Dec 22, 2011
The text was written by Phillips Brooks(1835–1893), an Episcopal priest, and rector of the Church of the Holy trinity in Philadelphia, PA. He was allegeldy inspired by visiting the city of Bethlehem in 1865:
“After an early dinner, we took our horses and rode to Bethlehem,” so he wrote home in Christmas week of 1865. “It was only about two hours when we came to the town, situated on an eastern ridge of a range of hills, surrounded by its terraced gardens. It is a good-looking town, better built than any other we have seen in Palestine. . . . Before dark, we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it (all the Holy Places are caves here), in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds. The story is absurd, but somewhere in those fields we rode through the shepherds must have been. . . . As we passed, the shepherds were still “keeping watch over their flocks or leading them home to fold.”
Three years later, he wrote the poem for his church and his organist, Lewis Redner added the music. Redner's tune, simply titled "St. Louis", is the tune used most often for this carol in the US. The Heath Brothers, one of the great family acts in jazz history, reinterpreted the classic as "Our Little Town". You can find the track on the A Jazz Christmas compilation CD.