Library of Congress

Teachers

The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Music for the Nation ca. 1870-1885

Back to Collection Connections

[Detail] I'll sing thee songs of early days - sheet music

Humor: Narration and Word Play

A number of songs present narrators who rely on their vernacular, or dialect, for comic effect. For example, The U.S. Mail offers a variation on the comic German immigrant figure described in the U.S. History section:

"I'se Jake Von Kroot, goes about takes dem letters for de girls I knows; Books and tracts, pills for quacks, love lines for de beaux. I fear not der vinds and snows, drinks good beer und wear good clothes, At de girls sheep's eyes I trows, As I goes mit der mail!"

Good sweet ham, on the other hand, presents an African-American figure (probably portrayed on the stage by a minstrel) literally singing the praises of ham:

"You may talk about good eating, Of your oysters and your chowdered clam, But it's when I'm awful hungry, Then just give me good old sweet ham; Now some folks may differ with me, But their talk 'tis nothing but a sham, For to touch this darkie's palate, Oh! Just give me good old sweet ham."

Songwriters also allowed their narrators to toy with the meaning of the words instead of the way they were delivered. Henry Work's Grandfather's Clock is full of time-related humor: "My grandfather said that of those he could hire, Not a servant so faithful he found; For it wasted no time, and had but one desire-At the close of each week to be wound. And it kept in its place-not a frown upon its face, And its hands never hung by its side;"

After searching on comic or examining the section Ethnic Groups and Popular Songs, students can identify the different techniques in such songs and write their own account of a favorite object or personal narrative.

Top