Benjamin Franklin Baker (musician)

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Benjamin Franklin Baker
Born(1811-07-10)July 10, 1811
Wenham, Massachusetts
DiedMarch 11, 1889(1889-03-11) (aged 77)
Boston, Massachusetts
OccupationComposer, singer, educator, author
Spouse(s)Sabra L. Heywood

Benjamin Franklin Baker (July 10, 1811 – March 11, 1889) was an American educator and composer.


Benjamin Franklin Baker was born on July 10, 1811 in Wenham, Massachusetts to John and Sally Baker.[1] When he was 14 years old, his family moved to Salem, Massachusetts, where he began his musical studies.[1]

In 1833 he began his professional music career while touring as a singer.[2] After this he moved to Bangor, Maine for a time, making a living as a businessman, but moved to Boston in 1837.[3] With his cousin Isaac Baker Woodbury, he began a series of teacher's conventions.[4]

Beginning in 1839, he spent the next 24 years in Boston in the capacity of music conductor for various churches there.[1] Baker succeeded Lowell Mason as music teacher in the Boston Public School system in 1841. That same year he married Sabra L. Heywood.[1] He became music director at the Federal Street Church in Boston, where he taught voice lessons.[5] During this time period, he continued performing, often as featured soloist with the Handel and Haydn Society.[2]

In 1851 he founded his own music school, where he directed the vocal classes and served as the principal. The school prospered until he retired in 1868.[1][6] By the late 1850s he was traveling to other parts of the United States as a conductor.[7] Towards the end of his career in the 1870s, Baker was the editor of the Boston Music Journal.[1] He died on March 11, 1889 in Boston without having any children.[1]

Style and influence[edit]

Baker taught music lessons seeking to promote "effective harmony" and ease of execution when performing music, yet he tried to avoid music that was "commonplace or trivial".[5] His teaching as well as musical compositions focused mainly on vocal music, with an emphasis on sacred music and pedagogy.[1] His compositions were performed during his lifetime not only in the population centers surrounding Boston, but also in small communities wishing to showcase "ambitious" works.[8]

Gilbert Chase, commenting strictly on the music of The Burning Ship, stated it was of no "particular distinction". This cantata used a theme, common at the time for "genteel" presentations, of introducing mother and child to extreme peril and subsequently concluding with an obligatory happy ending using a plot of divine intervention.[8]


Baker published more than 25 collections of hymns, songs, and music theory books.[2] Among them:

  • A Book of Songs and Hymns with Isaac Baker Woodbury (1838)[1]
  • The Boston Educational Society's Collection with Isaac Baker Woodbury (1842)[9]
  • Baker's American School Music Book (1844)[1]
  • The Choral with Isaac Baker Woodbury (1845)[9]
  • Baker's Theory of Harmony (1847)[1]
  • Elementary Music Book (1850)[1]
  • Haydn Collection of Church Music with L. H. Southard (1850)[1]
  • Melodia Sacra with A. N. Johnson and Josiah Osgood (1852)[1]
  • Baker's Church Music (1855)[3]
  • Baker's Theoretical and Practical Harmony: Including a Complete Classification of Intervals, Common Chords, Discords, iatonic and Fundamental Harmonies, Suspensions, and Passing Notes; With a Treatment of Thorough Bass, the Affinity of Chords, Modulation, and Pedal Point." (1870)[10]


Baker composed numerous anthems, hymns, and other various vocal works.[2] Of particular note are his cantatas.

  • The Storm King (1856)[3]
  • The Burning Ship – cantata with lyrics by Howard M. Ticknor.[8] (1858)[3]
  • Camillus, the Roman Conqueror (1865)[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Ohles, John F. (1978). Biographical Dictionary of American Educators. Greenwood Publishing. p. 73. ISBN 9780313040122.
  2. ^ a b c d Slonimsky, Nicolas; Kuhn, Laura, eds. (2001). Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. 1. New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-865526-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e Garrett, Charles Hiroshi, ed. (2013). The Grove Dictionary of American Music. 1. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-531428-1.
  4. ^ Crawford, Richard (2001). America's Musical Life: A History. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 152–153. ISBN 9780393048100.
  5. ^ a b Blumhofer, Edith Waldvogel (2005). Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 145. ISBN 9780802842534.
  6. ^ Claghorn, Charles Eugene (1973). Biographical Dictionary of American Music. West Nyack, New York: Parker Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 0-13-076331-4.
  7. ^ Kaufman, Charles H. (1981). Music in New Jersey, 1655–1860: A Study of Musical Activity and Musicians in New Jersey from Its First Settlement to the Civil War. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 122. ISBN 9780838622704.
  8. ^ a b c Chase, Gilbert (1992). America's Music, from the Pilgrims to the Present. University of Illinois Press. p. 153. ISBN 9780252062759.
  9. ^ a b Sanjek, Russell (1988). American Popular Music and Its Business : The First Four Hundred Years Volume II: From 1790 to 1909: The First Four Hundred Years Volume II: From 1790 to 1909. Oxford University Press. p. 209. ISBN 9780195364620.
  10. ^ Perone, James E. (1997). Harmony Theory: A Bibliography. Greenwood Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780313295935.