Robert Lowry (1826-1899) was a professor of literature, a Baptist pastor of several large churches and a music editor at Biglow Publishing Company. He wrote close to 500 hymns, including I Need Thee Every Hour and Low in the Grave He Lay.
One hot afternoon in July 1864, as Pastor Lowry was resting on his sofa, visions of heaven pervaded his senses. He saw the bright golden throne room and a multitude of saints gathered around the beautiful, cool, crystal, river of life. He was filled with a sense of great joy. He began to wonder why there seemed to be many hymns that referenced the river of death, but very few that mentioned the river of life. As he mused, the words and music to Shall We Gather at the River came to his heart and mind.
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Shall We Gather at the River, also known as The River, has become a favorite song of camp meetings, water baptismal services and funerals. It was sung at the funeral of American Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, and in two Academy Award Winning Hollywood movies: Trip to Bountiful (1986), and Three Godfathers (1916).