The popular Christmas hymn was written by husband-and-wife songwriting duo Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller as a simple reminder to be the change you want to see in the world: "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."
The Millers wrote the tune in California during a mountain retreat with a diverse group of teens, but Jill was inspired a decade earlier after emerging from a dark period in her life. She explained to NPR's Humankind:
"When I attempted suicide [in 1944] and I didn't succeed, I knew for the first time unconditional love - which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose."
On the 1971 sheet music, Sy Miller explains how the song spread from the California mountaintops to the world: "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. Then the circle started by the teenagers began to grow. Soon the song was being shared in all fifty states - at school graduations and a 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 U.N. Day. 4-H 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 song books, and passed by word of mouth. The song spread overseas to Holland, England, France, Germany, Lebanon, South America, Asia and Australia. The Maoris in New Zealand sang it - even the Zulus in Africa sang it."
It was first performed by the International Children's Choir, but made its debut on the UK pop charts in 1973 when it was covered by child star Michael Ward.
This is the title track of Vince Gill's 1993 holiday album, which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Top Holiday Albums chart.
Several other artists have covered this, including Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Patti Page, Johnny Mathis, and Bob Hope.
In a 2015 Microsoft commercial, the tune inspires peace between two rival companies as Microsoft employees sing the song with a children's choir in front of the Apple store in New York City. The secular rendition omits the line "With God as our Father, brothers all are we, Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony."