Appalachia Music

Christmas In August

When I first started studying the statistics associated with the Blind Pig & the Acorn I felt kind of disappointed that more folklore and music posts didn’t show up near the top of the most popular posts. I felt better about it when I realized someone who ‘lands’ here for an old time recipe would surely click around the website if they had any interest whatsoever in Appalachia. I mean I gotta get them here somehow right?

You have to move all the way up to number 26 in the most popular posts before music shows up-Beautiful Star of Bethlehem by The Pressley Girls.

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 (if you’d like to read the article in its entirety click on the title):

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.  (*Before you watch the video you need to stop the music player-the music controls are along the top of this page on the far left side-just above the Blind Pig logo. Click the center round button to stop the player)

Hope you enjoyed the song-and the history lesson. Believe it or not-Christmas is just around the corner. If you haven’t picked up one of Pap and Paul’s Songs of Christmas cds-now is the time to get one so you’ll be ready when the season arrives.

You can pay by Paypal (send payment to [email protected]), money order or personal check. Email me at [email protected] with your order or if you have any questions. (you can go here to see the songs on the cd)


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    August 11, 2014 at 1:13 am

    Thanks for the rerun of my all time favorite Christmas song! Lovely version

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 10, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Thanks for the history of the song.
    This is my favorite of all the
    Christmas Songs and Chitter and
    Chatter and the Gang did a really
    wonderful job with it. Thank you.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 10, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    I enjoyed the history of “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” but regret that R. Fisher Boyce did not get credit for the music as well as the lyrics. It seems he should at least have received credit for the melody–even if Adger M. Pace harmonized?!? (Just wondering!) But as you stated, “That’s how it was ‘back then.” I can remember the first time we found the song (perhaps in the book you mentioned) and sang it at Choestoe Church in our Christmas pageant. Chitter and Chatter and the Blind Pig Players did a wonderful job. I like the seriousness with which they approach their singing and playing! Enjoyed! Did you have a rainy pre-college trip? I know it was enjoyable, and know you’ve been happy–and I hope safe, too!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    As for me I need no ©opywrite and ask no credit. My treasures are stored up somewhere beyond the blue, to quote a favorite old hymn. Accolades earned here are not transferable to the hereafter.
    “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” To gain from gifts given freely by God is an abomination, in my opinion.
    I wonder which man asked for credit in heaven.

  • Reply
    August 10, 2014 at 10:42 am

    That’s one of those songs I love hearing year around, I never get tired of hearing, and the Girls did such a good job on it..And the musicians did a good job also..

  • Reply
    August 10, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Ah! Christmas in August! So beautiful and sung with such robust and beauty. God bless and hope you are having a wonderful time with the girls.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 10, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Tipper–The copyright side of the song caught my attention as a writer. Copyright is a complex matter, and far too often struggling writers, whether they are penning songs, stories, or books, make the mistake of selling all rights. That means that the publisher or whoever buys the rights stands to make most of the money out of someone’s creativity.
    I’ll admit I’ve sold all rights a few times, but not often. When I’ve done so, it was to an article I felt had no real future or which I could rework to a sufficient degree not to worry about copyright infringement.
    That’s just a cautionary note for anyone who writes or hopes to write anything for publication.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. You pretty much hit on the key to the most popular pieces. You have to remember your readership goes beyond the southern Appalachians and they are more likely to identify with universal themes rather than regional ones. Of course, for my part, it is the lure and lore of the high country which most tickles my fancy.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 10, 2014 at 7:58 am

    It doesn’t seem fair for one man to write the song and another get the credit. It is, indeed a beautiful song and the girls do a fine job on it!

  • Leave a Reply