John Henry Hopkins Jr. may not have a name the average man or woman would recognize, but he was the author of a work virtually everyone knows, the Christmas carol We Three Kings of Orient Are. While he wrote other carols, hymns and songs, it is this Christmastime favorite that will forever afford him a place in music history, while at the same time brand him a one-hit composer. But Hopkins would probably not have objected to that last distinction, since he was a churchman and music teacher primarily, using his work in composition for purposes of worship. Indeed, in the latter part of his career the major area of his focus was as priest and pastor. Hopkins was also a writer and poet, author of a biography of his father (a prominent Episcopal Bishop) and a book of poetry, Poems by the Wayside (1883). He also wrote many pamphlets and edited numerous articles and books. His most important musical publication was his collection, Carols, Hymns and Songs (1863-1887).
John Henry Hopkins Jr. was born in Pittsburgh, PA, on October 28, 1820. His father was an influential and scholarly Bishop who divulged talents as a musician, painter, poet, and author of many books on religion and other subjects. Young John Henry was also intellectually gifted but slower in taking up the cloth. He graduated from the University of Vermont in 1839, obtained a master's degree there in 1845, and then began work as a reporter in New York City with a view to eventually obtain a law degree.
Hopkins enrolled at General Theological Seminary in New York City and graduated in 1850. That same year he was ordained a deacon. In 1853 he founded the publication Church Journal and served as its editor until 1868. It was during this period that he wrote "We Three Kings" (1857).
Hopkins was active in the 1865 establishment of the Episcopal diocese in Pittsburgh. It was not until 1872 that he was ordained a priest. That same year he was appointed rector of Trinity Church in Plattsburgh, NY. In 1876 he became rector of Christ Church in Williamsport, PA. Hopkins remained active as a composer in his later years. Among other hymns and carols of note by him are "The Lord Is My Light and Salvation" and "Gather Around the Christmas Tree." Hopkins died in Hudson, NY, on August 14, 1891.