Appalachia Christmas Music

Joy to the World with Pap and Paul


“Joy to the World!” is one of my favorite Christmas songs. Who couldn’t be inspired by those hopeful peppy cheerful lines? According to the book “Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas” written by Ace Collins, the song came to us via two men who’s lives were separated by time and space.

Isaac Watts (July 17, 1674)  is famous for bringing change to the songs used during worship services. He wanted worship music to be more meaningful to every day folks like you and me. Watts has been credited with writing hundreds of songs as well as inspiring other hymn writers like Charles Wesley and John Newton.

After studying  Psalms 98 Watts penned a poem titled “Joy to the World.” Over forty years later Lowell Mason came up with the energetic tune so many of us are familiar with, he named the tune “Antioch.” It was another few years before Mason put the words Watts had written with his tune.

The book, “Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas” points out another interesting tidbit about the song. Although “Joy to the World!” is set firmly in the midst of our Christmas Carols it really isn’t a song about Christmas. Neither Watts nor Mason thought of the words or tune as pertaining to the Christmas season.

“In 1911, Elise Stevenson, who had scored huge chart success during the early days of records with “Shine on, Harvest Moon” and “Are You Sincere?” joined Trinity Choir for a Christmas release of “Joy to the World!” The Victor Records single climbed to number five on the charts and marked the first time that either Watts’s or Mason’s music had appeared on popular, contemporary music playlists (though “Joy to  the World!” would later inspire a rock music hit for a group called “Three Dog Night”).

It remains a mystery how this hymn became known as a Christmas carol. Inspired by Old Testament Scripture-with no words alluding to the birth of Jesus other than the phrase, “the Lord is come” – “Joy to the World!” would seem to be a song for all seasons, something to be sung in July as much as December. Nevertheless, for some reason Americans embraced “Joy to the World!” as a holiday standard. Perhaps because of its jubilant spirit, it just “felt” like a Christmas song!”

A year or so after Pap died Paul found a video of us playing “Joy to the World!” The video is sort of dark, that’s probably why we never uploaded it after filming. Now that Pap’s gone the lack of light in the video don’t seem so bad after all.

I hope you enjoyed the video of “Joy to the World!”on this Sunday before Christmas.


*Source: Collins, Ace. Stories behind the best-loved songs of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001. Print.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    December 26, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    So Enjoyed listening . Thanks for sharing the history , which I find so neat to learn about.

  • Reply
    December 26, 2018 at 10:43 am

    This (baby) Jesus has brought Joy to the World ! To alot of us. Thank God for sending his son and Jesus for coming and dying on that cross. God Bless!

  • Reply
    December 23, 2018 at 11:12 am

    I’ve always loved the way this song starts right off with a shout, like a glorious trumpet call: JOY!

  • Reply
    December 23, 2018 at 10:43 am

    Perfect song for their voices. Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year to your family and all the Blind Pig readers.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 23, 2018 at 9:26 am

    Well, I don’t know what to say. ‘Joy to the World’ is the first song I think of as the one to sing at church as Christmas nears. I like that the subject is joy, the reason being that the Lord has come down to us and that the joy is for the whole world. And then ‘prepare him room’ harkens back to no room in the inn. And to me at least ‘prepare him room’ also means clear the clutter of the less important. Maybe there is so much allusion in it that everyone can relate to some part.

    • Reply
      Matt McAllum
      December 24, 2019 at 5:11 pm

      Yes …

  • Reply
    December 23, 2018 at 9:00 am

    I too always enjoy hearing the story behind a song. How lucky you are to have all those videos of your dad!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 23, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Maybe I am prejudiced but how could one read Psalms 98 and not see it as a predictor of the coming of the Christ. Not Santa not the Elf on the Shelf but the one and only Son of God.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 23, 2018 at 8:14 am

    That’s beautiful and a real treasure to have. I miss Pap, too!

  • Reply
    December 23, 2018 at 8:14 am

    I always loved this song and I enjoyed hearing Pap and Paul sing it this morning. I did not know it was a poem first and later put to music, and I guess I thought it was written as a Christmas song so thanks for the history on it. I am going to check my grandmother’s old Harp shapenote songbook and see if “Antioch” is in it. Merry Christmas to the Blind Pig and Acorn Group and God’s best for the New Year.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    December 23, 2018 at 7:51 am

    Love the song and the history. Merry Christmas everyone.

  • Reply
    December 23, 2018 at 7:12 am

    “Antioch” appears in the Christian Harmony and New Harp of Columbia shapenote songbooks. Watts and Mason are revered for their genius.

  • Reply
    December 23, 2018 at 7:09 am

    As always enjoyed the music, the info behind the song is interesting also. Merry Christmas Everybody.

  • Leave a Reply