Phillips Brooks (1835–93) is best remembered as the lyricist of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” which he wrote during his tenure as Rector of Philadelphia’s Holy Trinity Church. Born in Boston, Brooks attended Harvard University and the Episcopal Virginia Theological Seminary. He was a dedicated champion of emancipation and, after the Civil War, the right of former slaves to vote. Brooks served more than 20 years as Rector of Boston’s Trinity Church and spent a short tenure as the Bishop of Massachusetts. Brooks was perhaps the most well-known member of American clergy in his time and introduced Helen Keller to Anne Sullivan. In 1880, he was invited to preach at Westminster Abbey for Queen Victoria.
It was a visit to Bethlehem itself that inspired Episcopal priest Phillips Brooks (1835–93) to write this carol. Upon his return in September 1866, he began working on the carol, but it would not be completed until 1868, when Brooks, with organist Lewis Redner (1831–1908), set the words to music for a Christmas service.