"Danny Deever" (1897) by Walter Damrosch
Rudyard Kipling, the Nobel Prize-winning English writer best known for The Jungle Book, wrote "Danny Deever," a poem that was first published in the Scots Observer in 1890. Two years later, the poem was published in a collection of Kipling's works, entitled Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses. Kipling's poem describes the hanging of Danny Deever, a British combatant sentenced to death for murdering another soldier. It consists of verses written in a two-part conversational style, a trait associated with the English ballad.
"Danny Deever" soon became the subject of many musical settings, including those by Gerard F. Cobb, Harold Dixon, Percy Grainger, Oscar Haase, W. Ward-Higgs, and Arthur Whiting. However, it is Walter Damrosch's rendition of "Danny Deever" that is best remembered today. With a first performance by American baritone David Bispham at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on 11 December 1897, Damrosch's song quickly achieved popularity among the American public. In fact, Bispham, in his autobiography, A Quaker Singer's Recollections, claimed that Damrosch's song made a strong impression on President Theodore Roosevelt.
Damrosch's version of the song, published in 1897, is a dramatic account of the death of Danny Deever. Organized in a "question and answer" sequence, the verses usually begin with questions posed by the Files-on-Parade (a soldier in the ranks), which are then answered by the Color Sergeant in the song's refrain. While the militaristic accompaniment helps distinguish the Color Sergeant from the soldier, the performer must differentiate between these two characters in order for the narrative to be effective. With its brilliant conclusion, Damrosch's "Danny Deever" deserves a wider hearing among today's audiences.