“Beautiful Star of Bethlehem”: The Composer’s Grandson Writes

Almost two years ago I posted an article about the history of a hymn we have plStanleys-Hymps from the Crossayed on the Hillbilly at Harvard Christmas Extravangaza for years and years: The Stanley Brothers‘ recording on King Records of “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem”; that post is HERE.  The credits on the King label listed the song as ‘Traditional’, so I was curious whether there was any information about the composer.  With Sheila Selby’s able help, we found that the song was written by dairy farmer, musician, and gospel songwriter, R. Fisher Boyce in 1938.

On some sheet music and recordings the composer is identified as Adger M. Pace.  It turns out Mr. Pace was the Music Editor for the James D. Vaughan Publishing Company, which paid R. Fisher Boyce for the rights to “Beautiful Star,” and not a penny thereafter.  This was a not-uncommon practice in those days; it probably had something to do with Mr. Pace accumulating a catalogue of perhaps a thousand songs in his name.

Somewhat to my surprise, this post has proven to be the most viewed of any in our little blog, I assume because of the popularity of “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” recorded by artists like Emmylou Harris and The Judds in recent decades, and because detective stories like these have an inherent appeal to some of us.  But not until yesterday had I heard anything from someone actually connected to R. Fisher Boyce.

That’s when I checked my HAH email before heading to Cambridge for the show, and was delighted to see this comment submitted by the composer’s grandson!

Hi, My name is David Boyce, son of Franklin and Dean Boyce, and grandson of Robert Fisher Boyce. Thank you so much for the interest you have shown in this song. Oddly enough, daddy said PaPa never intended for the song to be known as a Christmas song. He just wanted to write a song praising his Lord.

The story I was often told is that Pace would only publish the song if he received partial credit for it. I guess that’s how he got credit for writing over a thousand songs. PaPa didn’t really care about the credit, he just wanted to share the song with the rest of the world. I have heard two stories: one is that he received $25 dollars for the rights and the other is he received $30. Not much by today’s standards but during the Great Depression when roughly 20% of the people were unemployed and others making a dollar a day, it must have seemed like a real blessing.

I was a little boy when he passed away. I remember seeing a large box full of manuscripts of songs and poems he wrote. Oh how I wish I could look through that box today to see what else he may have written. Once again, thanks for the great write up and your interest.

God bless,

MAJ David Boyce

TN Army National Guard

Thank you, Major Boyce, for the wonderful letter, and for adding a personal element to the story of the song that has touched so many.  Of course, we have to wonder what might have happened to that “large box full of manuscripts and songs and poems” that your grandfather wrote.  Is there more to be learned?

As a bonus (wasn’t available two years ago), here are The Stanley Brothers with George Shuffler singing “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.”

It’s available on CD from King, as I posted HERE.


This entry was posted in Country News, Follow-ups, Hillbilly History, King Records, Songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem”: The Composer’s Grandson Writes

  1. Pingback: “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” | Hillbilly at Harvard

  2. RTRDick says:

    Superb version of this Christmas classic, powerful singing, Most folks reckon the later Rebel Clinch Mountain Gospel version Ralph did with Renfro Profit and Keith Whitely replacing George Shuffler and Carter may be better, but who is to judge, I listen to both back to back and love both. But while this version is an original arrangement, Renfro and keith simply do a great copying job.
    Either version is great music. Incidentally credit on the Rebel record is given to Boyce and Pace.

  3. Patti C. Adkison says:

    Thanks so much for the rendition of “Besutiful Star of Bethlehem” I had been trying to find the original words to the song. Today, as it has been recorded by so many artists, I find that some words are interchanged. The song is so beautiful, I wanted to know the correct words originally penned!! I’m confident this recording by The Stanley Brothers is as near to accurate as possible! I first heard the song in December 1987 after my beloved Mother had passed away in August of that year. It was a song I really needed at that time and it has been so special to me since. Again, Thank You! Also, the history of the song is amazing to me!

  4. Otis Nunn says:

    The very first version I ever heard was by Ralph Stanley, lt was and remains the very best rendition ever. I have wondered many times and commented to several people that I could never understand why it had not been played and heard more until the Stanley Bros. Version. Gid bless R. Fisher Boyce for one of the worlds most timeless Christmas songs.

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