Author: William Billings

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One of Boston’s celebrated native sons, William Billings (1746–1800) is considered by many to be the father of American choral music. A self-taught composer, Billings introduced a distinctly American style with his four-part a cappella hymns and anthems. Among his most noted compositions is the unofficial anthem of the American Revolution, “Chester,” which was featured in the recent HBO miniseries, John Adams. Despite his popularity as a composer, Billings died in poverty, a result of changing tastes in music but also the arcane copyright laws of the time. In 1970, his body of work and contributions to American music were recognized when he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Chester

William Billings

“Chester,” one of William Billings’ most famous hymns, rivaled only “Yankee Doodle” in popularity; as with “Yankee Doodle,” “Chester” was often regarded as the anthem of the revolutionary era, or our first national anthem.