Benjamin Russell Hanby (1833 - 1867)

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Nicknames: "Benjamin Russel Hanby"
Birthplace: Rushville, Ohio
Death: Died in Chicago, IL
Cause of death: Tuberculosis
Managed by: Maven
Last Updated:

About Benjamin Russell Hanby

Benjamin Russell Hanby (July 22, 1833 – March 16, 1867), also given as Benjamin Russel Hanby,[1] was an American composer who wrote approximately 80 songs, the most famous of which are "Darling Nelly Gray", the Christmas song "Up on the House Top", and the hymn "Who Is He In Yonder Stall?".

Hanby was born near Rushville, Ohio. He moved to Westerville, Ohio in 1849, at the age of sixteen, to enroll at Otterbein University.[2] He was the son of Bishop William Hanby, who with his son was involved in the Underground Railroad.

Hanby composed "Darling Nelly Gray" in 1856 in what is now a state historical site, the Hanby House, located at 160 West Main Street in Westerville, adjacent to the campus of Otterbein College. After graduation Hanby briefly taught school and then became a minister in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.

During his tenure as minister of a church near Dayton he composed "Up On The Housetop" in 1864 for use as a Christmas sing-along. He composed this in the town of New Paris. In 1865 Chicago publisher George Frederick Root published "Up On The Housetop" and brought Hanby to Chicago to pursue other publishing ventures.

Hanby died from tuberculosis in Chicago on March 16, 1867. He is buried in Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.

1   ^ Benjamin Russel Hanby, Ohio Composer-Educator, 1833–1867 (1987); C.B. Galbreath, Song Writers of Ohio, in 14 Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications 180 (1905).
 2  ^ William Osborne, Music in Ohio 421 (2004); Galbreath, supra, at 183.

1. Up on the housetop reindeer pause, Out jumps good old Santa Claus. Down thru the chimney with lots of toys, All for the little ones, Christmas joys.

   Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go.
   Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn’t go!
   Up on the housetop, click, click, click.
   Down thru the chimney with good Saint Nick.

2. First comes the stocking of little Nell; Oh, dear Santa, fill it well; Give her a dolly that laughs and cries, One that will open and shut her eyes. Chorus

3. Next comes the stocking of little Will Oh, just see what a glorious fill Here is a hammer, And lots of tacks Also a ball, And a whip that cracks. Chorus

Another version has the following third verse:

3. Look in the stocking of little Bill; Oh, just see that glorious fill! Here is a hammer and lots of tacks, a whistle and a ball and a set of jacks.

William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader

"Up on the Housetop" may well have been the first American song of importance which elaborates on the theme on Santa Claus. It also is one of the first entirely secular Christmas songs composed in the Unite States. Written by little-known Benjamin R. Hanby (1833-1867), sometime in the 1850s or 1860s , and probably in Ohio, this vivacious song could possibly predate the early secular classic, "Jingle Bells" (1857). The best estimate, though, is that Hanby's song was created in the 1860s.

Hanby's life was short, less than 35 years. Yet he did manage to contribute this bouncy song, which is an especial favorite of children, to the enduring literature of the holiday. Furthermore, he may possibly have composed another popular carol, "Jolly Old St Nicholas" which is of roughly the same period and which has a suspiciously similar style of music and lyrics. There is absolutely no evidence that Hanby was responsible for the other song, yet the chronological and stylistic coincidences, plus the total anonymity of "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," do elicit the conjecture that Hanby might have authored both songs. At the least, Hanby's "Up on the Housetop" may have influenced "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas."

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Benjamin Hanby's Timeline

July 22, 1833
Rushville, Ohio
Age 25
November 25, 1862
Age 29
March 16, 1867
Age 33
Chicago, IL
Westerville, Ohio