Frank Caperton, Rutherford County Historical Society, December 24, 2015
Perhaps my favorite Christmas song is an old gospel/Bluegrass song titled ‘Beautiful Star of Bethlehem’. I’m certain you’ve heard this song hundreds of times and never realized the song’s connection with Rutherford County.
Please click below and listen and you too will agree – ‘Beautiful Star of Bethlehem’ is simply beautiful.
OK – now for the story of Rutherford County’s very own Robert Fisher Boyce of the Link community:
In an article in the Old-Time Times from 2004, Patsy Weiler writes,
The Hillbilly at Harvard, WHRB Radio, Boston, MA
Also, please click on the link below to learn more about Robert Fisher Boyce:
Robert Fisher Boyce was born in the southern Rutherford County community of Link November 25, 1887. Boyce was raised 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. . .
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..
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. . .
Dean Boyce, Franklin’s wife, remembers how her late sister-in-law, Nanny Lou, talked about helping her father put down the music for the song. “I believe,” she said, “they worked all morning on the music at the piano, and it rained hard all the time they were working on it.”
Nell McKee, a retired educator who lives in the Buchanan area, attended Mt. Carmel Baptist Church where Boyce was a deacon and song leader when the song was written. Now in her 90s, McKee still attends the same church and recalls that Boyce would sing the lead part and his wife would sing the harmony in her clear alto voice.
“Fisher and Cora would sometimes sing the song at church,” McKee remembers. “Cora would weep every time they sang together. She was very proud of her husband for writing that song.”
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. . .
This story is corroborated by Jeff Mowery in his blog, “Hymn of the Week”:
I recently was given a copy of the history of this particular song from a great pianist and dedicated “Hymn of the week” reader. It is not a very old song, but one written in 1938 by a Tennessee farmer. Robert Fisher operated a small dairy farm just south of Murfreesboro. He was a religious man and served as a deacon at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. One summer afternoon, Mr. Fisher felt inspired to sit down and write the words to “Oh, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.” Although he was a farmer, he did not write this song sitting on his back porch overlooking a pastoral setting. He didn’t write the words sitting under a starry sky thinking about Christ’s Advent. No, he wrote the words inside his dairy barn while seated on a milk stool. His daughter later helped him compose the music to this song, and it has been recorded by several well-known artists including The Judds, Patty Loveless, and Bill and Gloria Gaither…
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem
Shinning far through shadows dimmed
Giving the life for those who long have gone on
Guiding the wise men on their way
Unto the place where Jesus lay
Oh beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on
Oh beautiful star the hope of light
Guiding the pilgrims through the night
Over the mountains ’till the break of dawn