Larry Carlton Christmas Guitar Song Lesson: “We Three Kings”

Larry performs this intermediate level arrangement of We Three Kings in this video performance lesson. Click here to download the full christmas song guitar lesson with tab and notation!

We Three Kings, also known as “We Three Kings of Orient Are” or “The Quest of the Magi”, is a Christmas carol that was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., in 1857. At the time of composing the carol, Hopkins served as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and he wrote the carol for a Christmas pageant in New York City. It remains one of the most popular and most frequently sung Christmas carols today.

At the time he was writing “We Three Kings” in 1857, John Henry Hopkins, Jr., was serving as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Although he originally worked as a journalist for a New York newspaper and studied to become a lawyer, he chose to join the clergy upon graduating from the University of Vermont. Hopkins studied at the General Theological Seminary in New York City and—after graduating and being ordained a deacon in 1850—he became its first music teacher five years later, holding the post until 1857 alongside his ministry in the Episcopal Church.

During his final year of teaching at the seminary, Hopkins wrote “We Three Kings” for a Christmas pageant held at the college. By authoring the lyrics and composing the music, he did something extremely uncommon among carol composers, who would usually write either the lyrics or music but not both. Originally titled “Three Kings of Orient”, it was sung within his circle of family and friends and, due to the popularity it achieved amongst them, this prompted Hopkins to publish the carol.

Although written in 1857, “We Three Kings” was only first published five years later in 1862, when it appeared in Hopkins’ compilation titled Carols, Hymns and Songs. It was the first Christmas carol originating from the United States to achieve widespread popularity, as well as the first to be featured in Christmas Carols Old and New, a “prestigious” and “influential” collection of carols that was published in the United Kingdom. In 1916, the carol was printed in the hymnal for the Episcopal Church; that year’s edition was the first to have a separate section for Christmas songs. “We Three Kings” was also included in the Oxford Book of Carols published in 1928, which praised the song and labelled it “one of the most successful of modern composed carols.”