Jester Hairston (1901-2000)
From the Examiner, "#6 Christmas spiritual: Mary's boy child," by Lonnell Johnson, on 6 December 2009 -- A most notable contributor to the composition and preservation African American spirituals is Jester Hairston (1901-2000). As composer, songwriter, arranger, choral conductor and actor, Hairston, the grandson of slaves, dedicated his life to preserving Negro Spirituals, and the history behind them. Most recently he is probably best remembered for his role as Rollie Forbes, in the 1980s sitcom AMEN.
Hairston appeared in more than 50 films, including In The Heat of the Night, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and Lilies of the Field for which he composed the song Amen, which is also on our Top 10 list of Christmas Spirituals. In addition, Hairston wrote music scores for almost 30 films.
In 1956, he wrote "Mary's Boy Child" which was recorded that same year by both Harry Belfonte and Mahalia Jackson, and has since been performed by multiple recording artists. The song tells the familiar Christmas story in a melody reminiscent of the music Hairston wanted the world to remember; the Negro Spiritual. [http://www.examiner.com/article/6-christmas-spiritual-mary-s-boy-child]