Peterson, 'It Took a Miracle' songwriter, loses cancer battle


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — John W. Peterson, the author of the popular Gospel song "It Took A Miracle" often sung at Billy Graham Crusades by George Beverley Shea, died Sept. 20 of cancer. He was 84.

According to the Web site dedicated to his music, John W. Peterson was born in 1921 in Lindsborg, Kansas, and began his musical career while he was still in his teens.

During World War II, he served as an Army Air Force pilot flying the famed "China Hump." Later, he attended Moody Bible Institute and served on the radio staff there for a number of years. In 1953, he graduated from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and shortly thereafter settled in Pennsylvania to continue his songwriting career.

He then moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where for more than 10 years he was president and editor-in-chief of Singspiration, a sacred music publishing company. He also served on the board of Gospel Films Inc. of Muskegon, Mich. for several years. Later he moved to Scottsdale, Arizona where he continued his writing and co-founded Good Life Productions.

A few years later, the John W. Peterson Music Company was established. During this time, he also served on the board of Family Life Radio Network in Tucson, Arizona. He had wide experience as a choral director, and throughout his career was in great demand as a guest conductor of his own works.

Peterson composed more than 1,000 individual songs, including "It Took a Miracle," "Over the Sunset Mountains," "So Send I You," "Springs of Living Water," "Heaven Came Down," "Jesus is Coming Again" and "Surely Goodness and Mercy."

In addition, he wrote 35 cantatas and musicals. Among them, "Night of Miracles," "Born a King," "No Greater Love," "Carol of Christmas," "Jesus Is Coming," "King of Kings," "Down from His Glory" and "The Last Week." About 10 million copies of these cantatas and musicals have been published and sold.

In 1967, the National Evangelical Film Foundation presented Peterson with the Sacred Music Award in recognition of his accomplishments in the field of sacred music. He also held three honorary degrees.

In 1977, his autobiography, "The Miracle Goes On," was published by Zondervan Publishing House, and a film by the same title was released by Gospel Films. In 1986, Peterson was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and in 1996 at MusiCalifornia, he received the prestigious Ray DeVries Church Music Award.

His survivors include his wife of 62 years and three daughters. They were longtime members of Scottsdale Bible Church.

A daily e-mail resource from Bill Welte, executive director of the Keswick Convention, paid tribute to Peterson, "one of my great heroes" as a man who lived "to encourage victorious living in this crazy, ever changing world."

"Much like Martin Luther did during his lifetime, John Peterson brought music back to the church through his choruses and Christmas and Easter cantatas," Welte wrote. "John loved to get people together to sing and worship the Lord, and many of his songs have made it into our modern hymnals."