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 (
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.