16. McIntyre, Alistair, “Significant Scots, Edward McHugh.” 
  17. “E. MacHugh Ex-Gospel Singer Dies.” Privately held by Sandra McHugh.
  18. E. MacHugh Ex-Gospel Singer Dies.” Privately held by Sandra McHugh.
  19. The Billboard Magazine, 7 June 1947, p. 11.
  20. Concert poster Jordan Hall, October 15, year unknown.
  21.  “Edward MacHugh,” Ottawa Journal, 6 February 1957.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.