Choral composer, teacher, and organist William Billings is recognized by many as the first professional American composer. Since he entered an apprenticeship as a tanner after attending primary school and spent much of his life working in the leather industry, he was largely self-taught in composition, studying the tune books and choral works of English psalmodists. In 1769, he began teaching in singing schools, and starting in 1778 held musical leadership roles in some of the larger churches in the Boston area. Billings wrote over 340 compositions and published the majority in six collections of his own music; the majority of his compositions are hymn tunes, but he also composed 51 fuging tunes, 4 canons, and 52 anthems and set-pieces. Billings had a particular gift for writing compelling melodies which were popular during his lifetime. In the early nineteenth century in the United States, a movement towards a more European style of sacred music shifted attention away from the music of Billings and his American contemporaries. However, shape note singers in the American south continued singing his music and in the second half of the 21st century, a revival of his music occurred.
Suggested choral music: