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William James Kirkpatrick (1838-1921)
William James Kirkpatrick (1838-1921) was an Irish-American composer and musician, born in Errigal, Keerogue, County Tyrone, Ireland to schoolmaster and musician, Thomas Kirkpatrick. The family emigrated to the USA in 1840 and settled in Duncannon, PA.
Training in music began at a very young age and in 1854, he moved to Philadelphia to study music and carpentry. Here that he studied vocal music under Professor T. Bishop. Kirkpatrick was a versatile musician playing the cello, fife, flute, organ, and violin. He joined the Harmonia and the Hayden Sacred Music Societies where he was exposed to many great composers. In 1855, he became involved in the Wharton Street Methodist Episcopal church serving the choir with his musical talent and teaching Sunday school.
Beginning in 1858, Kirkpatrick began working with A.S. Jenks who helped him publish his first collection of hymns, Devotional Melodies, in 1859.
In 1861, William Kirkpatrick married his first wife and not long after enlisted in the 91st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers as a Fife-Major until October 1862. He returned to Philadelphia and supported his family through his skills in carpentry. He was elected lead organist for the Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church and began publishing more hymns. It was also during this time that he was introduced to John R. Sweeney. They soon became partners in their musical careers. The death of Kirkpatrick’s wife in 1878 acted as a catalyst in his life to give up the trade and devote himself fully to music and composition.
Between 1880 and 1897, Sweeney and Kirkpatrick published 49 major books. It was also during this time that Kirkpatrick was given command over all of the music at Grace Methodist Episcopal church. He married again in 1893 and travelled around the world with his wife. Over the years he published close to 100 major works and many annual works such as Easter and Christmas and children’s choirs.
Kirkpatrick died on September 20, 1921. He told his wife that night that he had a tune running through his head and he wanted to write it down before he lost it. His wife retired to bed and awoke in the middle of the night to find that he was not there. She went to his study to find him, and when she did, he was slumped over on his desk, dead.
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