Star of the East


THIS was requested by reader ‘TheMidgetHorror’, who wrote: ‘I was in the choir at my primary school in the 70s, and my favourite carol to sing was called Star of the East. It’s such a lovely carol, and I’ve never heard it since my school days.’

I confess I had not heard of it. I think it is probably not as popular now as it used to be.

The words were written in 1890 by George Cooper (1840-1927), who was born in New York. As a boy he started writing poetry, and by the age of 16 his verses had been published in several leading magazines. He studied law but after practising for a short time he decided the profession was not for him, and became a full-time writer. Among his successes was the song Sweet Genevieve (1869) with music by Henry Tucker. Here it is sung by John McCormack in 1913.

Some authorities say Cooper’s Star in the East was a translation of a German carol called Stern über Bethlehem (Star over Bethlehem) by Alfred Hans Zoller, but Zoller was born in 1928, the year after Cooper died, and his carol was written in 1964.

Here are Cooper’s words:

Star of the East, Oh Bethlehem’s star,
Guiding us on to Heaven afar!
Sorrow and grief and lull’d by thy light,
Thou hope of each mortal, in death’s lonely night!

Fearless and tranquil, we look up to Thee!
Knowing thou beam’st thro’ eternity!
Help us to follow where Thou still dost guide,
Pilgrims of earth so wide.

Star of the East, thou hope of the soul,
While round us here the dark billows roll,
Lead us from sin to glory afar,
Thou star of the East, thou sweet Bethlehem’s star.

Star of the East, un-dim’d by each cloud,
What tho’ the storms of grief gather loud?
Faithful and pure thy rays beam to save,
Still bright o’er the cradle, and bright o’er the grave!

Smiles of a Saviour are mirror’d in Thee!
Glimpses of Heav’n in thy light we see!
Guide us still onward to that blessed shore,
After earth’s toil is o’er!

Star of the East, thou hope of the soul,
While round us here the dark billows roll,
Lead us from sin to glory afar,
Thou star of the East, thou sweet Bethlehem’s star.

Oh star that leads to God above!
Whose rays are peace and joy and love!
Watch o’er us still till life hath ceased,
Beam on, bright star, sweet Bethlehem star!

Unusually for those times, the music was written by a woman, Amanda Kennedy (1867-?). Information about her is very sparse. She wrote a popular melody called Star of the Sea in 1883 when she was only 16. According to a 1923 article in the Music Trade Review, by that time it had sold a record 8million copies in sheet music. Here it is:

It is referred to as a song but there were no lyrics. It is more correctly called a piano reverie. The MTR article remarks that the composer, by then Amanda Kennedy Moore, ‘does not seek publicity’. It says: ‘She is a resident of Ashmont, Mass., with a summer home in Maine. Despite the fact that her royalties each year are substantial, she keeps quite active by teaching a few pupils the piano.’ There is no record of the date of her death that I can find.

In 1890 Kennedy arranged Star of the Sea as the music for Cooper’s Star of the East, and from then on the two versions co-existed.

Here is a lovely 1920s performance by the Trinity Choir:

This is Slim Whitman from his 1969 Christmas Album.

I like this version by Brian Tanner.

Finally, in 1941 it was recorded by the wonderful Judy Garland as the B-side of The Birthday of a King:

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