The most famous Primary song in the world

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Primary children sing in sacrament meeting. (Photo courtesy LDS Church)

Primary children sing in sacrament meeting. (Photo courtesy LDS Church)

Years ago, I had the good fortune of interviewing Naomi Randall.

Who is Naomi Randall? You may not know her name, but you certainly know some of her work.

One day in 1957, Naomi Randall received a particular church assignment she would never forget. And one that would, and continues to, bless the lives of millions of people across the world.

LDS Primary Board President LaVern Parmley asked Sister Randall to write the words of a song to be introduced at an upcoming conference which had the theme, “A Child’s Plea.” At about 2 a.m., she awoke from a sound sleep and, after offering a prayer, the words flowed through her mind. She penned the following lines:

“I am a child of God

And He has sent me here.

Has given me an earthly home

With parents kind and dear.”

Sister Randall thought that sounded pretty good. Later that day, she wrote a couple of more verses and a chorus for what would become a timeless classic — one of the most popular and recognizable songs in the LDS Church — “I Am A Child of God.”

The following morning, the Primary general board approved the song, and Mildred Pettit eventually wrote the tune and collaborated with Randall to revise the chorus. It was sung during the conference program in April 1957 and it was published churchwide two months later in the children’s The Friend magazine.

Sister Randall, who died in 2001 at the age of 92, didn’t take credit for her inspired and inspiring work. “I feel like I’m just an instrument,” she said. “Everything I did was preceded by prayer.”

“I feel like I’m just an instrument. Everything I did was preceded by prayer.” —Naomi Randall, songwriter

Former Brigham Young University President Merrill J. Bateman lauded her during a 1998 devotional in which she earned the distinguished BYU Presidential Citation as “one of the great women of the restored Church of Jesus Christ.”

As if writing a hymn as revered as “I Am A Child of God” weren’t enough, Sister Randall’s contributions to the Church didn’t end there. In addition to being a faithful wife and mother, she served 27 years on the Primary General Board and wrote more than 140 weekly Primary Mission lessons as well as dozens of articles, stories and a long-running comic strip in The Friend. She was also on the committee that created the Choose The Right Program and the CTR ring.

On the day that BYU honored her, President Bateman asked those in the assembled crowd at the Marriott Center who were wearing a CTR ring to stand. Almost the entire congregation rose to its feet. Later, the audience arose again, this time to give Randall a standing ovation — a testament to the kind of impact she’s had on the lives of others, thanks in no small part to “I Am A Child of God.”

“The song touches young people and old people alike,” said Kenton Oakes, Sister Randall’s grandson. “I’ve heard it in many languages. We hear it all over. It’s a wonderful thing to hear and be affiliated with. It leaves a great legacy, not only to our family, but to the world.”

“I Am A Child of God” is woven into the fabric of LDS culture and is sung at everything from general conference to Primary meetings to Family Home Evenings. Oakes said he’ll never forget sitting in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, several years ago at a youth conference. “Everyone, about 90,000 people, started singing the song a capella,” he explained, tears welling up in his eyes. “It’s one of my most memorable experiences.”

“Whenever I go to an activity with a group or (Church) members and we sing that song, it hits me hard,” said great-grandson Danny Oakes. “Everyone knows that song. Everyone loves that song. It’s dear to everyone’s heart.”

The song has been translated in more than 140 languages and is sung by Church members throughout the world. Yet the song does not belong exclusively to the LDS Church. A number of religions claim it as their own as well.

“It’s used in other churches,” Kenton Oakes said. “One lady told me, ‘We know that (song) from the Baptist Church.’”

The song’s widespread appeal, Sister Randall said, has to do with its simple yet powerful message.

That’s why she didn’t mind when a suggestion came to change one of the words of the song. A few years after it was written, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball, who later became President of the Church, asked if she would consider altering a line in the chorus that says, “Teach me all that I must know” to “Teach me all that I must do.”

“When President Kimball changed that one word, we had it emphasized in our thinking how important it is not just to know, but we must also do; it’s the day-to-day doing the Lord’s will, and keeping the commandments, that helps us reach our eternal goal ‘To live with Him someday.’” —Naomi Randall, songwriter

Sister Randall wholeheartedly agreed to make the change. She believed there was a great lesson for all Church members because of that slight change in the lyrics.

“When President Kimball changed that one word, we had it emphasized in our thinking how important it is not just to know, but we must also do; it’s the day-to-day doing the Lord’s will, and keeping the commandments, that helps us reach our eternal goal ‘To live with Him someday.’”

Later, President Kimball would say, “Naomi Randall wrote most of the words, but I wrote one!”

President Kimball’s wife, Camilla, said of the song, “It is the whole gospel plan in a few simple words.”

Sister Randall was a native of North Ogden, Utah. Her husband, Earl A. Randall, died in 1978. She continued to write poetry and songs in the latter stages of her life and in January of 1998, she wrote a musical number titled “Return With Honor,” which was set to music by LDS composer Kenneth Cope.

Of course, she’ll always be remembered as the author of “I Am A Child of God,” which President Bateman said is “a song that has itself inspired millions of children in many languages across the earth and will surely continue to do so for generations.”

Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from its words and its tune, Sister Randall liked to remind others.

“It’s for everybody,” she said. “I’m glad everybody could have it.”

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Jeff Call has covered BYU sports since 1993, including the past 16 years for the Deseret News. He, his wife and six sons live in Cedar Hills.

4 Comments

  1. Cindy Moorhead Reply

    I grew up with “I Am a Child of God,” but according to most of the scriptures, we have to qualify to become children of God. Camille Fronk Olson, a BYU religion professor, taught this in a BYU Women’s Conference talk this year. “Because of the Fall, we are as dead, cut off, and need to be born again, or spiritually begotten. President Joseph F. Smith taught this same doctrine this way: “The object of our earthly existence is . . . that we may become the sons and daughters of God, in the fullest sense of the word, being heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, to be kings and priests unto God, to inherit glory, dominion, exaltation, thrones, and every power and attribute developed and possessed by our Heavenly Father.” We become like Him as a result. “This is the object of our being on this earth.” We are not children of God by virtue of being born into this fallen world. We become children of God by our obedience, by entering into covenants with Him, and by obeying the Holy Ghost (see Romans 8:7-10. Paul later said in that same chapter (Romans 8:14-17) that we are adopted into God’s family by being led by the Spirit of God and by suffering with Him. As Olson concluded, “We become children of God, His family, by making and keeping His covenants.” That’s why President Kimball changed the words of this song from “Teach me all that I must know” to “Teach me all that I must do.” If we teach children that that have to qualify to be children of God, they might be more likely to do it.

    1. Don Bugg Reply

      We are God’s spiritual offspring, notwithstanding the fact that our sins cut us off from His presence and require us to re-enter His family by becoming the children of Christ through His Atonement. I don’t think we should get too worried about calling ourselves children of God, regardless of where we are on that road.

  2. Ronnie Bray Reply

    In the UK, I am a Child of God has become the Single Adult Anthem and is usually sung after each SA Conference or Convention with the participants strung around the chapel after the session has closed, holding hands, and singing with gusto.

    It is sung as a confirmation to many Singles that carry extra burdens and face difficulties such as loneliness and isolation.

    I do not know whether Sister Randall is aware of this, but she needs to know that her beautiful and inspiring hymn serves to remind members that have moved on from childhood that her hymn has great value to many others.

    Thank you, Sister Randall, for your thoughtful words and the comfort they bring to single members.

  3. glenda bolick Reply

    This is a sweet tribute to Naomi Randall. I just wish more mention had been made about Mildred Pettit, who wrote the music. She was a great lady of strong testimony and lived a life of long and loving service. We hear the I AM A CHILD OF GOD melody without the words again and again. Really she should be more acknowledged.

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