ROME - When Phil Cross finished singing the hymn "It is Well with my Soul," at a concert at the North Rome Wesleyan Church on Sunday, he asked those in the audience if he could sing it again.

The audience encouraged him to do so, and he had a friend in the audience use a cell phone to videotape him singing the hymn the second time.

"This a is big moment for me," said Cross, who had won the Gospel Music Association's Dove Award for Song of the Year in 1989, which is the highest song-writing award in Christian music. "This (It is Well with my Soul) is one of the greatest songs written in the English language."

 

"It is Well with my Soul" was written by Philip Paul Bliss, one of the most well-known Christian songwriters, according to the Wholesome Words Christian Biography Resources website. And Sunday's concert was held to celebrate the birthday of Bliss, who was born in Rome in Bradford County and lived there in the 1800s.

Cross, 54, whose works are included in modern-day hymnals, was the singer at the birthday celebration concert.

In his remarks at the beginning of the concert, P.P. Bliss Museum president John Histand said the concert was not really about Cross or even about Bliss himself, but about Jesus Christ, which was whom Bliss and Cross had written about.

Cross is "incredibly well-known" as a songwriter and singer, especially in the South, Pam DeWolf, a member of the museum's board of directors and a retired music teacher at Corning Free Academy, said in an interview.

"A lot of choruses sing his (Cross') music in Christian churches," she said.

"He (Cross) is the hymn writer of today, just as Philip Paul Bliss was in his time," she said.

Cross said in an interview, he became involved in music because his parents sang Gospel music.

"They sang and taught us (their children) to sing," Cross said.

He said his parents left instruments about their house, hoping that their children were pick them up and begin to learn them.

He said he originally played drums and later played electric bass, playing in a Gospel band in Chattanooga, Tenn., which was directed by a songwriter, Elmer Cole.

Church said that Cole taught him about songwriting.

Cross said that he was badly teased in school when he grew up in Chattanooga, because of his looks.

"I was red-haired, freckled, with glasses and buck teeth," he said.

He said the treatment he received at the hands of the other students made him a better songwriter.

"I understand about discouragement, about being an outcast, and about not fitting in," he said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.