Appalachia Christmas Music

Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem

Oh beautiful star of bethlehem
Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem is one of my favorite Christmas songs. If you’re a believer it has an awesome comparison between the literal star that led the way to Bethlehem-and an absolute declaration of the Star that still shines forth brightly from that distant manger of long ago.

The song has a folky sound to it-which most certainly appeals to my tastes in music. There’s also more than a few Christmas play memories tied to the song for me-the words are perfect for a nativity type play with Angels, Wisemen, and the Holy Family gathered round.

Chatter and Chitter have been singing the song around the house for the past few weeks, and as I listened to them I began to wonder who actually wrote the song. A quick check in an old Songs of Faith choir book showed me the song was attributed to R. Fisher Boyce as well as Words & harmony-Adger M. Pace. I assumed the 2 collaborated on the song-but a quick google showed me I was wrong.

The December 2004 Issue of Old-Times Times had this to say about the song’s history:

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. 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.

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.

Patsy Weiler


After I read the article above I thought-well thats a lovely history of the song-but what about Adger M. Pace-who is he? A quick google found me this page: Preserving the Past to Protect the Future. The short bio had this to say about Mr. Pace:

Born August 13, 1882 near Pelzer, South Carolina, Adger M. Pace soon gained a love and appreciation for music that characterized the remainder of his life. He sang bass for seventeen years as a member of the Vaughan Radio Quartet, singing over WOAN–one of the South’s first radio stations. He was also active in singing conventions, serving as one of the organizers and the first president of the National Singing Convention in 1937.

Pace’s most significant contribution was as a teacher of gospel music. He taught harmony, counterpoint and composition in the Vaughan School of Music in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, educating the first generation of Southern gospel Music leaders. Beginning in 1920, he served for 37 years as Music Editor for all Vaughan publications. He was also a notable songwriter–composing more than a thousand songs in his career. Among his many popular contributions were “That Glad Reunion Day,” “Jesus Is All I Need,” “The Home-coming Week,” “The Happy Jubilee,” and “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.”


Hmmm no mention of R. Fisher Boyce in the article about Adger M. Pace. However you can see the clear connection between the 2-The Vaughan School of Music. One more quick google landed me on the Mudcat music forum. Seems other folks have already been wondering about the true writer of the song Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. You can go here to read all the back and forth-but basically they came to the conclusion that R. Fisher Boyce wrote and composed the song-but as the first article stated-once Boyce sold the song-he also sold the copyright. Doesn’t seem fair somehow does it? R. Fisher Boyce wrote the song but Adger M. Pace got credit too. But actually it is fair. That was the way of the song writing industry at that point in time.

Now that I’ve given you more history than you wanted to know-I give you the song.


Hope you enjoyed the song-and the history lesson.



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  • Reply
    Garry Ballard
    December 21, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    I really love that song, one of my favourite Christmas songs too! I didn’t know the history of it though.

  • Reply
    Loretta Davenport
    December 10, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    I grew up singing this beautiful song. And from the time I was a young child I have been told that it was a distant member of my family that had written the song and told me how he wrote it in the barn milking cows. Now here is where my memory gets foggy. It was my dad, Ray Davenport and his older brother, Willie Frank Davenport, of the Gum Community which is in the Buchanan area. But from what I have read here maybe it was my mom’s side of the family. Mama, Martha Davenport, grew up in the Link and Rockvale community. She grew up as Martha Lokey, the youngest of 9 children of George Lawrence Lokey and his wife Annie Lokey, maiden name Smotherman. If anyone can help me find out more I would greatly appreciate it. I simply LOVE THIS song and have passed it down to my kids and grandkids.

  • Reply
    Helen Bankston
    September 10, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    After all of this, I still don’t know how to gain permission or who to gain permission from to be able to arrange and play this with a mountain dulcimer group without getting into copyright infringement laws.
    Any help as to who to go to would be greatly appreciated.

  • Reply
    December 24, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Ken-wonderful to hear from you! The song Oh Beautiful Star of Bethlehem is one of my all time favorites.
    I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    December 23, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    read this, jodie boyce broTher wrote o BEAUTIFUL STAR OF BETHLEHEM

  • Reply
    December 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    David-thank you so much for the great comment! What an honor to hear from you-I can see why your family takes great pride-it is a wonderful song. Funny that you mention it wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas song-when I was growing up a pastor would often request the choir sing Beautiful Star of Bethlehem in the summer or whenever! All the kids would giggle and smile because we thought it was only supposed to be sung at Christmas-shows how much knew : )
    Merry Christmas to you and yours!!!
    Tipper Pressley
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    David Boyce
    December 14, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Greetings everyone, I am David Boyce, son of Franklin and grandson of Robert Fisher Boyce. First of all I would like to thank the author of this site. I think the article is very well written and goes along with what I have heard most of my life. Second, ladies you did a beautiful job singing it. The only bit of new info I can ad is Aunt Nanny Lou would play the song on the piano and they would sing it in their home for a number of years before it was published. My grandfather and my Dad were both song leaders in their church and uncle BC Boyce had a gospel quartet for years. I would give anything to be able to hear them sing that song together! Pace got credit for the music as part of the deal to get it published. My Dad said PaPa didn’t seem to mind he was just happy to have the song published so others could hear it. Also daddy said the song was not intended to be a Christmas song. I guess it just evolved into one over the years. Needless to say the entire family takes great pride in his accomplishment.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    December 21, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Just now catching up on this post…Wonderful song from the girls and family…I loved the history as well…
    Beautiful Star of Bethlehem is one of my very favorites…
    Thanks Tipper for a great post…

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    December 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Tipper, I love to hear this song and the harmony is so sweet. I first heard it in a play in Atlanta some years ago. I think the play was Appalachian Christmas. I’ve never seen that same play again but that music stayed in my mind and I find myself humming it.
    Thanks for the “rest of the story” about the writer of the song. Very interesting.
    And the girls do a great job of singing.

  • Reply
    Kempie Rackley
    December 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Beautiful! Merry Christmas to you all.

  • Reply
    Sherry Whitaker
    December 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    What a beautiful Christmas gift of song! Thank you so much! i love that old hymn and the girls sound so lovely. Merry Christmas and thank you again for your wonderful site.

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    December 21, 2011 at 10:14 am

    That was certainly not more history than I wanted to know! I love knowing it, but would probably never have gotten around to looking it up. Thank you. And maybe I’m a little biased, but that’s as pretty as I have ever heard it done!

  • Reply
    Tim Mclemore
    December 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Wonderful job girls, a song I love to hear year around, love the history lesson behind it, Merry Christmas to you and your family Tipper, I’m so glad to have found your blog, seems like being neighbors..

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Tipper, you have brought tears (but happy tears) to my eyes. This was my mother’s favorite carol and the two of us used to sing it every Christmas. I haven’t heard it in years (Mom died too young in 1988) and your two girls do it beautifully. I’ll be coming back to it again and again to listen to the girls and remember my Mama.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Awesome job Girls, that song is my wife’s favorite. Also thanks for the history lesson Tipper. Hope you and your Family have a Very Merry Christmas.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    December 20, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    I really enjoyed the girls singing…as always. It seems like I noticed “guitar man” in that video. Good job all!

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    December 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    tipper your talent for words always brings such warmth to my soul.. i love the story of the song… and hearing the girls singing.. was just beautiful.. i love hearing their voices.. what a wonderful gift youve given us.. may your holidays be blessed with laughter and love always.
    big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Beautiful!!! We love this song; it’s one of those you wish would go on and on.
    I also enjoyed the history of the song.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    This is my all time favorite Christmas song. Thanks for the history behind it. A truly inspirational story.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    WoW! Thank you all for that song.
    What a wonderful Christmas Gift
    and history shared with your readers. Beautiful Star of Bethlehem is my favorite of all
    Christmas Songs. Chatter started
    the song and Chitter got her turn,
    while both have such beautiful
    voices. The Blind Pig Gang did a
    nice compliment while the girls
    sang, and it’s good to see our
    guy from Yale coming Home for the
    Christmas Holidays.
    Merry Christmas! …Ken

  • Reply
    Dennis Price
    December 20, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Merry Christmas Tipper and family. I have been singing Beautiful Star of Bethlehem for three weeks now. Thanks for the song history. The girls are grown. They both have beautiful voices. Barbara and I just watched the video and enjoyed every minute of it. She is now digging out Pap and Paul’s Christmas album. Tell Pap I saw the top of his head in the video. We still want to come for a visit before we get too feeble to travel. 🙂 May Jesus Christ bless you all, Pappy

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 20, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Beautiful and I loved the history of the song and the man. Thank you.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I enjoyed the history of this beautiful song. It is good knowing the inspiration for the song having been written. I understand how he felt about being alone to write it. Every Christmas Eve I go outside by myself to gaze up at the stars and reflect about that wonderful night that Christ was born. I offer up a prayer of thanks to the Father for giving us the gift of His son. This year I will be hearing the girls beautiful voices singing this song in my mind while I am out looking at the sky alone. Thank you for sharing with us Tipper!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    December 20, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Thanks for the blessing.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Your girls did such a wonderful job singing this song. It’s always been one of my favorites and not just at Christmas. Thanks for a beautiful start to my morning!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 20, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Shape notes are the old do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do musical scale. Singers used to use it to find their pitch without a musical instrument. My dad and two of brother used to sing this way. The church I grew up in had a piano but nobody knew how to play so they used the shape notes. Sounded pretty good too for a bunch Hightower hicks.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 9:29 am

    The song was sweetly done. Thank you, and the story was intriguing.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    December 20, 2011 at 9:18 am

    This was such a wonderful piece. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 9:18 am

    I LOVE this song!

  • Reply
    Wanda in NoAla
    December 20, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Love this song. Thanks for the history!!!!

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Mike-go here for an easy to understand explanation:
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    December 20, 2011 at 9:10 am

    I haven’t seen a shaped-note hymnal in a long time. Since I read music since I was 6, I never paid much attention to the shapes and still don’t know what they mean. Do they denote the duration of the note? Can anyone help?

  • Reply
    Donna W
    December 20, 2011 at 9:00 am

    I love the song!

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 8:59 am

    i have a post in my drafts for friday saying this is my favorite song, i love it sung by patti loveless and your girls are sounding as good as she does. i have listened to it so many times this week it runs through my head all day and my hubby is singing it too. great harmony going on with your beautiful daughters.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 20, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Well, the girls did a beautiful job on that song!
    Thanks for the song, the story and the research. Just doesn’t seem fair does it.
    Not the first nor the last time someone takes credit for someone else’s work.

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    December 20, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Tipper: Wonderful research on a meaningful story! I am just delighted that it all seemed to come out of TENNESSEE – a most appropriatae place for a musical story! I am going to share your post with my brother who is ‘into’ this kind of history!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Lisa Snuggs
    December 20, 2011 at 8:48 am

    I lived in Middle Tennessee in the late 1990s and a lady in my church (Green Hill Upper Cumberland Presbyterian Church between Unionville and Deason) told me she was related to the man who wrote “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.” I don’t remember the exact connection, but what a joy to see the details in the accounts you posted. Thank you…it’s by far my favorite Christmas hymn.

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Beautiful voices to start my day off right. Thanks Chitter, Chatter and Tipper!!!!!!

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Just beautiful…great job girls! I love that song! Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 20, 2011 at 7:37 am

    First of all, very thoughtful framing of the shot angle with the light from above, Miz Tipper.
    Thanks for the research and way to go, Misses Chitter & Chatter – very nice.
    I like the part of the story about needing to fetch himself out to the barn to think straight. Could there be a finer place for considering and writing about the One upon whom the Star of Bethlehem shone?

  • Reply
    December 20, 2011 at 7:34 am

    The speaker on our computer is not good; not much volume. Still the song was beautiful. The girls really did a great job.
    You know, I keep sitting here scratching my head wondering when did those little girls grow up? It must have happened when I wasn’t looking.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    December 20, 2011 at 7:29 am

    As always, thank you so much for this lovely start to my day. I enjoyed it very much.

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