He was a composer and teacher born in Boston,
Massachusetts who has often been dubbed “the father of American
His father died when he was fourteen years old and so
he ceased schooling from that time on.
He had never taken studies in music on a formal basis although did
have lessons with a choirmaster from his local area, but when he started
out on a career he took the trade of a leather tanner. He suffered several disabilities
such as only having one eye, a deformed arm and a limp but this did not
stop him becoming an acclaimed composer with a unique style.
In fact he has been credited as being the first
American professional composer and formed the first American church
choir. Known for writing
anthems, fuging songs and hymns, often using patriotic or folk music
influences he published his first collection of around 120 songs, The New
England Psalm-Singer aka American Chorister in 1770, which was
engraved on the front by Paul Revere.
Over the next 24 years or so a further five
collections were issued with titles such as Music in Miniature and The
Suffolk Harmony. His works,
which total over 340, include the titles “Africa”,
“Amherst”, “Chester” (which became an anthem for
the American Revolution), “David’s Lamentation”,
“Easter Anthem”, “Jargon”, “Judea”,
“Majesty”, “Shiloh” and “When Jesus
Wept” and they achieved popularity during his lifetime. He married and he and his wife had six
Due to the lack of the copyright laws that there are
now, others republished his works and he didn’t receive any monies
from them. He took on work as a
street cleaner in Boston, but died in poverty in 1800 when he was 53 years
old and buried in an unmarked grave.
His work was never forgotten though and several of the students that
he had taught at Stoughton, Massachusetts, established the Stoughton
Musical Society, which still exists today.
He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame
in 1970; a hundred and seventy years after his death.
Musica Sacra Recordings
Baloo Lammy (Traditional Scottish)
D. G. 429 732-2 (CD: Christmas Carols & Motets)
Version composer -