His Eye Is on the Sparrow

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"His Eye is on the Sparrow"
Published 1905
Writer Civilla D. Martin
Composer Charles H. Gabriel

"His Eye Is on the Sparrow" is a Gospel hymn. Although today it is a staple of African-American worship services, the song was originally written in 1905 by two white songwriters, lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel. The song is most associated with actress-singer Ethel Waters who used the title for her autobiography.[1]


The theme of the song is inspired by the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible: "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26) and "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all . Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29–31).

Civilla Martin, who wrote the lyrics, said this about her inspiration to uuuwrite7jjthe song based in the scriptures outlined above,

Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle's reply was simple: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" was the outcome of that experience.

—Civilla Martin

Notable performances[edit]

The song has been performed extensively by both Christian and secular artists.

"His Eye Is on the Sparrow"
Single by Whitney Houston
from the album Sparkle: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Released June 8, 2012 (2012-06-08)
Format Digital download
Recorded 2011
Length 3:32
Label RCA
Producer(s) R. Kelly

Whitney Houston version[edit]

Whitney Houston recorded a version for the soundtrack of the 2012 remake of the 1976 musical film Sparkle. RCA Records released the song as the second single from the album on June 8, 2012,[2] four months after Houston's death. The song made its debut only one day after the premiere of "Celebrate". AllMusic called it a "piano, organ, and choir" showcase for Houston, citing it as a highlight of the soundtrack although admitting "Houston sounds as commanding as one can expect from a later recording."[3] Entertainment Weekly editor Melissa Maerz called it "a gorgeously rippling solo" with Houston "testif[ying ...] that Jesus is watching over her."[4] Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone panned the cover, saying "Houston sings – and croaks – in a voice octaves lower than in her prime. At times the song has a ravaged magnificence, but mostly it's painful."[5]

Later published arrangements[edit]

There are many arrangements of the hymn that have been produced since its original publication. These include:

  • 1963, in The Reader's Digest Family Songbook of Faith and Joy[6]
  • 1975, in The Josh White Songbook[7]
  • 1986: Five American Gospel Songs for solo voice and piano by Luigi Zaninelli includes a concert arrangement of it[8]
  • 1999: Six Gospel Hymn Preludes has an arrangement for solo organ by Wilbur Held[9]
  • 2007, in Songs of Comfort and Hope: Vocal Solos for Memorial and Funeral Services[10]


  1. ^ Waters, Ethel, with Charles Samuels, His Eye Is On The Sparrow: An Autobiography, New York, 1951, reprinted by Da Capo Press, 1992
  2. ^ http://www.amazon.com/His-Eye-Is-The-Sparrow/dp/B00880IT98/
  3. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/album/sparkle-mw0002390300
  4. ^ http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20614877,00.html
  5. ^ http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/sparkle-original-motion-picture-soundtrack-20120731
  6. ^ Dan Fox, ed., Pleasantville, N.Y. : Reader's Digest Association
  7. ^ Walter Raim, Walter, ed., Chicago, Quadrangle Books
  8. ^ Published by Harold Flammer, Inc./Shawnee Press, Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania
  9. ^ Published by MorningStar Music Publishers, Fenton, Missouri
  10. ^ Mark Hayes, ed., Lorenz Publisher, Dayton, Ohio

External links[edit]