Born: Ja­nu­ary 8, 1846, Jer­sey Ci­ty, New Jer­sey.

Died: De­cem­ber 20, 1916, Eas­ton, Penn­syl­van­ia.

Buried: Saint Tho­mas’ Epis­co­pal Church Ce­me­te­ry, White­marsh, Penn­syl­van­ia.


Gilchrist’s fa­mi­ly moved to Phi­la­del­phia, Penn­syl­van­ia, when he was nine years old. He at­tend­ed school there un­til the out­break of the Am­eri­can civ­il war, when his fa­ther’s bu­si­ness failed and Will­iam had to seek other work.

Having a good voice, he sang in choirs and cho­rus­es, first as a so­pra­no, and lat­er a smooth, flex­ible ba­ri­tone. He be­gan sing­ing some of the prin­ci­pal parts in the Han­del and Hay­dn So­cie­ty, where his first real mu­sic­al life be­gan.

At age 19, Gil­christ be­gan stu­dy­ing or­gan and voice with Pro­fess­or H. A. Clarke, gra­du­al­ly con­cent­rat­ing on the­ory.

At age 25, he spent a year in Cin­cin­na­ti, Ohio, as or­gan­ist and teach­er, re­turn­ing to Phi­la­del­phia to take post of choir mas­ter at St. Cle­ment’s Pro­test­ant Epis­co­pal Church. He lat­er be­came con­duc­tor of the Men­dels­sohn Club, the Tues­day Club of Wilm­ing­ton, and the Phi­la­del­phia Sym­pho­ny So­cie­ty.

Gilchrist was best known as a com­pos­er. His first suc­cess was in 1878, win­ning two priz­es from the Abt So­cie­ty of Phi­la­del­phia for best cho­rus­es for male voic­es. In 1881, he won three si­mi­lar priz­es from the Men­dels­sohn Glee Club of New York.

In 1884, he took a $1,000 prize from the Cin­cin­na­ti Fes­tiv­al As­so­cia­tion; the judg­es in­clud­ed Saint-Saëns, Rei­ne­cke, and Theo­dore Tho­mas. This work was an elab­or­ate set­ting of the For­ty-Sixth Psalm, and was en­thu­si­as­tic­al­ly re­ceived. Gil­christ af­ter­wards mo­di­fied it and brought it out at the Phi­la­del­phia Fes­tiv­al in 1885.

Gilchrist also served as ed­it­or for the 1895 Pres­by­te­ri­an hym­nal, as mus­ic­al ed­it­or of The Mag­ni­fi­cat in 1910, and wrote sym­pho­nies, cham­ber and cho­ral mu­sic.