American Revolutionary Song: Chester – William Billings

Ian Berwick

Published on Jan 18, 2016
Chester was a patriotic anthem composed by William Billings and sung during the American Revolutionary War. Billings wrote the first version of the song for his 1770 songbook The New England Psalm Singer, and made improvements for the version in his The Singing Master’s Assistant (1778). It is the latter version that is best known today.

The curious title of the song reflects a common practice of Billings’s day, in which tunes were labeled with (often arbitrarily chosen) place names. Billings’s song evidently has little more to do with any particular town named Chester than his hymn tune Africa has to do with Africa. With identifiable names for compositions, performers could select different lyrics to sing with the music without creating confusion.
This song would rival Yankee Doodle as the unofficial anthem of the rebel colonies

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