Oh Shenandoah

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This article is about the American folk song. For other uses, see Shenandoah (disambiguation).

"Oh Shenandoah" (also called simply "Shenandoah", or "Across the Wide Missouri") is a traditional American folk song of uncertain origin, dating at least to the early 19th century. The song is number 324 in the Roud Folk Song Index, but is not listed amongst the Child Ballads.

History[edit]

Shenandoah was printed as part of Capt. Robert Chamblet Adams' article "Sailors' Songs", in the April 1876 issue of The New Dominion Monthly.[1] He also included it in his 1879 book On Board the "Rocket".[2] It was later printed[3] as part of William L. Alden's article "Sailor Songs", in the July 1882 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine.[4][5]

The song had become popular as a sea chanty with sailors by the 1880s.[6]

Ike Skelton, the U.S. congressman for Missouri, noted in 2005 that local artist George Caleb Bingham immortalized the jolly flatboatmen who plied the Missouri River in the early 19th century; these same flatboatmen were known for their chanties, including the lovely "Oh Shenandoah". This boatmen's song found its way down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to the American clipper ships, and thus around the world.[citation needed]

Sea Songs and Shanties, Collected by W.B. Whall, Master Mariner (First edition in Nov 1910), states that the song probably originated from American or Canadian "voyageurs", who were great singers. Thomas Moore drew inspiration from them in his Canadian Boat Song. The author further goes on and states that he heard it sung over fifty years prior to publishing the book, which place its origin at least a fair bit earlier than 1860. Besides sung at sea, this song figured in old public school collections. (info taken from page one in the sixth edition of the book)

Usage[edit]

Set in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Washington & Lee University chorus singers and bands play this song in homage to their alma mater. The University names the "Washington and Lee Swing" as their fight song, but the student body, who lived in the Blue Ridge for at least four years, considers this one of their most nostalgic songs.

The Virginia Military Institute Regimental Band and Glee Club frequently perform this song, as it is widely considered that school's theme song. In this interpretation, Shenandoah refers to the home of the Virginia Military Institute and expresses the longing that a cadet experiences once he is reminded of the valley's beauty by his travels across the 'wide Missouri'.

Shenandoah is the official school song of Shenandoah University in Winchester VA, located at the north end of the valley.

The song features prominently in the soundtrack of the 1965 movie, Shenandoah, starring Jimmy Stewart, and is also heard as a part of a medley in the 1962 Cinerama film, How the West Was Won. It also appeared on the American version of House of Cards in Season 1, Episode 8, where the protagonist returns to his military alma mater in South Carolina.

This song was also played during the final credits of the movie Nixon, performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[7]

Lyrics[edit]

The origin of the song is unclear, and there are many sets of lyrics.

Some lyrics may tell the story of a roving trader in love with the daughter of an Indian chief; in this interpretation, the rover tells the chief of his intent to take the girl with him far to the west, across the Missouri River. Other interpretations tell of a pioneer's nostalgia for the Shenandoah River Valley in Virginia, or of a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War, dreaming of his country home in Virginia.

The song is also associated with escaped slaves. They were said to sing the song in gratitude because the river allowed their scent to be lost.[citation needed]

The Shenandoah area made many parts like wheels and seats for wagons going west. These parts were assembled in Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and settlers set out in Conestoga wagons down the Ohio River, on the Mississippi and west up the Missouri River. Lyrics were undoubtedly added by rivermen, settlers, and the millions who went west.

The lyrics as given in Sea Songs and Shanties, collected by W.B. Whall, Master Mariner (1910) is as follows:

A Mr. J.E. Laidlaw of San Francisco reported hearing a version sung by a black Barbadian sailor aboard the Glasgow ship Harland in 1894, which went:

Alfred Mason Williams' 1895 Studies in Folk-song and Popular Poetry called it a "good specimen of a bowline chant".[10] In his 1931 book on sea and river chanteys entitled Capstan Bars, David Bone wrote that "Oh Shenandoah" originated as a river chanty or shanty and then became popular with seagoing crews in the early 19th century.[11]

Lyrics to Oh Shenandoah by Tennessee Ernie Ford

Interim state song of Virginia[edit]

For a time in early 2006, it appeared that "Shenandoah" would become the "interim state song" for Virginia. While the authorizing legislation passed the Senate of Virginia, the measure died in committee on the Virginia House of Delegates side.[12] It was a problematic choice because the song never specifically mentions Virginia and, in many versions of the song, the name "Shenandoah" refers to an Indian chief, not the Shenandoah Valley or Shenandoah River. However, an early rendition of the song, as related in 1931 by David Bone in Capstan Bars, includes verses that appear to allude to the Shenandoah River, which is almost wholly located in Virginia:[13]

It is possible that, as the song's popularity spread, flatboatmen of the Missouri might have evolved different lyrics than the bargemen of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal along the Potomac or sailors of the American clipper fleet out of New Orleans.

Recordings[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Capt. R. C. Adams (April 1876). "Sailors' Songs". The New Dominion Monthly (Montreal: John Dougall & Son): 262. Retrieved March 27, 2014. 
  2. ^ Robert Chamblet Adams (1879). On Board the "Rocket".. D. Lothrop. p. 317. Retrieved March 27, 2014. 
  3. ^ "About "Shenandoah"". Song of America Project. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  4. ^ Sailor Songs, Harper's New Monthly Magazine 65 (386), July 1882: 283 
  5. ^ "Harpers New Monthly Magazine from 1882". ebooks.library.cornell.edu. Retrieved September 29, 2012. 
  6. ^ The Times (45616) (London). September 12, 1930. p. 8 columnB. 
  7. ^ Western Writers of America. "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Retrieved 2014-08-08. 
  8. ^ The Times, Friday, Sep 12, 1930; pg. 8; Issue 45616; col B: Quoted in a letter to the editor written by A.A. Brookington of Liverpool. Brookington added his informant Laidlaw had later heard it sung "almost word for word as the sailor of Harland sang it" in 1926 at Monterey Presidio by a captain of the 9th U.S. Cavalry, and that this regiment, though officered by whites, was made up largely of black troopers. The letter-writer therefore speculated the song was originally a negro spiritual.
  9. ^ In a letter to ‘The Times’ a former sailor who had worked aboard clippers carrying wool between Britain and Australia in the 1880s, suggested it had originated as a black American spiritual which developed into a work song: ‘This chantey is obviously of American origin...“Shenandoah” was more a wool and cotton chantey than a capstan chantey. I have many times heard it sung down the hold on the wool screws by the Sydney waterside workers... and many were full-blood negroes, who undoubtedly brought these chanteys off the cotton ships...With regard to the words, these vary according to the taste of the chantey man in the first and third line of each verse, there being no effort called for on these two lines, but the second and fourth lines were always the same, these being the rhythm lines on which the weight was used. When I was in the wool trade in the eighties, in both the Tweed and Cutty Sark this chantey was daily used on the wool screws.’ R. L. ANDREWES. "'Shenandoah'." The Times [London, England] 19 September 1930, p. 6.
  10. ^ Alfred Mason Williams (1895). Studies in Folk-song and Popular Poetry. London: Elliot Stock. pp. 5–7. , as reprinted in Alfred Mason Williams (2005). Studies in Folk-song and Popular Poetry. BiblioBazaar. ISBN 978-0-559-78728-7. 
  11. ^ David W. Bone (1931). Capstan Bars. Edinburgh: The Porpoise Press. OCLC 896299. 
  12. ^ Sluss, Michael (March 2, 2006). "Proposed state song doesn't bring down the House". The Roanoke Times. Retrieved October 14, 2008. 
  13. ^ Shenandoah River
  14. ^ http://www.gemm.com Sergio Franchi
  15. ^ http://www.rwhampton.com/albums/born.html List of tracks on the cassette-only album Born to Be a Cowboy

External links[edit]