Images in the above collage include Michaelangelo's fresco
scene at the Sistine Chapel of Adam & Eve at the Garden of Eden, The
statue of Lucifer in Madrid and a cut out of the Victorian scene on the
sheet music, Clean Hands and Tainted Gold.
Morality in Music:
Songs With a Moral Message.
We've often commented about how song often is reflective of societal
values or is used as a method of propaganda. This cannot be much in dispute
as we can look back on any period in America's history and see how music has
reflected values, political issues and even the composer's own views. One need
only look at today's music for an affirmation but other periods in history also
are exemplar. Consider the "coon songs" of the 1890's, the Temperance
songs of the 1870's and 80's, the prohibition songs of the 1929 -35 period or
the politically charged music of the Vietnam and "hippy" era of the
Much of today's music, in my opinion, is devoid of traditional
moral messages. Rather, it seems steeped in anger and focused on counter morality.
For some, today's music represents a "new" morality that rejects old
ideals and establishes new ones. However, if we look carefully at the lyrics
of today's songs, they mostly represent an amoral point of view where anything
goes with no holds barred. It does seem that every era brings it's critics of
music's morality and dire warnings of the death of our society. A case in point
is the dire warnings in the 1950's regarding the depravity of Rock and Roll
and how it would take us all down a road of immorality and debauchery? Yet,
then, the lyrics still maintained a traditional moral tone, it was the wild
music and gyrational dancing that so frightened our parents and grandparents
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Victorian morality
ran rampant and much of America's music carried strong and obvious moral messages.
Of course not all songs were morally founded but some were very much so. This
month we've selected a few songs from our archive that seem to "preach"
moral values and convey moral messages. Some of these songs are very obvious
in their moral message while others are actually very subtle. Some will come
across in an overbearing way, some in a straightforward way and others will
teach their morality in a graceful and pleasing way. In all cases though we
hope you'll enjoy the music and the history that they represent.
If you are new to us, to enjoy the full musical experience, we
recommend that you get the Scorch plug in from our friends at Sibelius software.
The Scorch player allows you to not only listen to the music but to view the
sheet music as the music plays and see the lyrics as well. Each month we also
allow printing of some of the sheet music featured so for those of you who play
the piano (or other instruments) you'll be able to play some of the music yourself.
It's a complete musical experience! Get the Sibelius
Scorch player now.
Music by: C. A. White
Words by: Mrs. Frank B. Pratt
Cover artist: Unknown
Temperance, or opposition to alcoholic beverages was always an issue
in America. It has it's beginnings with the Puritans and during our colonial
days. According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia: "There was
a clear consensus that while alcohol was a gift from God its effect was
from the Devil. 'Drunkenness was condemned and punished, but only as an
abuse of a God-given gift. Drink itself was not looked upon as culpable,
any more than food deserved blame for the sin of gluttony. Excess was
a personal indiscretion.' When informal controls failed, there were always
legal ones. Alcohol abuse was treated with rapid and sometimes severe
In England in 1832, the first temperance society was founded by Joseph
Livesey and seven other working men. In America the first temperance societies
were formed in New England in the 1700's. The temperance movement continued
unabated through the 1800's and in the 20th century and scored a short
lived victory with the enactment of prohibition in 1929. Temperance pursues
the abolition of drink and cites it as the source of nearly all evils
This song was written during one of the many periods where temperance
was especially active. The Women's Temperance Union was founded only ten
years earlier and activism was intense and widespread for there were many
temperance related songs published during this period. Musically this
song is quite simple and lends itself to singing and playing in a group
setting of amateurs. The melody is not particularly memorable but of course
it is the lyrics that matter in a politically oriented song such as this.
The chorus is typical of many songs written during this period and is
pleasant with four part harmony. I can just imagine a church group or
gathering of temperance supporters singing this song to great self satisfaction.
Of course, the moral message in this song is clear; drink is evil and
makes even good men turn into monsters. Based on some of my own college
bouts with pitchers of beer, the moral message may well be right!
Charles Albert White was born in Boston
in 1830 and died there in 1892. One of America's earliest popular music
composers, White also was an important publisher, forming the White-Smith
Publishing Company with W. Frank Smith and John F. Perry in Boston around
1867. Besides his wonderful children's duet, Two
Little Birds Are We (Scorch format) in 1881, White wrote The
Widow in the Cottage by the Seashore (1868), Come Birdie (1870),
I'se Gwine Back To Dixie, The President Cleveland March
(1883) and Marguerite in 1883,and Please Sell No More
Drink To My Father (1884)(Claghorn, p. 470)
Mrs. Frank B. Pratt, the lyricist was obviously an active supporter
of temperance and may have been the wife of Frank B. Pratt, son of Daniel
Pratt who founded the Eastman Clock Company, later known as the Boston
Clock Company. I can find no other mention of Mrs. Pratt beyond this one
Music by: John W. Bratton
Words by: Walter H. Ford
Cover artist: Unknown
Not all moral songs were so much "in your face" as the previous
one. Many were less direct, more subtle and others even more so. This
particular song is indirect in it's moral preaching yet the message is
still quite clear. In spite of that, the authors felt compelled to include
this rather apologetic clarifying note on the cover:
"Note: The story told in this little song is of a mother who lavished
all her maternal caresses upon one favorite child while the other she
treated with indifference. "It's Only Me" made a deeper impression
on the author than a masterpiece of grammatical construction could possibly
Their explanation does provide for us what to expect and sets the stage for the
story that follows. The moral message of this song is clear; don't play
favorites with your kids, you'll scar them for life and you'll regret it
for life as well. The cover photo is of Maxwell& Simpson, popular performers
of the period.
The song is clearly in the formal and harmonic style of the Victorian
age. It's almost more a classical or art song in it's sound. This was
also the period of popular
tear jerkers and so the song has a great deal of affinity for that
style as well. The verse is rather straightforward but the chorus more
a ballad. We've made this one printable (the scorch version) so you can
enjoy it at home. The song is dedicated to Mr. & Mrs. Frederick J.
Lowry of Brooklyn for whom I can find no information. If any of you are
related to them and can shed some light on their connection to Bratton,
Ford or this song, please let us know.
John W. Bratton, Born in Wilmington,
Delaware in 1867, Bratton enjoyed substantial popularity in the 1890's.
. Bratton was educated in Wilmington and at the Philadelphia College of
Music. Early on, he was a stage performer in both plays and as a singer.
His primary musical activity was as a composer and writer of Broadway
shows in the early 20th century. Many of his published songs had little
circulation and popularity beyond the context of his shows. Some of his
most notable shows were, Hodge Podge and Company (1900), The
Liberty Belles (1901), The School Girl (1904), Buster Brown
(1908) and The Newlyweds and Their Baby (1909).
Among his most popular songs were, I Love You In The Same Old Way,
Darling Sue with lyricist Walter H. Ford in 1896, My Sunbeam From
The South, In A Garden Of Faded Flowers, I Talked To God Last Night, In
A Pagoda and The Teddy Bear's Picnic. Unfortunately, few of
his songs other than the Teddy Bears Picnic have passed into the
present as lasting hits. Bratton died in 1947 in Brooklyn, NY.
This work takes on a rather interesting subject, that of the morality
and advisability of displacing someone from a job because they are advanced
in years. It is also an excellent "tear jerker" written by one
of America's best writers of morality and tear inducing songs. The fellow
in the photo is Mr. Al. Bellman, "The Dramatic Baritone," a
rather fitting singer for such a dramatic song. The song is bannered as
"a beautiful song" and certainly the sentiments exhibited in
the song are beautiful.
The music that accompanies the rather somber story is actually quite
pleasant and upbeat, perhaps in conflict with the story. It is simple
yet elegant and I found it very entertaining. The story is of a parish
pastor who is pushed out by the church council after years of dedicated
service only to be replaced by a younger man. Unfortunately it spells
the end of the man's career and his life. His resignation takes place
both from the pulpit but also at the end of the Sunday service in a much
more final form. The moral message? Don't mess with us old guys? Well,
more perhaps that it is unfair and harmful to remove someone from a job
simply based on age and to do so can severely hurt people. I guess that's
an understatement in this case. Enjoy the music!
Gussie Lord Davis, (b Dayton, Ohio,
1863 - d. New York, 1899) one of the late 19th century's first commercially
successful African-American songwriters. Davis was probably the first
Black man to gain success in Tin Pan Alley. He held a number of jobs before
becoming involved with music. At one time he was a Porter on the Railroads,
and later was a janitor at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. It was
while sweeping the floors at the conservatory, that he managed to pick
up bits and pieces of musical knowledge, and was soon writing ballads.
The only musical training he gained was from private study provided him
by teachers at the Cincinnati Conservatory. His first published work was
in 1880, We Sat Beneath The Maple On The Hill. He later became a protégé
of songwriter James E. Stewart who helped Davis break into the music publishing
world,. In 1890n he moved to New York and soon became one of Tin Pan Alley's
top songwriters. In 1895 he won second place in a contest for the ten
best songwriters in the USA. He was the first Black songwriter to win
international acclaim for his ballads. The New Grove Dictionary Of American
Music describes his music as " sweet lyrical melodies in waltz rhythm
with heart wrenching texts. Among the over 300 songs Davis published were
a number of other popular works including; If I Only Could Blot Out
the Past, 1896, My Creole Sue, 1898, My Little Belle
Creole, 1900 and another wedding tearjerker, She Waited at the
Altar in Vain in 1897. Davis' greatest hit was the 1896 In The
Baggage Coach Ahead (also a supreme tear jerker). Supposedly, when
Davis was a railroad porter, he found a young child crying. The child's
mother was "in the car ahead', in a coffin. A fellow porter, moved
by the tale, wrote a poem about it. Years later, Davis set this poem to
music, and sold it outright to publisher Howley, Haviland and Dresser
for just a few dollars. Howley induced Imogene Comer to use the song in
her act, and it brought a small fortune for the publisher, but nothing
more for Davis.
Words & Music by: John O'Shea
Cover artist: Geo. H. Walker lithographers, Boston
Home, a place of safety and one that for most of us is truly the center
of our universe and our heart. Much of the sentiment expressed in this
song and many of the others this month seems to be lost on some of today's
generation. Not because they would not see it so if they had a decent
home but more because the home as a center of morality and safety is largely
threatened by much of today's pressures and relative morality. Be that
as it may, in 1896, the home was the bastion of right, might and moral
grounding. The cover lithograph photo is of Thomas E. Clifford, "the
This song, one whose title has stuck with us for over a century is a
lasting hit and a masterpiece of lyric and music as well. Again, mainly
due to the musical conventions of the times, the song is more an art song
than a popular song. As well, the lyrics definitely convey a moral message
regarding the meaning of home. It speaks to the fact that no matter where
you roam and what you seek, there is no more a place central to the heart
than your own home, no matter how humble. The composer, John A. O'Shea
has effectively faded into the sunset. I can find no other songs by him
listed in any references. It is a shame for this is a great work and surely
he wrote others.
Music by: Alfred Solman
Words by: Monroe H. Rosenfeld
Cover artist: Unknown, photo by Hall, N.Y.
A wonderful period photo on the cover of this song helps express the story
the lyrics inside tell us. Cited on the cover as "A realistic descriptive
ballad," the message inside sends a clear moral message about greed
and humanity. Though the cover artist is unidentified, it has many elements
and similarities of the work of E.
H. Pfeiffer. The morality within relates to people who are wealthy
believing that they are better than others and how some tend to try to
"buy" off any slights or insults with money (the gold referred
to in the title). In this case, the haughty woman involved meets her match
and gets a good lesson in humility and humanity.
The song has a pleasant melody in the 1890's style of the other music
we've looked at so far. The verse is in common (4/4) time and is a bit
lively in spots with one passage that is more subdued at the point where
the woman and man in the story confront one another. Then, the song moves
into a waltz time tempo for the chorus where the real lesson in morality
takes place. Of course when you listen to it and see the lyrics, it will
make sense to you. I really found this one to be a lost treasure so declare
it a "discovery of the month."
Monroe H. Rosenfeld(b. 1861, Richmond,
VA - d. 1918, New York) Rosenfeld was more well known as a journalist
than a composer and lyricist and his main musical claim to fame was the
1886 song, Johnnie Get Your Gun. However, his biggest contribution
to America's musical heritage was the naming of Tin Pan Alley. He was
the journalist who coined the term while writing a series of articles
about America's popular music industry in 1903. His other works include;
Alabama Walk-Around (1891), The New Berlin, The Virginia
Skedaddle (1892), Clean Hands and Tainted Gold (1904) and A Mother's
Alfred Solman (1868 - 1937) Was one of Tin
Pan Alley's more prolific lyricists who collaborated with a number of
composers. In spite of his output, little biographical information is
available for him. His most successful work is probably his 1916 song,
There's a Quaker Down in Quaker Town. Other works from his pen
include; The Bird On Nellie's Hat, 1906; Why Did You Make Me
Care, 1912; In the Sweet Long Ago, 1916; The Heart You Lost
in Maryland, You'll Find in Tennessee, 1907; My Lonely Lola Lo
(In Hawaii), 1916 and In the Valley of the Moon, 1913.
Words and Music by: Charles K. Harris
Cover artist: Starmer
We featured this song once before in our November
2001 feature about the music of Charles K. Harris. The song has a
strong moral message but like many if not most "moral" songs
there is a "tear jerker" element contained in the song. As we
said then about the song: "Harris turned to a child oriented theme
in this very touching song about a couple who have parted ways, perhaps
already divorced and the child who shows them the path to love and happiness.
Of course, for those who have experienced it, especially for children,
divorce can be one of the most gut wrenching experiences in life."
The cover by Starmer includes a topical photograph of a couple and their
Harris has managed to put together some meaningful lyrics against a pleasant,
gentle tune to create a very nice song. The verse has a very childlike
quality to it's melody and the harmony is wonderful. The chorus has very
calming quality to it, an almost hymn like tune and tempo. Harris interlaces
a few ornaments within the work to add interest which also gives it that
charming turn of the century (20th) feel. This is, I believe one of Harris'
best melodies and certainly, as with many of his works, we get a very
strong moral lesson along with a few tears.
Kassell Harriswas born in 1867 in Poughkipsie,
NY and died in NYC in 1930. He lived for many years in Milwaukee and published
many of his early songs there. His
After The Ball, (Scorch format) published in 1892 is generally
considered to be the watershed song that started the popular song industry
in earnest as a commercial juggernaught. Though Harris wrote many songs
over the years, none ever rose to the level of popularity as After
The Ball. See our in-depth
biography of Harris for much more information.
Music by: Al. Piantadosi
Words by: Henry Fink
Cover artist: Rose
This song also serves quite well as a tear jerker but contains a moral
message about truth and betrayal. Anyone who has had their heart broken
by a lover's lies or betrayal can relate to this song with no coaching
at all. The morality in this song is short and sweet and contained in
the last lines of the chorus. In essence we have a sadly abused person
who has been betrayed and destroyed yet they find the strength to take
the moral high road by blessing the person who has done them so much harm.
I suppose we could find a number of moral points to be made by the one
In waltz time, the introduction sets the stage for what will be a sad
ballad of the broken heart. The melody is very nice in both the verse
and the chorus. The song would fit very nicely in the tear jerker category
as many of our songs this month do. I consider this song to be another
of our discoveries of the month and one that has so much of a timeless
nature to it. It seems that our inhumanity to each other when it comes
to love has no bounds and in all the centuries before and to come, we
seem to learn nothing.
Al. Piantadosi( b. 1884, New York
City - d. 1955, Encino, CA ) Piantadosi was one of Tin Pan Alley's more
prolific writers of sentimental ballads from 1906 well into the 1930's.
Though many of his works were quite popular, unfortunately few have come
down to us in the permanent repertoire. During his heydays he collaborated
with some of the best lyricists of the times including Alfred Bryan, Grant
Clarke, and Edgar Leslie. Piantadosi was a pianist in resorts and night
clubs and an accompanist in vaudeville early on. He toured Europe and
Australia and was responsible for popularizing much of America's music
in those countries. For a time, he owned his own publishing house. Perhaps
his most famous work is the tearjerker, The Curse of An Aching Heart
from 1913. Among his many other popular works are; Good-Bye Mr. Caruso
(1909), Melinda's Wedding Day (1913), Good Luck Mary (1909)
I Didn't Raise My
Boy To Be A Soldier (1915, Scorch format), Rusty-Can-O Rag
(1910), That Italian Rag (1910) and Baby
Shoes, (1916, MIDI).
Music by: F. Henri Klickmann
Words by: Casper Nathan
Cover artist: Unknown
A very artistic cover graces this work and conveys the sadness that must
surely be within. The cover bills the song as "The Moral-uplift song."
And states that it is founded on a stage play by Virginia Brooks the "great
white slave play of the same name." The play, which was also made
into a film in 1917 had the following story line:
"Bored small town maiden Elsie Welcome meets slimy city man Martin
Druce and he convinces her to leave her family and sweetheart to run
off with him. It's all a trick -- she's shanghaied into working for
a house of ill repute. Meanwhile, Elsie's sister, Patience , and mother
come to the big city in search of her. With the help of society woman/reformer
Mary Randall, they not only find Elsie, they also get to witness first-hand
the shutting down of the red light district." (by
Janiss Garza, All Movie Guide, from the "Moviephone"
site at AOL.)
So essentially we have a moral tale that shows us the evils of prostitution
and the "white slave" trade and a triumph of good over evil. It doesn't
get any better than that!
The song's musical mood and the lyrics tell the story in a less sordid
and almost gay (happy for those of you born after 1980) way. The melody
is really quite pleasant and the harmony is very nice to listen to. Though
more obtuse than the play, the lyrics certainly are uplifting as advertised
and we still manage to see the triumph. The trouble is, if one did not
know the play's story, I doubt very much if you could fully understand
what was going on based on the song lyrics alone.
F. Henri Klickmann(1885
- 1966) also wrote, Floatin' Down to Cotton Town in 1919 with
Jack Frost and Waters of The Perkiomen in 1935. Klickman was
an extremely versatile composer having written many instrumental and ragtime
compositions such as A Trombone Jag (1910) and High Yellow
Cake Walk and Two Step (1915) as well as a wide variety of songs.
Interestingly, Waters of The Perkiomen was originally a work
for accordion. Klickmann wrote quite a few pieces for accordion and is
one of the more popular composers for that instrument. In addition to
all this, he also wrote "classical" style music, including a
concerto for tenor sax. Klickmann wrote a large number of ragtime works
that are popular in today's resurgence of ragtime interest. A simple search
of the Internet will return many, many references to his music and a number
of sites that feature his music.
Words and Music by: Carrie Jacobs-Bond
Cover artist: Probably Bond
Carrie Jacobs-Bond's songs were (a few still are) some of America's most
beloved songs. Over the years we've featured many of her songs and even
done a special biography about her incredible life. Arguably, her songs
have always held a special place in American music and most who hear them
and listen to the lyrics carefully would agree that her songs speak to
the heart. Her lyrics are poetry, and in fact books were published containing
only the lyrics to her songs. She had a way of really getting to the core
of the matter. Almost all of her music had a base of morality that cannot
be denied and she managed to express moral messages that were meaningful.
In no other writings of hers was she more able to express exceptionally
solid moral truths than in her Half Minute Songs and the Smile
Songs, both published in 1910. These songs are unmistakably incredible
and unique. Each booklet contains twelve, very, very short songs that
include but a few bars of music and lyrics. It is nothing short of amazing
how much profoundness can be found in those few notes and short sayings.
I've consolidated each collection into a single sequence that plays through
all twelve in the group. You absolutely must use the Scorch player to
fully appreciate these works. Regrettably, these songs been neglected
in favor of her other more famous works but in my opinion they demonstrate
the mastery she had for the union of music and lyrics. I've never encountered
any other works that can appear to be so short and incomplete but blossom
and show their full genius when heard and sung. I hope you'll agree that
these are the ultimate moral songs and are a unique treasure of American
popular music. For me these exceed discovery of the month status to become
a discovery of the year. I hope you find them as meaningful as I have.
When you listen to the Half Minute Songs, pay particular attention
to number 12, Keep Awake. That song contains the base melody for
the 1910 song which made Jacobs-Bond most famous, A
Perfect Day (Scorch Version)
Jacobs-Bond suffered many tragedies in her life
but managed to overcome them all through courage and determination. Her
life is inspirational and her ability to overcome the odds made her one
of America's most loved composers. We've featured many of her works on
ParlorSongs and still have many more to present. We recommend you spend
the time to learn much more about this remarkable woman by visiting our
in depth biography
of her and our June,
2000 feature on her music. For even more of her songs we've published,
use our search page and search
for "Carrie Jacobs-Bond."
Thanks for visiting us and be sure to come back again next month to see our
new feature or to read some or all of our over 120 articles about America's
music. See our resources
page for a complete bibliography of our own library resources used to research
this and other articles in our series.
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your help and contribution. The "rules"
for submissions can be found here, we'd love to have submissions by any
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