Friday, July 3, 2015

Not My Victrola: Add A Little Context To Conflicts Past And Present

Published on Dec 31, 2008 by Pax41written by B. R. Hanby "Darling Nelly Gray" is a 19th c. popular song composed by Benjamin Hanby, and as such, is a pseudo-African-American folksong. Hanby composed the song while attending Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio in 1856, in response to the plight of a runaway slave named Joseph Selby or Shelby. Benjamin Hanby's father, Bishop William Hanby, a United Brethren minister who was active in the Underground Railroad, was attempting to raise money to free Selbys beloved. Although author and origins of the song are known, it may be seen in relation to the blackface genre. In the song, a male slave in Kentucky mourns his beloved, who has been sold South to Georgia. It has been called the saddest song ever written for its conclusion, which is essentially an embrace of death after a life of loss and sorrow.

In a long green, valley on the old Kentucky shore
Sure I've whiled many happy hours away,
Just a sitting and a singing by the little cabin door
Where lived my darling Nellie Gray

When the moon had climbed the mountain, and the stars were shining bright
I'd take my darling Nellie Gray
And we'd float down the river in my little red canoe
While my banjo so sweetly I would play

One night I went to see her, but she's gone the neighbors say
And the white man had bound her with his chain
They have taken her to Georgia for to wear her life away
As she toils in the cotton and the cane

Oh, my darling Nellie Gray, they have taken you away
I'll never see my darling anymore
They have taken you to Georgia for to work your life away
And youre gone from that old Kentucky shore.

Now my canoe is under water, and my banjo is unstrung
I am tired of living, anymore
My eyes shall be cast downward, and my songs will be unsung
While I stay on the old Kentucky shore

Now my eyes are getting dimmer and I cannot see the light
Hark theres someone a-knocking at my door
Oh I hear the angels coming and I see my Nellie Gray
So farewell to the old Kentucky shore

Oh, my darling Nellie Gray, up in heaven, so they say
And they'll never take you from me, anymore
Oh I'm coming, coming, coming, as the angels clear the way
So farewell to the old Kentucky shore

This song came about five years before secession and Fort Sumter, and most recruits from the North would have at least heard this song, if they didn't know it by heart. No matter how many times you hear that the Civil War was about states's rights, you have to include slavery in the equation. 

150 years after the end of that war it seems that there are a whole lotta people wanting to start something all over again. My guess is that the loudest complainers couldn't earn a C if they were given a test that covered the buildup to war, the war itself, and the history of the South after the war.

We don't like to do politics on this little blog, so just enjoy the song and add it to your bag of tools if you are a student of history.

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