Searching For the Irish in "Irish" Songs
The "Pluck" of the Irish
Music by: Ernest R. Ball, Chauncey Olcott Lyrics by: Rida Johnson Young
Although Chauncey "My Wild Irish Rose" Olcott's ancestors came from Ireland, Ernest Ball was of English descent and was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Even though it doesn't mention Ireland in the lyrics, it is the dialect in concert with the tune that clues the listener in on the nature of this song. It was this collaboration with Olcott and Young that made his fame, and led to the same team writing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling two years later. In 1914, Ball would team with J. Kiern Brennan and write what is perhaps the most famous of all Irish ballads A Little Bit of Heaven (Shure They Call It Ireland). Like Olcott, Brennan was of Irish extraction, but he was born in San Francisco. In 1915, Ball would follow with She's the Daughter of Mother Machree (March 2002 article). However, that tune would not enjoy the same popularity as its predecessors. The simple line of the Mother Machree melody makes this song a favorite for Irish tenors.
Hear this beautiful "Mother" song( Scorch format, be patient, all the Scorch files this month are very large file sizes, this sheet music is printable using the Scorch plug-in)
Lyrics by:A. W. French
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, not even his given name. In every publication and on every piece of sheet music, only his initials are used. 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.
Hear this singable song ( Scorch format, be patient, long load time, printable)
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.
Listen to and view this song ( Requires the Scorch plug-in, be patient, sometimes a long load time due to graphics)
Words by: Marvin Lee
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.
Listen to and view an old song that resonates today ( Requires the Scorch plug-in, be patient, sometimes a long load time due to graphics)
Lyrics by: George Washington Johnson
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.
James 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.
Listen to this song of lover's lament ( Scorch plug-in, printable, be patient, long load due to graphics)
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.
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