in Boston on October 7, 1746 and died there on September 26, 1800. He
was composing in the United States during the years when Haydn and
Mozart were most prominent in Europe.
Often described as one-eyed and one-legged, addicted to
snuff and unkempt,
and employed as a tanner, teacher, and civil servant, Billings was America's first significant composer.
The New England
Psalm-Singer, a collection of 120 vocal works
(with a frontispiece engraved by Paul Revere), was the first
published edition of American music; The Singing Master's
Assistant enjoyed immense circulation, in part, owing to its
politically inflammatory lyrics. "Chester," Billings's
famous and stirring Revolutionary hymn, might well be compared in
function and effect to Martin Luther's Ein' feste
Self-taught in composition, Billings
drew on British models to develop a stark, primitive style of
vocal composition appropriate to the stern New England church, yet
occasionally idiosyncratic and experimental, such as the chorale
titled Jargon. His harmonies are generally simple and open;
the setting of texts (his own, and those of Isaac Watts and
others) sometimes pictorial.