Singin' Billy Walker
Audio Tour: Billy Walker
William "Singing Billy" Walker changed the songs we sing and the way we sing them.
Born in 1809 in Union County, Walker later moved to Spartanburg, where he directed vocal music at First Baptist Church and ran a downtown bookstore.
A lifelong lover of hymns and musical education, Walker published a book entitled "The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion" in 1835. In the book, Walker used a novice-friendly notation system that allowed choirs across the country to learn hymns without learning to read music. “The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion” brought a new measure of musical literacy to rural churches across the country, and soon became one of the most popular songbooks of its day, selling some 600,000 copies.
It was also in "The Southern Harmony" that Walker combined the melody of the traditional song "New Britain" with a popular poem by clergyman John Newton, thus creating the now-traditional hymn "Amazing Grace."
Walker wrote three more shape note books, and his arrangements and original compositions are still performed everyday.
His title of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion was borrowed by rock band The Black Crowes and used as the title of the Crowes’ #1 rock album in 1992.
—Peter Cooper, author, professor, award-winning journalist, and Grammy-nominated artist
—Steve Shanafelt, freelance journalist, editor and music writer
To distinguish him from other William Walkers in Spartanburg, he was nicknamed Singing Billy. Walker is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Spartanburg.