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In High Cotton – Song Notes

Lynchburg Town/Briggs’ Jig ~ These tunes represent two standards of the early banjo. Lynchburg Town is very much in the same story telling genre as Joel Sweeney’s Johnny Boker. Briggs’ Jig comes from the banjo manual written in honor of T.F. Briggs, an early banjo giant, by his friends in 1855.

Old Folks at Home (Swanee River) ~ One of Stephen Foster’s most popular songs, surviving not only the decline of minstrelsy, Vaudeville and popular tap dance, but even Daffy Duck! Commonly called Way Down Upon the Swanee River, it has been used for every conceivable musical purpose and yet endures in its original form to this day. Written in 1851, it is a tribute to the lasting quality of Foster’s music.

 Granny Will Your Dog Bite / Guilderoy ~ This fife version of Granny comes from Bayard’s Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife, as learned from “Great-Uncle Uriah, born 1792.” The drum cadence is from “Captain Whiting’s Quickstep,” in Bruce & Emmett’s 1862 Drummer’s and Fifer’s Guide. At the battle of Sharpsburg, in September of 1862, a soldier-fiddler of the 3rd Arkansas regiment of Cooke’s Demi-Brigade, played this tune at the request of his captain as Cooke’s command rose to the attack. The ballad Guilderoy, published as early as 1650, was about a highwayman hanged in 1636. The tune, a Civil War favorite, is known today as the Irish song The Jolly Beggarman. The fife tune is from the G.A.R.’s 1905 American Veteran Fifer. Col. H. Hart’s Instructor for the Drum stated No.2 Tattoo Beat was to be played with it.

O Lemuel ~ This 1850 Foster story telling song was written for the stage at the height of his association with black face minstrelsy. Foster would distance himself from such songs in his later works as he tried to capture the “legitimate” music market.

‘Twill Neber Do to Gib It Up So (De Ol’ Jim Riber) ~ This 1843 Emmett song is another in the long line of “river” songs employed by the minstrels that offered a glimpse, albeit romanticized, of antebellum life on southern rivers.

Liza Jane / Mississippi Sawyer / Road to Boston ~ All fiddle tunes in the best tradition of American fiddling, Liza Jane can be dated to at least 1855, Mississippi Sawyer to 1839, and Road to Boston to 1852.

I’m Gwine Ober de Mountain ~ Words and music attributed to “Old Dan Emmett” and published in 1843, this is a deceptively simple sounding “story” song notable for the fact that it is played and sung in two keys.

De Blue Tail Fly ~ This version used by Dan Emmett is based on one published in 1846 for the Virginia Minstrels. It tells the story of a demanding “Massa” whose untimely death is ultimately blamed on De Blue Tail Fly – presumably to the relief of the original story teller.

Angelina Baker / Angeline the Baker ~ Published by Stephen Foster in 1850, this song relates the heartbreak of slaves who lost loved ones through death or sale. Interestingly, up to 1850, the lyrics of minstrel songs were one of the few places (other than Abolitionist literature) where sympathetic interpretations of the plight of slaves could be found. The second movement is the “old time” fiddle tune Angeline the Baker, evolved from the original melody but more common to the early 20th century.

Cripple Creek / Old Joe Clarke / The Girl I Left Behind Me ( A Virginia Reel Medley) ~ All three of these tunes remain popular to this day. There is some evidence that the first two may have roots as far back as the 1840’s and have survived through the “old time” fiddle tradition. The Girl I Left Behind Me was heard as far back as the American Revolution and in the Civil War was a favorite field music standard as well as being the song that many soldiers of both sides heard as they marched off to war.

Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel ~ Another famous Dan Emmett minstrel piece, the lyrics to this one tell of famous and infamous figures and events of the 1840’s and ‘50’s. They were later replaced by names of Civil War battles and generals in a comic-satirical account of the disastrous Union campaigns of 1861 and ’62.

Old Rosin the Beau ~ While quite old in the Irish traditional music world, it was known in Americas since at least 1838 when it first appeared in American sheet music. Used by politicians and song writers alike, it had many incarnations throughout the 19th century.

Glendy Burke ~ This 1860 Stephen Foster song is one of a multitude of antebellum pieces that deal with America’s fascination with river-borne trade and transportation and the often larger than life characters to be found there.

The White Cockade / Devil’s Dream ~ A Scottish tune first published in 1687, The White Cockade has been popular in British, Irish, Scottish and American military music ever since. During the Civil War it was put to words in a song about southern ships. The fife tune from the G.A.R.’s 1905 American Veteran Fifer. Hart’s Instructor for the Drum states this “Fancy Quickstep” drum beat is played for accompaniment.

Devil’s Dream, originally a 1790’s Scottish reel called “Devil Among the Tailors,” this widely popular fife/fiddle tune is occasionally rumored to have been composed by Old Scratch himself. The fife version is from Howe’s 1851 School of the Fife – the drum part from Conklin’s 2/4 Stick Beat out of Hart’s Instructor.

Down In Alabama ~ A so-called “Plantation Melody,” published in 1858, this song was first used on the minstrel stage but was later re-arranged (possibly by Sam Sweeney, famed banjoist on Jeb Stuart’s staff) as a “fight song” for the Confederate Cavalry.

The Bonnie Blue Flag ~ This famous early war patriotic song was sung throughout the conflict. A narrative song, the words relate the story of the state by state formation of the Confederate States of America, in the order of secession, and so was always a favorite with southern soldiers.

 

 

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