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James Pierpont

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James Lord Pierpont

Biography

James Lord Pierpont (25 April 1822, Boston - 5 August 1893, Winter Haven, Fla.) was a New England-born songwriter, arranger, organist, and composer, best known for writing and composing Jingle Bells in 1857.

James Lord Pierpont's father, Reverend John Pierpont (1785–1866), was a pastor of the Hollis Street Unitarian Church in Boston. James was the uncle of the financier and banker John Pierpont Morgan. His father Rev. John Pierpont was also an abolitionist and a poet. His mother was Mary Sheldon Lord, the daughter of Lynde Lord, Jr. (1762–1813), and Mary Lyman.

In 1832, James was sent to a boarding school in New Hampshire. He wrote a letter to his mother about riding in a sleigh through the December snow. In 1836, James ran away to sea aboard a whaling ship called The Shark. He then served in the US Navy until the age of 21.

In 1849, James Pierpont left his wife and children with his father in Massachusetts to open a business in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. He also worked as a photographer. His business failed after his goods burned in a fire.

In 1853, after James’ brother, the Rev. John Pierpont, Jr. (1819–1879), accepted a post with the Savannah, Georgia, Unitarian congregation, James followed, taking a post as the organist and music director of the church. To support himself, he also gave organ and singing lessons.

On March 27, 1852, James Pierpont published his composition The Returned Californian, based on his experiences in San Francisco.

In 1859, the Unitarian Church in Savannah had closed because of its abolitionist position, which was unpopular in the South. By 1860, Rev. John Pierpont, Jr. had returned to the North. James, however, stayed in Savannah with his second wife Eliza Jane, and at the beginning of the Civil War, joined the Lamar Rangers, which became part of the Fifth Georgia Cavalry of the Confederacy. Records indicate that he served as a company clerk. He also wrote music for the Confederacy when it seceded from the Union, including Our Battle Flag, Strike for the South and We Conquer or Die.

After the war, James moved his family to Valdosta, Georgia, then in 1869, Pierpont moved to Quitman, Georgia. There he was the organist in the Presbyterian Church, gave private piano lessons and taught at the Quitman Academy, retiring as the head of the Musical Department.

In 1880, Pierpont's son, Dr. Juriah Pierpont, M.D., renewed the copyright on Jingle Bells, but he never made much money from it. It took considerable effort to keep his father's name permanently attached to the song after the copyright expired.

From 1890 to 1954, Jingle Bells was in the top 25 of the most recorded songs in history, beating out My Old Kentucky Home, The Stars and Stripes Forever, Blue Skies, I Got Rhythm and Georgia on My Mind. In recognition of the universal success of his composition, Pierpont was elected into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. In 1997, a James Lord Pierpont Music Scholarship Fund was established at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia.


Works for Winds


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