Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BILLINGS, Joseph, English navigator, born in Turnham Green, near London, about 1758. He was a sailor on the "Discovery" in Captain Cook's last fatal voyage, entered the Russian navy as a lieutenant after his return, and in 1785 was appointed to the command of an expedition to the northwest extremity of Asia. The expedition assembled at Irkutsk in February 1786. In two vessels it explored the coasts of Siberia and Alaska, and the interjacent seas and islands, returning after nine years. See "An Account of a Geographical and Astronomical Expedition to the Northern Parts of Russia, performed by Commodore Joseph Billings," from the papers of Martin Saner, secretary to the expedition (London, 1802). BILLINGS, Josh. See SHAW, HENRY WILSON. BILLINGS, William, composer, born in Boston, Massachusetts, 7 October 1746 : died there, 26 September 1800. He was a tanner by trade, and afterward became a teacher. He was the earliest of American composers, and introduced in New England the lively and spirited style of devotional music. This was already in vogue in England; but, from the long popularity of Billings's compositions, it came to be called in derision the Yankee style. Although deficient in technical requirements, his compositions were superior in melody to the airs of Tansur and other English composers in the same style. The introduction of his airs, which contained many fugues and melodious phrasing in the bass and intermediate parts that were often contrary to correct principles of harmony, necessitated the cultivation of the art of singing, which was entirely neglected so long as the music sung in the congregations was confined to a few slow, simple, old sacred melodies. Billings wrote the words to many of his tunes. He was a zealous patriot, and during the revolution produced a number of patriotic pieces, including "Lamentation over Boston," "Retrospect," "Independence," and "Columbia," as well as verses set to the air of "Chester," which were popular in the camps of the revolutionary army. He published "The New England psalm-Singer, or American Chorister, containing a Number of Psalm-Tunes, Anthems, and Canons," in Boston, in 1770. The pieces contained in it were deficient not only in harmony, but in melody, and especially in accent. In 1778 he issued, "The Singing-Master's,*Assistant," professing to be an abridgment of the former work, m which the greater part of the tunes was omitted, and those retained were improved in melody and accent. This collection grew to be very popular, and was known as "Billings's Best." In 1779 he published " Music in Miniature," containing thirty-two tunes from his previous books, eleven old European tunes, and thirty-one new and original compositions. In 1781 appeared "The Psalm-Singer's Amusement," which became exceedingly popular. His subsequent publications were "The Suffolk Harmony" (1786) ; "The Continental Harmony" (1794); and anthems entitled "Except the Lord build the House," "Mourn, Mourn, ye Saints," "The Lord is Risen from the Dead," and "Jesus Christ is Risen from the Dead."
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