Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Samuel Adams, Psalm-Singer

Samuel Adams, colonial patriot and statesman, had many nicknames: "Sam the Maltster," Sam the Publican," "the Puritan Patriot," "Brain of the Revolution," "Father of the Revolution," "Palinarus of the Revolution," "Cromwell of America," "Apostle of Liberty," "Father of America," "Last of the Puritans," to name a few. One other was "the Psalm-Singer." His biographer, Ira Stoll, wrote that "One of Adams’s nicknames, 'the psalm-singer,' refers to the joy he took in singing texts that are part of the Jewish Bible."

When he was not inciting "rebellion" against British tyranny, he often assisted the choir of the New South Church in Boston. John Adams, his second cousin, referred to the "exquisite for music and...charming voice" of his relative, "when he pleased to use it" (letter to William Tudor, April 15, 1817). Judge Peter Oliver, a Tory opponent of Adams, said that "He had a good Voice, & was a Master in vocal Musick. This Genius he improved, by instituting singing Societies of Mechanicks, where he presided; & embraced such Opportunities to ye inculcating Sedition, 'till it had ripened into Rebellion."

Adams was the close friend of William Billings, author of The New England Psalm-Singer (1770), "the first tune book compiled by a single American composer, as well as the first published collection of exclusively American music." Billings embraced the hymnody of Isaac Watts; however, although Adams' church, now a member of the United Church of Christ has long since departed from both doctrinal orthodoxy and purity of worship, today it owns two copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book and provides an interactive feature enabling the website visitor to access the great American Psalm Book, so largely forgotten today, but once employed by American colonists in centuries gone by.

1 comment:

  1. The article is interesting, Andrew and I am especially fascinated by the Psalm book. You can even turn the pages! What a wonderful way to show that beautiful old book to people.
    What a great way to be remembered as ".......the Psalm singer"