Top of page

Collection Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885

In Performance: Choral Works from the Collection

The following recordings demonstrate a variety of compositions selected from the collection Music For The Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885. All are typical of the four-part choral writing of the period, both for hymns and songs with refrain. These twelve pieces cover a variety of subjects and reveal the musical style within the social and political landscape of that era. They are all linked to their respective bibliographic records and, in most cases, to the Special Presentation "Music Published in America, 1870-1885."

The performers are the "Music for the Nation" Singers, and are all Library of Congress staff members. These selections were recorded specifically for this online collection in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium on September 23, 1998.

"Daughters of Freedom" by Edwin Christie
The Ensemble

Duration - 1:02

One of very few woman suffrage pieces in this online collection, "Daughters of Freedom, the Ballot be Yours" has words by George Cooper, friend of Stephen Foster and prolific lyricist during the 1870s and 1880s. Edwin Christie, the composer, was a respected if not particularly successful composer who probably worked in the Boston area.


Daughters of Freedom arise in your might,
March to the watchwords Justice and Right!
Why will ye slumber? wake, O wake!
Lo! on your legions light doth break,
Sunder the fetters "custom" hath made!
Come from the valley, hill and glade!

"Garfield. (A Nation's Tribute of Mourning for its Deceased President.)" by Frank N. Scott
The Ensemble

Duration - 1:23

Few events of the 1880s caused such an outpouring of music as did the assassination of President James A. Garfield. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881; he survived for more than two months, finally dying on September 19. Frank N. Scott's piece on the assassination was first written and published at a time when it seemed that Garfield would recover; he later revised the words (though not the music) as a dirge for a fallen president. This is the second version, described on the title page as "A Nation's Tribute of Mourning for its Deceased Beloved President."


Columbia, mourn for your statesman departed, Weep for the loss of your ruler and friend;
Gone is the patriot, the soldier strong hearted, Who gave you his all, the right to defend,
Break forth in sorrow and passionate weeping, Grieve for the life that forever hath fled,
Mourn for the pure spirit, quietly sleeping, Weep and lament your illustrious dead.

"Garfield. (A Nation's Tribute of Rejoicing and Prayer for the Recovery of their Beloved President)" by Frank N. Scott
The Ensemble

Duration - 1:12

The early form of Frank N. Scott's piece on Garfield, described both as "A Nation's Tribute of Rejoicing" and as "A Prayer for the Recovery of Their Beloved President," was deposited for copyright on September 15, 1881, four days before Garfield's death. (It may well have appeared in stores slightly earlier.) We know little about Scott besides his Garfield piece in its two versions -- there are only two other pieces by him in this online collection -- but he was clearly adaptable. The music handles its straightforward four-part texture well.


Columbia, rejoice in tuneful thanksgiving, come forth from the gloom of hope long deferred,
Thy ruler beloved is still with the living, Be hopeful and patient, Thy prayers will be heard,
The angel of mercy will heed thy petition, And bounteously from her profusion will give.
Hopes that will ripen to perfect fruition, The stricken reviveth, thy ruler shall live.

"Grandfatherís clock" by Henry C. Work
John Oswald Greene, soloist

Duration - 1:14

Henry Clay Work's 1876 song "Grandfather's Clock" is indisputably the greatest of furniture songs. It avoids sentimentality by its strong story-line and by the humor which moves the story along. (Note the stream of puns in the later verses.) It is, in fact, because of this song that free-standing floor clocks are called "grandfather clocks." Two years later Work wrote a sequel to "Grandfather's Clock", mimicking the rapid ticking of the newfangled wall clock as "Grandfather's Clock" mimics the old clock's sedate ticking. The sequel is not in a class with the original song; but the double meaning adjective "stuck-up" for the wall clock is a vintage Henry Clay Work pun.

"Grandfather's Clock" was the last major success for Henry Clay Work. It was not, however, his last great song. When the 1880-85 material is added to this online collection, be sure to look for his song "The Silver Horn."


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 up-on its face, And its hands never hung by its side;
But it stopp'd short - never to go again - When the old man died.
Ninety years without slumbering (tick-tick-tick-tick). His life seconds numbering (tick-tick-tick-tick).
It stopp'd short never to go again - when the old man died.

"Iíll take you home again, Kathleen" by Thomas P. Westendorf
Thomas A. Howe, soloist

Duration - 1:51

In 1875 George W. Persley, a successful songwriter, wrote a song entitled "Barney, Take Me Home Again" and dedicated it to his friend Thomas P. Westendorf. The words of "Barney, Take Me Home Again," sung by Barney's (unnamed) wife, tell of her longing to return to her home beyond the sea. Westendorf was taken enough by the song to write a song imagining Barney's response, "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen." Westendorf was a beginner as a songwriter, while Persley was an old pro, but it was "Kathleen" which became the successful song. It inspired several answer songs during the period, and is still well known today. (Indeed, if we can trust one episode of Star Trek, it will continue to be sung well into the future.) "Kathleen" launched Westendorf on a career as a successful songwriter, though he never produced another song with the poignancy and melodic charm of his first major song. "Barney, Take Me Home Again" and "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" illustrate a problem with discussing ethnic typing in American songs of the 1870s. There is no specific reference to Ireland in either of these songs, nor is there a trace of Irish accent in the lyrics. Yet "Barney" and "Kathleen" are both names used regularly for Irish characters, and the tradition of Irish singers longing for the homeland was strong. It is hard not to see the two songs as "Irish" songs, but the Irishness is downplayed: the songwriters portray Barney and Kathleen as people, not Irish stereotypes.


I'll take you home again, Kathleen, Across the ocean wild and wide,
To where your heart has ever been, Since first you were my bonny bride.
The roses all have left your cheek, I've watched them fade away and die;
Your voice is sad when e'er you speak, And tears bedim your loving eyes.
Oh! I will take you back, Kathleen, To where your heart will feel no pain,
And when the fields are fresh and green, I'll take you to your home again.

"Little Bessie" by J. M. Barringer
Carol Guglielm, soloist

Duration - 1:46

J.M. Barringer's "Little Bessie," "respectfully dedicated to the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of America," serves as the example here of a temperance song. It is also an example of a "wandering orphan" song, a genre of song as popular in the 1870s as the "fallen woman" song would be in the 1890s. Little Bessie's vision of the "beautiful Eden on high," to which the angels will take her if she doesn't survive the night, is meant to show the ineffable goodness of her character, not to console the listener; indeed for the listener it is one further call to compassion. (Further "wandering orphan" songs will be found under the subject Poverty.)


Out in the gloomy night sadly I roam; I have no mother dear, No pleasant home,
No one now cares for me, no one would cry: Even if poor little Bessie should die.
Weary and tired I've been wand'ring all day; Asking for work but I'm too small they say,
All the day long I've been begging for bread, "Father's a drunkard, and Mother is dead."
What though the rain and the pitiless sleet, Beat on my head by the dark river street,
Angels will bear me to night should I die, Up to their beautiful Eden on high.

"Oh, dem golden slippers" by James A. Bland
Linda Gill, soloist

Duration - 1:36

James A. Bland's song "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" started its life in 1879 as a minstrel parody of a spiritual sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. That spiritual ran: "What kind of shoes you going to wear? Golden slippers! Golden slippers I'm bound to wear, That outshine the sun." (The Fisk song was not published until 1880; it was then described as "one of the most popular songs of the "Jubilee Singers"; it had presumably been performed for some time before it was published.) Bland's song soon outstripped the Fisk song in popularity; by now people tend to think of "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" as the original and the Fisk spiritual as some kind of variant. It is, in fact, somewhat disconcerting to hear "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" as first published, with its mocking piano part and its silly verse proclaiming it a parody, since it has been taken seriously for so long. James A. Bland (1854-1911) published most of his songs in a burst of creativity from 1878 to 1881. In 1881 he left America for Europe with Haverly's Genuine Colored Minstrels, and stayed in Europe when the troupe returned. Perhaps he continued to write songs after 1881; if so, very few were published, and were after the period of this online collection.


Oh, my golden slippers am laid away, Kase I don't 'spect to wear 'em till my weddin' day,
And my long-tail'd coat, dat I loved so well, I will wear up in de chariot in de morn;
And my long white robe dat I bought last June, I'm 'gwine to git changed Kase it fits too soon,
And de ole grey hoss dat I used to drive, I will hitch him to de chariot in de morn.
Oh, dem golden slippers! Oh, dem golden slippers!
Golden slippers I'm gwine to wear, becase dey look so neat;
Oh, dem golden slippers! Oh, dem golden slippers!
Golden slippers Ise gwine to wear, To walk de golden street.

"Punch! Brothers punch" by J. Avan Kuren
Laura Lee Fischer, soloist

Duration - 1:03

"Mark Twain's nightmare"--his celebrated bit of doggerel about punching tram tickets in the presence of the passenger--is transmuted by J.A. van Kuren into a rousing waltz.


Conductor, when you receive a fare, Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight cent fare, A buff trip slip for a six cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three cent fare, Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Punch! Brothers, punch! Punch, punch with care,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare.
Punch, Brothers, punch! Punch, punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

"Rescue the perishing" by W. H. Doane (words by Fanny Crosby)
The Ensemble

Duration - :50

In the 1870s, hymn tunes tended to be far more closely wedded to a particular set of words than in earlier periods; composers no longer wrote tunes to abstract rhythmic patterns, singable to any text in that particular meter. Thus, W. H. Doane's stirring tune for "Rescue the Perishing" is wedded to Fanny J. Crosby's words. Words and tune unite to preach a gospel of militant Christianity--it is not enough to worship; go ye and save the world.


Rescue the Perishing, Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o'er the erring one, Lift up the fallen
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save
Rescue the Perishing, Care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

"See that my graveís kept green" by Gus Williams
Elizabeth Miller, soloist

Duration - 2:14

Gus Williams, an important performer during the 1870s, was best known as a "Dutch act"--a comedian with an act in German dialect. However, his most successful song is a straightforward sentimental one dealing with that most affecting of scenes for the nineteenth-century audience, the death-bed. (This particular death-bed is unusual in being that of a spouse rather than of a child.) "See That My Grave is Kept Green" generated several answer and imitation songs during the 1870s. Its title is reflected in Blind Lemon Jefferson's immortal 1927 recording "See That My Grave's Kept Clean." After its first two lines, Jefferson's bluesy song bears no resemblance to Gus Williams's 1878 ballad --the body of Jefferson's song is a version of the text known to folklorists as "The Unfortunate Rake"--but it is the first two lines that appear as epitaph on Blind Lemon Jefferson's grave: "Lord, it's one kind favor I'll ask of you See that my grave is kept clean."


When I'm dead and gone from you darling, When I'm laid away in my grave,
When my spirit has gone to heaven above, To him who my soul will save;
When you are happy and gay once more, Thinking of days that have been;
This one little wish I ask of you, See that my grave's kept green.
Oh, the days will come to you darling, When on earth no more I'll be seen;
One sweet little wish darling grant me, See that my grave's kept green.

"Shivering and shaking out in the cold" by Sam Lucas
David Arbury, soloist

Duration - 1:30

Sam Lucas , unlike his fellow African American, James Bland, wrote an occasional song with no racial reference. The cover of "Shivering and Shaking Out in the Cold" shows Lucas in the role portrayed by the song, and the song was sung in the pioneering African American drama Out of Bondage, but the song itself contains neither dialect nor racial references. In the 1880s Lucas would be joined by Gussie L. Davis as an African-American writer of popular songs that were not racially specific; by the turn of the century such songs would be fairly common (Chris Smith would write "The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago"), but Sam Lucas was the pioneer.


Gazing on gentlemens [sic] mansions of splendor,
Filled with sweet perfumes and shining with gold,
The thought often strikes me do great ones remember,
Those who are shivering out in the cold.
Hungry dejected and unprotected
Houseless and homeless sad to behold,
Eyes red with crying, care worn and sighing
Shiv'ring and and shaking, out in the cold.

"Smick, smack, smuck" by John Philip Sousa
Ralph Gingery, soloist

Duration - 1:10

"Smick, Smack, Smuck" is not the earliest piece by John Philip Sousa in this online collection, nor is it the piece most prophetic of his later fame as the "March King." But its polka-style refrain does suggest the saucy tunes that would make his operettas popular. The words, by Sousa himself, bear early witness to the fact that his music works better when he leaves the words to someone else. "Smick, Smack, Smuck" is, in fact, a fairly good example of an 1870s boy-and-girl novelty song: if it doesn't seem particularly funny now, neither do most of the others, and the tune of the refrain has the real Sousa swing.


I loved a maid long years ago, a queerer girl no one can show,
She had a wart upon her nose, And eyes that looked just like a crow's,
She had a failing, I must say, 'Twas to be kissing all the day,
She'd kiss at morn, she'd kiss at noon, She'd kiss from July up to June.
Face to face, and nose to nose, Smick, Smack, Smuck, and away she goes;
Lay her eyebrow on your collar, Hug her so that she can't holler,
Tell her that you're always true, Squeeze her 'till her face turns blue,
Keep it up for fifteen hours, Then begin anew.

The Music for the Nation Singers

The Music for the Nation Singers, Coolidge Auditorium, September 23, 1998

Robert Saladini, Director
Phillip DeSellem, Pianist
Carol Guglielm, Elizabeth Miller - Sopranos
Laura Lee Fischer, Linda Gill - Altos
David Arbury, Thomas A. Howe - Tenors
Ralph Gingery, John Oswald Greene - Basses