I could almost just link you to last Octobers tear-jerkers issue, but all
songs about aging and death aren't sad, and all sad songs aren't about getting
old and dying, so here goes. This month's issue was inspired by some health
issues I had last winter. Things are going well now, but as a result I spent
at least my fair share of time involved in introspection. Dr. Kubler-Ross
observed that there are 5 pretty standard emotional stages to the process
of death and dying. Growing old is part of the death/dying process so these
stages probably apply to the whole process.
The first stage is denial
The second is anger or resentment
The third is bargaining
The fourth stage is depression
The fifth and final stage is acceptance
I am not sure if I went through stages one and two properly. Stage three
lasted about fifteen seconds I jumped to stage five in about 5 minutes and
didn't have time to hit stage four, depression until after every thing was
One of the positive things to come out of the incident is that I started
thinking about how songs have dealt with the issue of getting old and dying
over the ages.
While looking for songs I have tried to stay away from certain subject
matter or sources. Songs about war for example. Most of them are artificial
constructs written to take advantage of political events of the time, and
not too many war songs about getting old on the front-line waiting for a
letter from Mary. We have devoted several issues to the songs of WWI and
you can review them find them in our 2000
back issues. Likewise I didn't look into songs from the various religious
institutions as they tend too often have an agenda, or are divorced from
the actual physical experience of aging. Black American Spirituals tend
to be too abstract and aren't often available in sheet music form. The Blues
are about suffering, but not too much on just plain getting old, and almost
nothing on sheet music of the era, at least not in our collections.
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 the music yourself.
It's a complete musical experience! Get the Sibelius
Scorch player now.
Music by: Nat Vincent
Lyrics by: Darl MacBoyle
Cover artist: De Takacs
This is the song that started it all. No not American popular music,
but Parlor Songs. Those who have been with us for many years will
recall that the original site was inspired by The Forward Collection,
Rick's early hobby site, based on a collection of music given to him
by his parents. Back in 1996 the very first piece of music that Rick
scanned was this tune. Since then, we've grown to over 1,400 songs
that have been scanned, athough there are many that have yet to be
featured in an article.
As we get older we long for the things that gave us comfort when
we where young. In 1919, after 4 long years of horror, World War I
was finally over. Prohibition was coming, the Roaring Twenties are
about to start and, although no one knew it, the Great Depression
is just around the corner.
Longing for days gone by is a theme that permeates the history of
song to this day. Who doesn't feel the pain and angst of the words
of Those Were the Days by Mary Hopkin?
Little is known about the life and career of George W. Persley whose
real name was George W. Brown. Likewise, we can find no information
about the lyricist. Although written in America, this song is clearly
reminiscent of Irish folk melodies, including the switch to the minor
key in the second part of the verse.
One of the most recognizable of the "non-Irish Irish" songs, this
one will appear on almost every site that lists Irish tunes. It is
immediately clear that Westendorf is not an Irish name.
Thomas Paine Westendorf was born Feb. 23, 1848, at Bowling Green
(Caroline County), Va. For many years, the history of the song had
it that he was a public school teacher in Plainfield, Indiana, and
first performed the song in the Town Hall there in 1875. "Unfortunately,
no town hall existed here at that time; town meetings throughout the
1870s were held, primarily, at the old Central Hotel. The first village
hall - little more than a small, wooden shed with two small rooms
- was not erected until the late 1870s or early 1880s and Westendorf's
name does not appear on any listing of teachers in Plainfield"..
According to a 1948 article by Richard Hill entitled Getting Kathleen
Home Again,research that was later confirmed in 1967 by Herbert R.
Collins, a retired employee of the Smithsonian Institution, Westendorf
actually wrote the song while employed at the Indiana House of Refuge
for Juvenile Offenders, Hendricks County, Indiana, where he had taken
a job in 1872.. While the town of Plainfield
is in Hendricks County, the Juvenile Home is not in the town
G.W. Persley, who composed Barney A'Leen (shown above),
was a close friend of Westendorf and sent him a copy of a song called
Barney Take Me Home Again that Persley wrote and published
in 1875. Kathleen was written as a reply or "answer
song" to Barney. Notably, Westendorf's wife's name was
not Kathleen. According to Indiana marriage records, Westendorf married
Jennie Morrow in Hendricks County on May 21, 1873..
We have no way of knowing whether Persley
wrote his song using his own wife as inspiration and, if so, what
her name was. Since Ireland is not mentioned in Barney, and Westendorf's
wife was named Jennie, we're left with the unanswered question, "Why
Kathleen and why is this considered an Irish song?"
In any event, there's no question the song was an immediate hit.
"During 1876, I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen became
one of the most popular songs in America, second only to Grandfather's
Clock. Henry Ford thought so much of it that he is thought
to have gone to some pains to get an autographed copy for the Ford
Museum. Thomas Edison once wrote a letter to Westendorf commending
the song and, according to Westendorf's brother-in-law, Mancha Bruggemeyer,
enclosed a check for $250.00 that he might feel free to use it on
his phonographs. It was broadcast during Edison's funeral service"..
It is unknown exactly when the song became closely associated with,
and assumed to be Irish. But, that association persists to this day,
undoubtedly influenced by uses such as John Ford made of the song
in the movie Rio Grande (Republic, 1950), which starred John
Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. Here is the clip from the movie which featured
Ken Curtis and the Sons of the Pioneers serenading O'Hara. Of course,
O'Hara's character was named Kathleen. Ken Curtis played Trooper Donnelly,
a good Irish name if ever there was one. One is left to wonder whether
O'Hara's character was named Kathleen in the original screenplay,
or if it was changed after Ford decided to use this song.
1. Michael Lambert, "Columnist Debunks Plainfield's Connection
To Famous Song", column A Town Called Plainfield, published by
Plainfield Patch.com, Nov. 2, 2011
2. Richard S. Hill, "Getting Kathleen Home Again", JSTOR Notes,
Second Series, Vol. 5, No. 3, published by the Music Library Association
(June, 1948), pp. 338-353
3. Op cit
5. Hill, page 338
THAT'S AN IRISH LULLABY
Words and Music by: J.R. Shannon
Who can forget the closing scene of Going My Way (Paramount,
1944), in which Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) has brought from Ireland
the 90 year old mother of Father Fitzgibbons (Barry Fitzgerald), who
he hasn't seen in 45 years. The new church organ starts to play, the
boys choir begins to sing, and there's not a dry eye in the house.
This one's just GOT to be a genuine Irish song, right? WRONG!
This is another example of a composer using a pseudonym to make a
song more sellable. In this case,
Shannon's real name was James Royce, which is the old English
form of the name Rice. Other songs by Shannon were Just An Old
Sweetheart of Mine(1912) and Blue Rose (1917).
But, it makes absolutely no difference. This song will always be thought
of as a true Irish tune, and with good reason.
The vocal track on this video clip features our resident male vocalist,
Rich Beil, singing all the voice parts.
Here's a tune that can't be found listed on any Irish song site,
but should be. The melody lends itself to harmony and, if sung as
a ballad, rather than at the original tempo, would make a great pub
sing-a-long. Little is known about Peters. There are only 2 other
titles that can be found which show him as composer, Morning,
Cy (1907) and The Clock of Life (1909). He was
also an arranger, teaming with Gertrude Lincoff in 1930 on Drifting
and with Billy Baskette in 1932 on Same Old Moon. Marvin
Lee seems to be just as obscure as Peters. We do know he wrote both
words and music to the 1917 song Livery Stable Blues
which is distinguished by having been recorded by the Original Dixieland
Band and W.C. Handy's Orchestra. That song was briefly revived in
1938 by Bunny Berigan and his band.
We end our St. Patrick's Day salute with another song
that makes the list on every Irish song site. But, like Kathleen,
it never mentions Ireland, wasn't written by an Irish composer, and
wasn't written in Ireland. Coincidentally, this one was also written
by a school teacher. Seeing the name of composer and lyricist, one
immediately pictures them together at the piano working out the tune
and words. However, like America The Beautiful, this
song began as a poem, with music added later.
George Washington Johnson was born in 1839 near Toronto,
Canada. At age 20, he became a school teacher in Hamilton, Ontario,
where he fell in love with Margaret "Maggie" Clark, one of his pupils.
It turns out that Maggie was suffering from tuberculosis, although
it's unclear whether they knew of the illness before or after they
were married in 1864. In any event, during one particularly harsh
period of her illness, Johnson walked to the edge of the Niagara escarpment,
overlooking what is now downtown Hamilton. There, he penned a poem
to her that was first published in 1864 in his book of poetry titled
Maple Leaves. Maggie died on May 12, 1865 at the age
of 23, less than a year after their marriage.
Austin Butterfield was born in England in 1837 and immigrated to the
United States in 1856, first coming to Chicago where he taught violin
and singing. He later established the music house of J.A. Butterfield
& Co. in Indianapolis, where he issued The Musical Visitor,
the first musical journal published in Indiana. It's unclear exactly
how Johnson's poem came to Butterfield's attention, but in late 1865,
he put music to it and it was published in 1866.
Johnson died in 1917. In 2005, he was inducted into
the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1878, Butterfield became
the second president of the Music Teachers National Association. He
died in 1891. The schoolhouse where the two lovers met still stands
on the escarpment above Hamilton, and a plaque bearing the name of
the song has been erected in front of the old building.
Thanks for visiting us and be sure to come back again later to see our next issue or just to read some or all of our over 130 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.
If you'd like to contribute an article to us at Parlor Songs, we'd love to have
your help and contribution. The "rules"
for submissions can be found here, we'd love to have submissions by any of
our readers, anytime and would enjoy having a "reader submission" or
"favorites" feature from time to time. Heck, get involved, help us out
and write a feature for us!