Cowboys and Indians!
During the golden age of popular song Tin Pan Alley published a large number of songs that were ostensibly themed around Western images. Among the songs published were many with traditional cowboy themes and those with Indian (Native American) themes.
As you will see in this month's essay on Native American Music, the American music publishing industry couldn't have missed the mark by a wider margin than they did when it comes to depicting Indian "songs". Likewise, "cowboy" music as we know it now had not even developed so many of the songs were simply the usual "Euro-American" songs we were accustomed to but with cowboy or Western titles and cover images. An essay on the origins of cowboy, or country music will follow in a later month as part two of our cowboys and Indians theme.
Come with us now to explore Tin Pan Alley's vision of the old west through a sampling of some of the music published by the most prominent, and not so prominent publishers of the golden age of song. And, to learn more about Amerindian music, please be sure to read this month's essay on Native American Music and the depiction of native Americans in music of the early 20th century. We have more music there for you, including some authentic Native American Indian music.
My Pony Boy1909
Music by: Charley O' Donnell
Lyrics by: Bobby Heath
Cover artist: DeTacaks
We lead off this month with a rousing "cowboy" song that many of you may remember, especially the bouncy "giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, whoa!" line in the great chorus of this song. The songs has an all star cast of composer, lyricist, artist and performer that probably meant lots of sales for this particular work. Notice that Anna Held's name is quite prominent however, she is not the one who sang the song. Yet she was the headliner of the production this song first appeared in so the publisher has wisely traded on her
name. Held was married to the Great Florenz Ziegfield for a while. Unfortunately, as with many performers of the period, I cannot find any information on Ms. Lorraine, the singer who performed the song in the show.
Of course, as cowboy music goes, this song nears no resemblance to any cowboy music we may be familiar with today. More on that later. I think many of you may want to see the lyrics for the chorus of this great song so you can sing along if you like:
Po-ny Boy, Po-ny Boy, Won't you be my To-ny Boy?
Listen to this bronco bustin' hit song
Don't say no, Here we go, Off a-cross the plains:
Mar-ry me, Car-ry me, Right a-way with you.
Gid-dy up, gid-dy up, gid-dy up, WHOA!
My Pony Boy!
Music by: Kerry Mills
Lyrics by: Thurland Chattaway
Cover artist: unsigned/unknown
Now for the "Indians".This is absolutely one of the most colorful & gorgeous covers ever created. In some respects it is also one of the most inaccurate depiction's of a Native American yet typical of the period. Imagine, if you will, a native American woman in a war bonnet complete with full makeup, eye shadow, rouge, lipstick. Sure. But, it is absolutely beautiful. As you will see in all the other Amerindian themed songs this month, the depiction of native Americans on these music covers was very stylized to present them not as they were but it seems, as we envisioned they should be.
As you will read in our essay this month about Amerindian Music the popular music of this period did not truly represent native American music. Instead, as with many issues, the title themes and cover images were primarily designed as marketing techniques to sell music. The music within was still the Euro-American popular music style we have become accustomed to as we listen to the songs of the era.
The songs is subtitled, "An Indian Fable" and though the music is again, typical of the period, at least the lyrics relate to an Indian "fable". And a fable it is:
There once lived an In-dian maid,
A shy lit-tle prai-rie maid,
Who sang a lay a love song gay
As on the plain she'd while a-way the day;
She loved a war-rior bold, this shy lit-tle maid of old
But Brave and gay he rode one day, to bat-tle far a-way.
Now, the moon shines to-night on pret-ty Red Wing,
The breeze is sigh-ing, the night bird's cry-ing,
For a-far 'neath his star her brave is sleep-ing
While Red Wing's weep-ing, her heart a-way.
Well, maybe it still isn't much about the real Indians, other than it says she was an Indian maid. The tune however is one that is memorable and this song has held some interest over the years and is still requested from time to time.
My Western Rose1910
Music by: Harry J. Lincoln
Lyrics by: F.W. Vandersloot
Cover artist: Dittmar
Back to some equal time for the cowboys, well, in this case, the cowgirls. My Western Rose is another romantic song about a man's "maid", who lived in a glade, in the shade, in the West of Idaho.
Listen to this great old song
The composer, Harry J. Lincoln is most renowned for his marches, in fact we have featured a few of his other works over the years. He had an alter ego, at least one pseudonym. Under the name of "Carl Loveland" he composed at least two waltzes; Dove of Peace, and Garden of Lilies. This song is neither waltz nor march but is a pretty jaunty tune, in the march style perhaps.
Once again, we have a song that bears no resemblance to country music as we know it today. Although "folk" music was around at this time, the country style of popular music in the US did not develop until around 1920 - 25. Though country music existed prior to then, its performance was largely limited to medicine shows, churches or community social events. It was only after about 1920 that the music was noticed and was commercially exploited. In 1927, a former railway worker from Mississippi, Jimmie Rodgers and a Virginia family trio, the Carters, made their first recordings and a new music industry was born. We will explore the country music style in a later essay.
Music by: Chas. L. Johnson
Lyrics by: Wm. R. Clay
Cover artist: unsigned/unknown
This cover, as well as the next Indian themed cover below, "Silver Bell" are of the style Bob calls, the noble savage look. It seems that many of the cover artists tended to want to depict the Native Americans in a stately and noble manner. This pose of an Indian woman certainly does so. Her head held high in a posture of nobility, there can be no question that this woman is someone special!
You may notice that almost all Indian themed music uses the "noble savage" model. Bob and I find this interesting in light of the terrible exploitation of the Amerindian tribes and the literal destruction of their culture by the Euro-American conquerors of the Americas. By comparison, the slaves from Africa were also exploited and culturally ruined yet the music of the period depicts African Americans in the worst possible ways. Why the difference? Is it because the Amerindians carried with them some mystique that the white man could not comprehend? Was it because they were viewed as worthy and hard fighting adversaries? Is it because literature of the late 19th and early 20th century romanticized the wild west and the "cowboy and Indian" conflicts? Perhaps some of our readers who are experts on the subject can let us know.
Regardless, here we have yet another song with a "maid" (notice that almost every song in this series uses that term?) who is pursued by a brave warrior.
There was a dusky lit-tle maid
Hear " Silver Star " now.
In a lone-ly glade, Sang a ser-en-ade.
Came a war-rior true, ev'-ry night to woo
He would soft-ly coo, I love you
On bend-ed knee so faith-ful-ly he would ev-er be,
Plead-ing earn-est-ly, be my pret-ty bride,
O'er the prar-ies ride, be my sil-ver star.
We, will be dream-ing by camp-fires gleam-ing,
in lands a-far, Tell me you are, My Sil-ver Star.
We'll go a creep-ing, while squaw is sleep-ing,
There will be war, If we should tar-ry,
My Sil-ver Star.
Music & Lyrics by: Williams & Van Alstyne
Cover artist: Starmer
We have seen plenty of Van Alstyne's work over the years here at ParlorSongs and for good reason, he and Williams wrote some of Tin Pan Alley's greatest hits. Egbert Anson Van Alstyne was born. Mar. 5, 1882, in Chicago, IL.
After schooling, he toured the western states as a pianist and stage musical director before joining Harry H. Williams in a vaudeville act. In 1900, Van Alstyne and Williams settled in New York City, where Van Alstyne started working as staff pianist in some Tin Pan Alley publishing houses. With Williams as his lyricist, Van Alstyne began writing songs. Some of their songs are classic hits of Tin Pan Alley: "In The Shade of the Old Apple Tree", "Good Night Ladies", "Little Old Church in the Valley" and interestingly in 1903 "Navajo"was their first hit song. Marie Cahill sang this tune in the Broadway show 'Nancy Brown'. This may have been the earliest song to exploit Indian names.
In our example today though we have a song that is another of our cowboy
themed songs. The cover of this work is fascinating to me. The use of color and the superb action pose make this one of the most colorful and stunning covers in our collection. The song is rather interesting lyrically as it combines the cowboy idea with the more common Irish themes that were in use at the time. The cowboy is described as "wild and wooly Pat O'Day" and near the end of the chorus, the score actually has a notation "bag pipe effect" in the last three measures! Bag pipes in the old west! An Irish cowboy? Well, I suppose it is possible since the Irish made a great contribution to the development of this country but this song shows that the objectives were not to
accurately represent the cowboy culture or music but to market popular music. Enjoy this Williams & Van Alstyne hit
Music by: Percy Wenrich
Lyrics by: Edward Madden
Cover artist: unsigned/unknown
Our last feature this month is a work by the great Percy Wenrich. Born Jan. 23, 1887, in Joplin, MO, Wenrich wrote a number of hit songs many of which were of the rag genre (see "The Smiler" in our catalog for one of his best). Wenrich, came from a musical family. His mother taught him to play the organ and the piano while he was still a child. A little later, he would write melodies and his father would write the lyrics. Often, his songs were heard at conventions and political rallies. When he was 21 years old, he enrolled in the Chicago Music College, and while there had two of his songs published by a Chicago publisher. Both song titles, "Ashy Africa" and Just Because I'm From Missouri" .Among his biggest hits were: 1909 "Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet", lyric Stanley Murphy 1912 "Moonlight Bay", lyric by Edward Madden 1914 "When You Wore A Tulip", lyric by Jack Mahoney. 1914 Scored the Broadway show 'Crinoline Girl'. 1921 Scored the Broadway show 'The Right Girl'. 1926 Scored the Broadway show 'Castles in the Air'. 1930 Scored the Broadway show 'Who Cares?'.
Silver Bell is one of his bigger hits and is one we just recently acquired. This cover is perhaps the most beautiful of the "noble savage" variety and it is a shame I could not identify the artist for he deserves a great deal of credit for one of the most classic covers of the period. However, my copy was in pretty bad shape and had to be substantially restored in order to present it to you. It is possible that the artists name may have been in one of the areas where the cover was damaged. A search of other collections failed to find mention of who the artist was. Again, perhaps one of our readers knows and can let us know. Musically, this may be the best of the lot and it is certainly a good example of Wenrich's talent. You may notice a little hint of the ragtime style or swing in the tune.
Now that we have seen all of these examples, we know that even though the Amerindians were proudly presented in these covers, we still were faced with both ignorance and stereotypes. Igrorance as to the true music and culture and stereotypes as to appearance. This is the case also with the cowboy songs. For more details as to the Amerindian side of the issue, please do visit our essay this month.
Thanks for visiting us and we hope you enjoyed your time with us this month.
There are more songs to be heard! If you have not already visited our essay on Native American Music, now is a great time to do so. There are several more cover images and songs there as well as some MIDI versions of authentic Native American Indian songs. Thanks for stopping by this month. You can visit our past issues by going to the Back Issue Directory to see links to all of our past issues and galleries.