zaterdag 23 november 2013

Beautiful Star of Bethlehem (1940)

"Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" was written in 1938 by a Tennessee dairy farmer, R. Fisher Boyce and was first published in 1940 by the Vaughan Company. The song was printed in the company's song-book, "Beautiful Praise".

One year later "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" was printed as song #1 in the 1941 book "Singing Star", also published by James D. Vaughan.

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Look inside this book:

As we can see on the sheet above, Adger M. Pace is also mentioned as co-composer of the song.
My guess is, Pace was responsible for the arrangement of the song before it got published.

In the 1960's on several gospelalbums "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" was credited to A.L. Phipps.
Most likely Arthur Leroy Phipps made a new arrangement of  "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem", which was probably introduced on a radio-show in the early 1960's. The Phipps Family recorded a version in 1966 on the album "Christmas with the Phipps Family" (SEE FURTHER ON)

Beautiful Star of Bethlehem

Few people today realize the popular Christmas song "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" was written by the late R. Fisher Boyce in a Middle Tennessee milk barn in the early part of the 20th century. It would go on to become a seasonal standard performed by a variety of artists, and it would eventually be sung in the White House by The Judds during a nationally televised Bob Hope Christmas special.

Boyce was born in the tiny community of Link, located in southern Rutherford County, in November 1887. The third of six children, Boyce loved music and was singing solo and in quartets by the early 1900s. In the spring of 1910, he married Cora Carlton from the Rockvale community. They would become the parents of 11 children, five of whom lived to be adults. Only one daughter, Willie Ruth Eads, remains alive. Eads remembers singing as a great source of entertainment for their family.

"The neighbors would come in, and we'd all gather around our family piano," Boyce's daughter said. "My sister Nanny Lou (Taylor) would play, and we would sing way into the night."

In 1911, the young couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary and saw Boyce's song "Safe in His Love" published by the A.J. Showalter Company, one of the early publishers of shape note hymnals. As did many others from across the Southeast, Boyce later traveled to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, to attend one of the annual music normal schools conducted by the James D. Vaughan Publishing Company, which was founded around 1900. Vaughan was another major publisher of shape note hymnals.

After completing his studies, Boyce went on to teach shape note "singing schools" through-out the area. Rather than using standard music notation, this system assigned a tone on the musical scale to each of the distinctive geometrically shaped note heads. (See Darlyne Kent's article Old-Time Music Square Music in November's Old-Time Times.)

In 1940, the Vaughan Company published Boyce's song "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem." The song was printed in the company's song-book, "Beautiful Praise". Later, the song would be republished in Vaughan's Favorite Radio Songs.
Dr. Charles Wolfe, a Middle Tennessee State University English professor and nationally recognized authority on the origins of traditional country and gospel music, said, Vaughan,s Favorite Radio Songs would be like a collection of greatest hits today. By the 1940s, radio was an important part of the American landscape and reached a vast audience. Vaughan salesmen would pitch the songs in this book to radio stations and quartets who performed on the stations in an effort to broaden their exposure.

Boyce wrote Beautiful Star of Bethlehem while the family was living on a dairy farm in the Plainview community, about two or three miles from what is now the Interstate 24 Buchanan Road Exit. The songwriter's son, the late Franklin Boyce, recalled in a 1996 interview that his dad said he couldn't concentrate in the house because of noise made by the children. He walked across the road to the barn to find the solitude he needed to write.

My father said the song was inspired by the Lord. Otherwise, how could he, a simple country man, ever write a song about such a glorious event in world history, Franklin Boyce asked.

When searching through some old papers, the family found a yellowed article clipped from The Daily News Journal, a newspaper in Murfreesboro. It had been written in the early 1960s. A story by Marie Chapman recounts the elder Boyce's recollection of how the song came to be written.

"I got up one Sunday morning to write it down, Boyce recalled. When his train of thought was interrupted by a member of the family who entered the room singing, he moved his pencil and pad to the barn, and there "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" was put on paper.

The words and melody got on my mind," Boyce told Chapman, "till I could hardly sleep at night." The humble farmer said he looked upon both the words and tune as gifts from God.

Dean Boyce, Franklin's wife, remembers how her late sister-in-law, Nanny Lou, talked about helping her father put down the music for the song. "I believe, she said, they worked all morning on the music at the piano, and it rained hard all the time they were working on it.

Nell McKee, a retired educator who lives in the Buchanan area, attended Mt. Carmel Baptist Church where Boyce was a deacon and song leader when the song was written. Now in her 90s, McKee still attends the same church and recalls that Boyce would sing the lead part and his wife would sing the harmony in her clear alto voice.

"Fisher and Cora would sometimes sing the song at church," McKee remembers. "Cora would weep every time they sang together. She was very proud of her husband for writing that song."

Ironically, the family has never received royalties from the song. As was commonplace during that time in history, the legal copyright became the property of the company that published the material. As a rule, the song-writers were paid a one-time fee. To make a living, Boyce taught private voice lessons and worked at a variety of jobs including dairy farming and insurance and nursery sales

During his later years, Boyce and his wife moved into town where he and a nephew, M. B. Carlton, were partners in the Ideal Fruit Market on West College Street. There, Boyce sold single copies of the song for a small amount of money.
Although he is often overlooked, Boyce is an important part of Tennessee's musical history. Wolfe said, With the exception of Uncle Dave Macon's music, Boyce's song is the most important musical composition to come out of Rutherford County.

Wolfe added that he thinks the earliest professional recording of the piece was performed by the John Daniel Quartet on their private Daniel label.

(Thanks to Roel Vos for the picture and the soundfile below)
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Initially, the John Daniel Quartet had been one of the Vaughan Company's traveling quartets. The job of these traveling musical groups was to perform, for free, the Vaughan songbook compositions in churches through-out the Southeast and beyond so that congregations, once given a sampling of the music, would want to order songbooks.

In Daniel's case, the group became so popular that they soon struck out on their own and, in the 1940s, became one of the hit acts of the Grand Ole Opry. Interestingly, one of the early members of this foursome was West Tennessee native Gordon Stoker, who would go on to become a member of the Jordanaires, made famous for their work with Elvis.

The exposure the tune received from appearing in songbooks, combined with its performance on the Opry, propelled Boyce's song to new heights. Bluegrass great Ralph Stanley recorded the song. Later, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, the Judds, The Bishops, and others also cut it.

As you can read in the text below the first recording seems to be made around 1953/1954 in Nashville by the John Daniel Quartet on their own Daniel-label with John "Whit" Curtis as arranger and sole accompanist.

Click on the text above and you can scroll through it.

Here's another early version, sung by Mr. J. W. Breazeal, Springfield, Missouri on April 27, 1958:

(c) The LeFevres 1961 on the album: Christmas With The Gospel Singing Caravan
Released on (Sing Records/LP-556):

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(c) Jimmie Davis 1963 on the album Highway To Heaven
Released on (Decca RecordsDL74432):

"Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" was credited to A.L. Phipps on this album:

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Listen here:

(c) Stanley Brothers 1964 on the album Hymns of the Cross
Released on King Records (KS 918)

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Listen here:

(c) Phipps Family (1966) (on the abum: "Christmas with the Phipps Family")
Released on the Pine Mountain label (#128) (owned by the Phipps Family themselves)

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Listen here at 19 min and 46 sec in the next YT:

(c) Mother Mabel Carter sang "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" on Johnny Cash's "Holy Land Concert", which was broadcasted on December 26, 1968 on the BBC.

It begins at 40 min and 40 seconds in the next YT:

(c) Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys 1977
Released on the album "Clinch Mountain Gospel" (Rebel SLP-1571)

Listen here:

(c) Emmylou Harris 1980 (on the album "Light of the Stable")

Listen here:

(c) Judds 1987

Listen here:

(c) Patty Loveless (2002)  (on album "Bluegrass & White Snow")

Listen here:

(c) Oak Ridge Boys (2002)  (on album "An Inconvenient Christmas"
Released on (Spring Hill Records CMD1034):

Listen here:

NOT to be confused with Neil Young's "Star of Bethlehem".

2 opmerkingen:

  1. Joop, would you happen to know what song is on the flip side of the John Daniel record pictured above?


  2. Hello anonymous,

    If you would like to know what song was on the flip side you could contact Roel Vos on his blog (he is the Polar Fox in my contacts)

    Joop greets