His Eye Is on the Sparrow

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"His Eye is on the Sparrow"
Songwriter(s)Civilla D. Martin
Composer(s)Charles H. Gabriel

"His Eye Is on the Sparrow" is a gospel hymn written in 1905 by lyricist Civilla D. Martin and composer Charles H. Gabriel. It is most associated with actress-singer Ethel Waters who used the title for her autobiography.[1][2] Mahalia Jackson's recording of the song was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2010. Whitney Houston's recording of the song, one of the singer's last to be recorded before her death in 2012, was released off the soundtrack of the film, Sparkle, and became a posthumous number one Billboard single off one of the gospel singles charts.[3]

Sometimes it was sung with the slightly altered title "His Eye is on the Tiny Bird" and this version was recorded by actress Violet Carson in 1972.[4]


The theme of the song is inspired by the words of David in the Psalms and Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible: "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye" (Psalm 32:8). "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 numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29–31).

Civilla Martin, who wrote the lyrics, said of her inspiration to write the song based on the scriptures:

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.[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]

Whitney Houston version[edit]

"His Eye Is on the Sparrow"
Single by Whitney Houston
from the album Sparkle: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
ReleasedJune 8, 2012 (2012-06-08)
LabelRCA Records
Producer(s)R. Kelly
Whitney Houston singles chronology
"His Eye Is on the Sparrow"
"I Look to You"

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,[11][12] four months after Houston's death. This version is Houston's last original single, and second posthumous one. The song made its debut only one day after the premiere of "Celebrate". The song became Houston's second posthumous number one single on the Billboard charts, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Gospel Digital Song Sales chart in June 2012, preceded by her original recording of "I Look to You".[3]

Critical reception

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."[13] Entertainment Weekly editor Melissa Maerz called it "a gorgeously rippling solo" with Houston "testif[ying ...] that Jesus is watching over her."[14] 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."[15]


  1. ^ Waters, Ethel, with Charles Samuels, His Eye Is On The Sparrow: An Autobiography, New York, 1951, reprinted by Da Capo Press, 1992
  2. ^ "His Eye Is on the Sparrow - Ethel Waters (Author)". Amazon. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Whitney Houston: Billboard chart history". Billboard. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  4. ^ "His Eye Is On The Tiny Bird". Discogs. Retrieved 2019-10-03.
  5. ^ Vincent D. Homan (2013). A Foot in Two Worlds: A Pastor's Journey From Grief to Hope. WestBow Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-1449774813.
  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
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Amazon. Archived from the original on 2013-11-14. Retrieved 2017-08-31.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Whitney Houston – His Eye Is On The Sparrow, retrieved 2019-08-11
  13. ^ Andy Kellman. "Sparkle [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  14. ^ "Sparkle: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack". ew.com. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  15. ^ "Various Artists Sparkle: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album Review". Rolling Stone. 31 July 2012. Retrieved 23 September 2015.

External links[edit]