Friday, January 1, 2016

AMERICA SINGS by Shirley Martin


Even before this country became a nation, music and singing had been part of our heritage.  We’ve all heard this song:

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony
He stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni

According to legend, British soldiers sang this song to mock the disheveled American soldiers they fought with during the French and Indian War.

The War for Independence spawned a plethora of patriotic songs.  Here is a glimpse of one by Thomas Paine, author of “The Age of Reason” and “Common Sense.”

In a chariot of light from the regions of day, the Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten-thousand celestials directed the way, and hither conducted the dame.

If the War of 1812 is remembered for nothing else, it should be recognized as producing our national anthem, ‘The Star Spangled Banner.”  Many people have trouble reaching the high notes and many others would prefer “America, The Beautiful.”  But our national anthem is here to stay.

Known as “the father of American music” Stephen Foster (1826-1864) didn’t receive the recognition he so richly deserved during his lifetime.  Yet his songs have remained classics, not only in the United States but throughout the world.  Songs such as “Oh, Susanna,” “Camptown Races” and “I Dream of Jeanie,” (written in honor of his wife) have remained part of the American tradition.  Since he was a native of  Pittsburgh, there stands a monument to this talented man on the grounds of my alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh.  Roy Orbison sings one of Foster’s loveliest songs, “Beautiful Dreamer.”

The Civil War (1861-1865) produced an outpouring of songs, both ballads and those military in nature.  We are all familiar with this southern number, “Dixie.”  From the North, we find this tragic  song, “Tenting Tonight,” written by a young man who’d wanted to join the Union army but was rejected because of a childhood bout with rheumatic fever.  The love song, “Lorena,” was popular in both the North and the South, its lyrics so sad that many commanders forbade its singing at their posts.  Tom Roush gives us a lovely version of this song and sings many other oldies, such as “On the Banks of the Ohio.”  Here is his “Lorena.”

Years later, after the agonies of the Civil War and the trials of Reconstruction, a sense of optimism burst upon the American scene.  We extended our western boundary (at the expense of the Native American) and entered the Industrial Age.  Names such as Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and Gould became household words.  Our songs took on a whimsical note, like “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”  Or this one:

Frankie and Johnny were lovers
Oh, lordy how they could love
They swore to be true to each other
Just as true as the stars above
He was her man, but he was doing her wrong.

And speaking of sad songs, (which we were a while ago), surely  “In the Gloaming” is one of the most sorrowful songs ever written with lyrics such as this:

...For my heart was crushed with longing
What had been could never be....

In my historical romance, “Forbidden Love,” there’s a scene where Lisa, the wealthy society heroine, goes to visit the hero, a steelworker from the wrong side of the tracks.  He’s not home, so she lets herself in his house. (No one locked their doors then.) She tidies up his house while singing “In the Gloaming” because it exemplifies their seemingly hopeless love.
Evelyn Tubb gives us a lovely rendition of “In the Gloaming.”

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson was elected to a second term as president with the slogan, “He kept us out of the war.”  Except that he didn’t.  By 1917, thousands of doughboys were headed for the European slaughterhouse, better known as the First World War.  Thousands did not come back.  (One of my uncles died of gas poisoning.)  Yet we entered the war with an idealistic purpose and this song:

Over there, over there
Send the word, send the word over there
  That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
And we won’t come back ‘til it’s over, over there

Once the war ended, and our boys came home again, we tried to forget all the pain and sorrow with this song:

How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?
How ya gonna keep ‘em away from Broadway
Jazzin’ around, paintin’ the town....
How ya gonna keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?

The Roaring 20s brought us a medley of popular songs like “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and country songs, such as “Prisoner Song.”  Al Jolson gained fame in an entertainment venue known as vaudeville with songs such as “Swanee.”

Despite, or possibly because of, the Great Depression of the ‘30s,we still enjoyed singing songs like “Over The Rainbow.”  This was the era of the Big Bands, and instrumentals found their way into the national psyche.  Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” remained popular for decades.  The same is true of Kate Smith’s “God Bless America.”

In my opinion, the ‘40s through the mid ‘50s was the golden age of popular music.  “When the Lights Go on Again” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” reflected the trauma of the Second World War.
Vaughn Monroe’s “Riders in the Sky” became a classic, revived decades later.  Country and western music gained new popularity.  Some people called this type of music “hillbilly” music and spoke of it in a derogatory manner, apparently not realizing that many country songs found their way into popular music.  “Cold,. Cold Heart” and “Half As Much” were first recorded by Hank Williams, Sr., one of the greatest entertainers this country has known.  Crossing over into popular music, these songs achieved even greater renown.  One of my favorite songs from the ‘40s is “To Each His Own” by the Ink Spots.  We can listen to this group sing this plaintive song.

This era produced outstanding male singers, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Perry Como, to name a few.  Jo Stafford, Patti Paige, and Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt) were popular songstresses who knew how to carry a tune and didn’t have to screech to reach the high notes.

The ‘40s and ‘50s also gave us Broadway musicals.  We found ourselves singing so many songs from “Oklahoma!” and “South Pacific.”   “Showboat” was revived from the ‘20s, a different kind of musical that dealt with race, miscegenation, and abandonment.  In this musical, Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson sing “We Could Make Believe.”

Until the mid ‘50s, music was parent-friendly.  Elvis Presley and rock ‘n roll changed all that.  Elvis Presley’s gyrations drove the teenagers crazy, but we soon learned that he could sing.  He revived this golden oldie, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”  Another revival was Tommy Edwards’ “It’s All in the Game,” the music written by Charles Dawes, Vice  President under Calvin Coolidge.

Funny songs, like “Mairzy Doats” made the popularity charts.  My favorite is “Grandma’s Lye Soap.” (“It’s in the Book” by Johnny Standley.)

As for rock ‘n roll, Bill Haley and the Comets presented a new type of music, but “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” with its male chauvinist lyrics, wouldn’t gain much traction in today’s politically correct society.

From the ‘60s on, popular music achieved an entirely new tone, and in my opinion, lost much of its charm.  This was the era of protests, and popular music reflected the national mood.

The late ‘60s and ‘70s brought us rock groups with names such as Paper Lace and Three Dog Night.  Young people enjoyed Don McLean’s “American Pie” and “Joy to the World.”  (No, not the Christmas carol.)

The ‘60s also brought us a British invasion, this one friendly.  The Beatles took the world by storm.  They could play their instruments well and achieved good harmony, but in my opinion, their lyrics were sophomoric.  As for melody, John Lennon was sued, and rightly so, for “borrowing” the tune of “He’s So Fine” for “My Sweet Lord.”  The plaintiffs won the lawsuit.

The Swedish group, ABBA, belted out many songs with catchy tunes and lyrics, such as "Dancing Queen" and "Fernando, that soon reached the popularity charts.

Two of my favorite songs from the ‘80s are “What A Feeling” from the movie “Flashdance” and “Make it Real” by the Jets.  That's as far as I'm going with my musical history, because I don't follow today's music.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!

I write historical, paranormal, and fantasy romances. Please check out my website at
My books are sold at Amazon, Smashwords, AllRomance eBooks, Barnes and Noble, KOBO, the Apple iStore and at other sites where ebooks are available online and also at your local bookstore. Three of my books are in print: "Night Secrets," "Night Shadows," and "Dream Weaver.