Born: Oc­to­ber 18, 1843, Shep­herds­town, West Virg­in­ia.

Died: No­vem­ber 19, 1923, Lawr­ence­burg, Ten­nes­see.

Buried: Elm­wood Ce­me­te­ry, Shep­herds­town, West Vir­gin­ia.


Benjamin was the hus­band of Sa­rah He­len Ric­kard (Sally)

After lea­ving school at age 14, he worked as a clerk in a coun­try store.

He re­ceived his first mu­sic­al in­struc­tion around age 15, from a com­pan­ion who had at­tend­ed a sing­ing school. He was shown the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the scale in the old Car­mi­na Sac­ra, and had it sung for him.

At the friend’s sug­ges­tion, he got per­mis­sion from his pas­tor to prac­tice on the church or­gan. Since both boys worked, their on­ly chance to prac­tice was af­ter the store closed at 9:00 p.m., and oc­ca­sion­al­ly at noon­time. They went to the church to­ge­ther and took turns, one at the key­board and the other at the bel­lows.

Shortly af­ter the Bat­tle of An­tie­tam in Sep­tem­ber 1862, some of which Un­seld wit­nessed, he left home and be­came a book­keep­er for a rail­road in Co­lum­bia, Penn­syl­van­ia. He sang in a choir, and gained fur­ther prac­tice read­ing mu­sic.

He rent­ed a mel­o­de­on and spent much time in his room im­pro­vis­ing on it. He bought a co­py of Wood­bu­ry’s Har­mo­ny and Mu­sic­al Com­po­si­tion, and stu­died it as well as he could with­out a teach­er.

He ac­cept­ed an invi­tation to play the or­gan in the lo­cal Me­tho­dist church, on the con­di­tion that he re­ceived the tunes ear­ly in the week so he could learn them. This was his first po­si­tion as an or­gan­ist.

In the spring of 1866, he en­tered the Mu­sic­al In­sti­tute in Pro­vi­dence, Rhode Island, con­duct­ed by Eb­en Tour­jée. There he stu­died voice, pi­ano, or­gan, and har­mo­ny. Af­ter learn­ing of Un­seld’s bu­si­ness ex­pe­ri­ence, Tour­jée made him sec­re­ta­ry of the school.

In 1867, Un­seld became the first sec­re­ta­ry of the New Eng­land Con­ser­va­tory.

Starting in 1870, Un­seld at­tend­ed schools led by Theo­dore Sew­ard. There he met George Webb, Lo­well Ma­son, James Mc­Gra­na­han, Charles Case, and oth­er not­a­bles in the mu­sic com­mu­ni­ty.

In 1874, Un­seld taught at Fisk Uni­ver­si­ty in Nash­ville, Ten­nes­see, and helped train Fisk’s Ju­bi­lee Sing­ers for their Eu­ro­pe­an trip.

From 1877–78, he was or­gan­ist and choir mas­ter at St. James’ Epis­co­pal Church, Lan­cas­ter, Penn­syl­van­ia.

In 1879, Un­seld moved to New York Ci­ty, and for 15 years taught, led choirs, com­posed and pub­lished.

In New York, his mu­sic­al head­quar­ters was the pub­lish­ing house of Big­low & Main, where he was in fre­quent con­tact with po­pu­lar com­pos­ers and teach­ers of the day: Ira San­key, Ho­ra­tio Pal­mer, Hu­bert Main, Ro­bert Low­ry, et al.

In 1894, Un­seld moved to Cin­cin­na­ti, Ohio, and worked as an ed­it­or for the Fill­more Mu­sic House.

In 1898, he moved to Day­ton, Ohio, and worked in a si­mi­lar ca­pa­ci­ty for the Lo­renz Pub­lish­ing Com­pa­ny.

He moved back to New York Ci­ty in 1901, then to Ha­gers­town, Ma­ry­land in 1905.

He and his wife Sal­lie were ap­par­ent­ly liv­ing in Ten­nes­see as of 1920.

Unseld was in­duc­ted in­to the Sou­thern Gos­pel Mu­sic As­so­cia­tion Hall of Fame in 2004.