Richard Storrs Willis was an important composer and publisher of hymns (both sacred and secular) in nineteenth century America. He is the composer of "Fairest Lord Jesus," and his hymn tune "Carol" is the melody to which we sing "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear."
The brother of poet Nathaniel Parker Willis, he studied at Yale University. As president of the schools' Beethoven Society, he wrote a number of choruses and instrumental items. After graduating in 1841, Willis spent the next six years in Germany, studying theory with Xaver Schnyder von Wartensee in Frankfurt and with Moritz Hauptmann in Leipzig. In the latter city, Willis became a member of Felix Mendelssohn's circle. Returning to America, he supported himself as a music critic; he wrote for The New York Tribune and The Albion, and he edited the periodical Musical World from the early 1850s into the 1860s. When the Civil War got underway, Willis moved a safe distance to Detroit, where he remained for the rest of his life, except when he accompanied his daughter to school in Italy in the 1870s. His music collections include Church Chorals and Choir Studies (1850), Our Church Music (1856), and the secular collections Waif of Song (1876) and Pen and Lute (1883).