Hello friends of history and music,
Below is a simple set of notes on songs I sing, initially those included on my CD ‘Songs of the Abolitionists’ recorded in Autumn 2009, finished summer 2010, and for sale originally at www.cdbaby.com , now from Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music and others streaming platforms. I update this as I learn more or need to correct something found by further research or researchers. You can contact me on Facebook at Deb Goss or email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thanks for your interest!
Deborah Anne Goss
Brightlook Projects and History in Word and Song
About the songs ( in the order in which they occur on my CD):
If I Were A Voice – Judson Hutchinson (words adapted from Charles Mackay’s longer poem)
I’ve separated each of the 3 verses on the CD because each set of lyrics seem to lead into the cut that follows. The full song is available for download as a single from CDBaby.com
“Voice” reveals abolitionist Judson Hutchinson’s great heart on the topic of peace and social justice. He was one of the many brothers of the Hutchinson Family Singers of New Hampshire, very famous in the 1840’s, and was said to be the most emotional. He took his own life in the late 1850’s. This song was most famously sung by his young sister Abby.
The Bereaved Mother – Jesse Hutchinson Jr.
The plight of slave mothers was a frequent topic of emotional ballads meant to elicit sympathy and donations to the cause from those who read or heard them. This song, among the most tuneful, was written and set effectively to the English air ‘Kathleen O’More’ by another of the Hutchinson brothers, Jesse Jr.
Come Join The Abolitionists – G.W. Clark
Presumably written by Clark and published in choral arrangement in his Liberty Minstrel songbook. George Clark was an abolitionist and singer/composer who livened up anti-slavery and Liberty (political) Party events with his songs. He was himself, The Liberty minstrel. The tune he used is nearly the same as the English Carol tune ‘The Seven Joys of Mary.’
Hymn 4 – Maria Weston Chapman (as in Jairus Lincoln’s Anti-Slavery Melodies etc. published in Hingham MA in 1843)
I present this song as it might perhaps have been prepared and sung by a trio of sisters at a small meeting or ‘concert’. This lyric underwent some changes from its original (longer, less succinct) version of the late 1830’s; whether they were changed by Mrs. Chapman herself I do not know. In at least one instance as reported in The Liberator, the song was called “Mrs. Chapman’s ‘Now Is The Hour To Do And Dare’ ” (taken from the first line of the second verse). It was sung by a large group at an August 1st picnic to the very old hymn tune ‘Old Hundred’ which all assembled would have known well. The tune I use here was in Jairus Lincoln’s songbook, taken from Lowell Mason’s songbook of the Boston Academy of Music and is probably Mason’s.
The Little Maid On Her Way – Joshua McCarter Simpson
Simpson was a prolific African-American writer of clever dramatic poetry which he set to many varieties of music including minstrel tunes, turning white convention on itself. Here we seem to be meeting his version of Riding Hood and the Wolf which he set to a tune (one of two I’ve heard of) that used to be called ‘Buy A Broom’ but is known better to modern ears as “Ach du Liebe Augustin’ or ‘Did You Ever See a Lassie …’
Sweet Canaan – hymn
Found in The Sacred Harp but had earlier sources and also other successive versions.
A slave might be heard singing an old hymn one evening and be found missing in the morning – off on a desperate journey to seek freedom with his or her own cunning and best guesses, or with help along the underground railroad. Frederick Douglass writes of Canaan as being a common coded reference to Canada, where many escapees were headed.
Rescue The Slave – author unknown
Written by someone as yet unidentified and published originally in The Latimer Journal of 1842 to plead the cause of fugitive slave George Latimer, this song was later included in William Wells Brown’s 1848 song collection The Anti-Slavery Harp. In 1842 Latimer was held in Leverett jail in Boston for the arrival of his master, who eventually consented to sell him to the abolitionists who freed him. Latimer subsequently settled and raised his family in Lynn MA . He was a friend of the Hutchinson Family Singers who also settled there.
Get Off The Track – Jesse Hutchinson Jr.
Probably the most prominent and popular song of the abolition movement, the tune is based on ‘Old Dan Tucker’ by minstrel troupe leader Dan Emmett. Performed by the famed Hutchinson Family Singers at many a meeting and rally (and updated lyrically as years went on) it was the first of their highly political compositions. In 1844 it became a theme song for the Liberty Party.
I am joined in the singing by Anabel Graetz with whom I perform as ‘The Proper Ladies.’ This song has long been in our repertoire.
Darling Nelly Gray – Benjamin Russell Hanby (who also wrote ‘Up On The Housetop’ !!)
Hanby’s abolitionist family sheltered a fugitive who was trying to make his way to Canada in hopes of earning enough money to buy the freedom of his darling. Sad to say, he soon died.
The tune is often heard as an uptempo dance tune or is truncated to 2 or 3 verses. I sing it all.
Slavery Is A Hard Foe To Battle – Judson Hutchinson
Judson again. His bold and too-true lyric is a parody of a familiar tune of the day, ‘Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel’.
John Brown’s Body – Traditional 1st verse; other verses by Edna Dean Proctor
Mrs. Proctor, a poetess and abolitionist from New Hampshire, composed these verses at the time the Emancipation Proclamation was announced.
Stand Father Abraham – Burdick and Stillman
Published in Boston in 1864 this song honors and encourages President Lincoln in his second term. (Stand Father Abraham, cont’d) I’m very fond of this piece but for my solo version I sing only 2 of the 4 verses as they are a bit redundant and overblown – as such a tribute should be, of course! With a full chorus and harmonies all four verses might be bearable and even glorious. (Unlike all other sources for my songs, I must say in all honesty that I have found no information on either Stillman or Burdick to confirm either’s status as abolitionist, but the song sure is pro-Lincoln.)
Fling Out The Anti-Slavery Flag – William Wells Brown
This is a real favorite of mine; it’s an emotional tune - the commonly sung version of Auld Lang Syne - and it’s thrilling because the words are set just right, and chilling because its message is still necessary in our time – sad but true. Which is why I donate a not insignificant portion of each CD sale to www.freetheslaves.net . You can help too!
Notes on my performances and on the cover design:
Briefly, the CD cover design is meant to suggest a U.S. flag and a cross - most abolitionists were Christian. It is also perhaps a crossroads and, as a 5 year old of my acquaintance said, “I know what that is. It’s a window!” I hope it is - a window into the past. No matter how dimly we are able to perceive what’s back there, it’s worth looking.
Thanks for reading…goodbye for now,
Album Review on Amazon:
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on June 2, 2017
“Beautifully sung a cappella. You might think that this would be dry but it isn't. The songs have many emotions and some use familiar melodies. This is a very enjoyable way to get a slice of American.”