A Brief History of “Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin with Me”
Sy Miller and Jill Jackson were a husband and wife songwriting team. In 1955 they wrote a song about their dream of peace for the world and how they believed each one of us could help create it.
They first introduced the song to a group of teenagers selected from their high schools to attend a weeklong retreat in California. The young people were purposefully from different religious, racial, cultural and economic backgrounds, brought together to experiment with creating understanding and friendship through education, discussion groups, and living and working together in a camp situation. Sy Miller wrote in his own words what happened:
“One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment – 'Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,' helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.
‘When they came down from the mountain, these inspired young people brought the song with them and started sharing it. And, as though on wings, 'Let There Be Peace on Earth' began an amazing journey around the globe. It traveled first, of course, with the young campers back to their homes and schools, churches and clubs. Soon the circle started by the teenagers began to grow. Before long the song was being shared in all fifty states – at school graduations and at PTA meetings, at Christmas and Easter gatherings and as part of the celebration of Brotherhood Week. It was a theme for Veteran’s Day, Human Rights Day and United Nations Day. 4H Clubs and the United Auto Workers began singing it. So did the American Legion, the B’nai B’rith, the Kiwanis Clubs and CORE. It was taped, recorded, copied, printed in songbooks, and passed by word of mouth.
‘The song spread overseas to Holland, England, Italy, France, Germany, Lebanon, Japan, India; to South America, Central America, Africa, Asia and Australia. The Maoris in New Zealand sang it. The Zulus in Africa sang it.”
Professional singers began singing it. Over the years many artists have performed the song. Among them are Tennessee Ernie Ford, Andy Williams, Danny Kaye, Nat King Cole, the Smothers Brothers, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Eddie Albert, Placido Domingo, Edie Adams, Gladys Knight, Mahalia Jackson, John Gary, Pearl Bailey, Roberta Shore, Champ Butler, the King Sisters, Mary Tyler Moore, John Raitt, Liberace, Bob Crosby, the International Children’s’ Choir, Gisele MacKensie, Lloyd Bridges, Patti Page, Angela Cartwright, the Young Americans, Jack Smith, Pat Boone, Crystal Gayle, Vince Gill, Harry Connick Jr., Johnny Mathis, Allison Chu, Rhonda Fleming, the Norman Luboff Choir. Television shows with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Lorne Greene, The Boston Pops, Ted Mack and Father Keller have used the song.
“Let There Be Peace on Earth” was awarded the George Washington Honor Medal by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge for “Outstanding achievement in helping to bring about a better understanding of the American Way of Life.” It also received a Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
In Sy Miller’s words again: ‘This simple thought, 'Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin With Me' first born on a mountain top in the voices of youth, continues to travel heart to heart – gathering in people everywhere who wish to become a note in a song of understanding and peace—peace for all mankind."