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 1960's.


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 back then.


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.


Richard A. Reublin, February, 2006. This article published February, 2006 and is Copyright © 2006 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author or a company officer.


Please Sell No More Drink To My Father


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 punishment."


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 in society.


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 song.


Hear this temperance song ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)

Listen to MIDI version



Only Me


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 have done."
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.


Enjoy this wonderful old moral song ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)

listen to MIDI version



The Pastor's Resignation



Words and Music by: Gussie L. Davis
Cover artist:


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.


Listen to and see this early moral lesson ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)

Listen to MIDI version


Home Is Where The Heart Is


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 popular baritone.


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.


Hear and see this heartwarming song ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)

Listen to MIDI version


Clean Hands and Tainted Gold


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 Lullaby.


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.


Enjoy this fabulous "rediscovered" song ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)

Listen to MIDI version


And A Little Child Shall Lead Them


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 child.


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.


Charles Kassell Harris was 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.



Listen to this great old Harris classic song (Scorch plug-in required)

Listen to MIDI version


The Curse of an Aching Heart


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 simple act.


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).


Listen to this 1913 "curse" song (Scorch Format)

Listen to MIDI version


Little Lost Sister


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.


Listen to this great "moral-uplift" song (Scorch plug-in required)

Listen to MIDI version


Half Minute Songs
& Smile Songs






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)


Carrie 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."


Listen to the Half Minute songs ( Scorch plug-in)

Listen to the Smile Songs ( Scorch plug-in)

Listen to MIDI version of the Half Minute songs.

Listen to MIDI version of the Smile Songs.

Lyrics to the Half Minute songs.

Lyrics to the Smile Songs.

This article published February, 2006 and is Copyright © 2006 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author or an officer of the corporation. Though the songs published on this site are often in the Public Domain, MIDI renditions are protected by copyright as recorded performances.


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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