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William Billings (1746-1800) is considered one of the first significant composers of the United States. He composed and published over 340 choral pieces during his lifetime. From his many published writings Billings manifested a strong personality:

"For my own Part, as I don't think myself confin'd to any Rules for Composition laid down by any that went before me, neither should I think (were I to pretend to lay down Rules) that any who came after me were any ways obligated to adhere to them, any further than they should think proper: So in fact, I think it is best for every Composer to be his own Carver."

The work of Billings and other composers of the period formed the foundation of what would later become shape-note or Sacred Harp singing, a tradition that migrated to the southern and western United States and continues to the present day.

Billings had a striking appearance: he was blind in one eye, had a withered arm, a short leg, and a loud voice, and inhaled large quantities of snuff (powdered tobacco).

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