Sunday, November 07, 2010

What Music Moved Your Ancestors?

Yesterday, in the practically sub-zero weather (that's how devoted I am!), I traveled to Lake Lanier Islands (in Buford, GA) to listen to my brother's jazz band play at an outdoor venue.  While I was sipping my Irish Coffee by the fireplace, a thought occurred to me: "I wonder what music my ancestors listened to during their 'down' time."

What type of music would John Charles Slowey have heard while he was growing up in the 1860s?  Then my mind started racing ... where would I find such information?  My first thought was Billboard Magazine Archives, which are fascinating, but they only go back to 1940.  I Googled "1860 music" and found a neat little website: Public Domain Music that has a chronological listing of music back to 1767.  I'm pretty sure this is only American music.  I haven't searched for any non-U.S. music yet.

Now that I could see the song titles and artists, I wondered what type of music it was.  One entry from the 1866-1899 listing of music caught my eye - "Father's a Drunkard and Mother Is Dead" (1866).  Hmm.  Sounds like a country song.  I did manage to find the lyrics on Public Domain Music:

One dismal, stormy night in winter, a little girl--
barefooted and miserably clad-- leaned shivering
against a large tree near the President's House.
'Sissie,' said a passing stranger, 'why don't
you go home?'
  She raised her pale face, and with tears dimming
her sweet blue eyes, answered mournfully:
'I have no home. Father's a Drunkard, and Mother
is Dead.'

Out in the gloomy night, sadly I roam,
  I have no Mother dear, no pleasant home;
Nobody cares for me-- no one would cry
  Even if poor little Bessie should die.
Barefoot and tried, I've wander'd all day,
  Asking for work-- but I'm too small they say;
On the damp ground I must now lay my head--
  _'Father's a Drunkard, and Mother is dead!'_

CHORUS [sung after each verse]
Mother, oh! why did you leave me alone,
With no one to love me, no friends and no home?
Dark is the night, and the storm rages wild,
God pity Bessie, the Drunkard's lone child!

We were so happy till Father drank rum,
  Then all our sorrow and trouble begun;
Mother grew paler, and wept ev'ry day,
  Baby and I were hungry to play.
Slowly they faded, and one Summer's night
  Found their dear faces all silent and white;
Then with big tears slowly dropping, I said:
  _'Father's a Drunkard, and Mother is dead!'_
Oh! if the 'Temp'rance me' only could find
  Poor, wretched Father, and talk very kind--
If they would stop him from drinking-- why, then
  I should be so very happy again!
Is it too late? 'men of Temp'rance', please try,
  Or poor little Bessie may soon starve and die.
All the day long I've been begging for bread--
  _'Father's a Drunkard, and Mother is dead!

Words by Stella, of Washington
Music by Mrs. E. A. Parkhurst

Wow.  How depressing.  I decided to look for something that might be a little more upbeat.  "Goober Peas" (Words by A. Pindar, Esq., Music by P. Nutt, Esq.) or "I Wish That I'd Been Born a Boy" (Words and Music by H. Angelo, Arranged by James W. Porter) (I wonder if Beyonce knew someone beat her to the punch about 150 years ago).

I haven't been able to find any actual recordings of any of these songs, and certainly no MP3s, so I still don't know how the music sounded.  I did notice there was a LOT of patriotic-themed, slave-themed, and Christmas-themed music back then (such as "Up on the Rooftop").


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