- John Brown's Body
:"For the reggae musical group, see
John Brown's Body (band)."
"For the epic poem, see
John Brown's Body (poem)"
"John Brown's Body" (originally known as "John Brown's Song") is a famous Union marching
songof the American Civil War. The tune arose out of the folk hymn tradition of the American camp meeting movement of the 1800s. During the American Civil Warnumerous versions and variants of the words to "John Brown's Body" were created as marching songs by units of the Union Army, celebrating the famous abolitionistJohn Brown.
Many verses to the John Brown Song were created and disseminated via informal oral transmission. These verses include expressions of veneration for the martyred John Brown, threats of retribution, and a hint of humor that came about because one of the first regiments to sing the words coincidentally had a soldier who shared the name of John Brown.
The "flavor of coarseness, possibly of irreverence" [George Kimball, "Origin of the John Brown Song", "New England Magazine", new series 1 (1890):374. ( [http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/moa/pageviewer?root=%2Fmoa%2Fnewe%2Fnewe0007%2F&tif=00379.TIF&cite=http%3A%2F%2Fcdl.library.cornell.edu%2Fcgi-bin%2Fmoa%2Fmoa-cgi%3Fnotisid%3DAFJ3026-0007-61&coll=moa&frames=1&view=50 online via Cornell University] )] led many of the era to feel uncomfortable with these first lyrics. This in turn led to the creation of many variant versions of the text that aspired to a higher literary quality. The most famous of these is
Julia Ward Howe's " Battle Hymn of the Republic", which was written when a friend suggested, "Why do you not write some good words for that stirring tune?" [George Kimball, "Origin of the John Brown Song", "New England Magazine", new series 1 (1890):376. Kimball suggests that President Lincoln made this suggestion to Howe, though other sources do not agree on this point.]
History of the Tune
"Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us", the tune that eventually became associated with John Brown's Body and the Battle Hymn of the Republic, has been said to have been formed in the American camp meeting circuit of the early to mid 1800s. In that atmosphere, where hymns where taught and learned by rote and a spontaneous and improvisatory element was prized, both tunes and words changed and adapted in true folk music fashion. [Annie J. Randall, "A Censorship of Forgetting: Origins and Origin Myths of 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'", in "Music, Power, and Politics", edited by Annie J. Randall (Routledge, 2004)] The written record of the tune, however, can be traced no further back than 1858 in a book called "The Union Harp and Revival Chorister", selected and arranged by Charles Dunbar, and published in Cincinnati. The book contains the words and music of a song "My Brother Will You Meet Me", with the music but not the words of the "Glory Hallelujah" chorus; and the opening line "Say my brother will you meet me". In December 1858 a Brooklyn Sunday school published a version called "Brothers, Will You Meet Us" with the words and music of the "Glory Hallelujah" chorus, and the opening line "Say, brothers will you meet us", under which title the song then became known. James Fuld, 2000 " The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk" Courier Dover, ISBN 0486414752, page 132, ] The hymn is often attributed to William Steffe, though Steffe's role would have been almost certainly transcriber of a commonly sung tune and text that had arisen through a folk tradition, rather than as composer. [Annie J. Randall, "A Censorship of Forgetting: Origins and Origin Myths of 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'", in "Music, Power, and Politics", edited by Annie J. Randall, Routledge, 2004, p. 12, 15, 16.] Claims of authorship of the tune have also been made on behalf of Thomas Brigham Bishop and Frank E. Jerome among others. [ James Fuld, 2000 " The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk" Courier Dover, ISBN 0486414752, page 135, ]
Some researchers have claimed the tune's roots go back to a "Negro folk song" [C. A. Browne, "The Story of Our National Ballads" (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1960), p. 174] , an African-American wedding song from Georgia [ "Music of the Civil War Era" 2004, by Steven Cornelius, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0313320810 ,page 26] , or to a British sea chantey that originated as a Swedish drinking song. [Boyd Stutler, "John Brown's Body", "Civil War History" 4 (1958): 260.] Given that the tune was developed in an oral tradition, it is impossible to say for certain which of these influences may have played a specific role in the creation of this tune, but it is certain that numerous folk influences from different cultures such as these were prominent in the musical culture of the camp meeting, and that such influences were freely combined in the music-making that took place in the revival movement. [Annie J. Randall, "A Censorship of Forgetting: Origins and Origin Myths of 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'", in "Music, Power, and Politics", edited by Annie J. Randall (Routledge, 2004) 16. ( [http://books.google.com/books?id=fafKzST-pZwC&pg=RA1-PA7&lpg=RA1-PA7&dq=annie+j+randall+%22a+censorship+of+forgetting+origins+and+origin+myths+of+battle+hymn+of+the+republic%22+in+music+power+and+politics&source=web&ots=_tfXBcFjf9&sig=c7BKH5o9cDIIR1b1tG0YZEZCunY&hl=en#PRA4-PA7,M1 Google books] )] It has been suggested that "Say Brothers, Will You Meet Us", popular among Southern blacks, already had an anti-slavery sub-text. [ Annie J. Randall, "A Censorship of Forgetting: Origins and Origin Myths of 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'", in Music, Power, and Politics, edited by Annie J. Randall, Routledge, 2004, n45 ]
History of the Text of "John Brown's Body"
At a flag-raising raising ceremony at Fort Warren, near Boston, on Sunday May 12 1861, the "John Brown" song was publicly played "perhaps for the first time". The
American Civil Warhad begun the previous month. Newspapers reported troops singing the song as they marched in the streets of Boston on July 18 1861, and there were a "rash" of broadside printings of the song with substantially the same words as the C.S. Hall broadside copyrighted on July 16 1861, and the undated "John Brown Song !" broadside, also published by C.S. Hall which is displayed on this page. Other publishers also claimed copyright. [ James Fuld, 2000 " The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk" Courier Dover, ISBN 0486414752, page 133, ]
Several authors claimed to have taken part in the origin of the song. If (despite the stability of the early printed sets of words) the text was created and spread in the fashion of folk-music, many different people would have had a hand in creating or modifying different versions of the text; which was in general associated with strong abolitionist sentiment. "Multiple authors, most of them anonymous, borrowed this tune [ie Say, Brothers] , gave it new texts, and used it to hail Brown's terrorist war to abolish the centuries-old practice of slavery in America" [Annie J. Randall, "A Censorship of Forgetting: Origins and Origin Myths of 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'", in Music, Power, and Politics, edited by Annie J. Randall, Routledge, 2004, page 8 ]
George Kimball gives one account of the creation of "John Brown's Body", which is notable for minimizing the abolitionist sentiment of the song. Kimball recounted in 1890 how he became a member of the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Massachusetts militia: :We had a jovial Scotchman in the battalion, named John Brown. . . . and as he happened to bear the identical name of the old hero of Harper's Ferry, he became at once the butt of his comrades. If he made his appearance a few minutes late among the working squad, or was a little tardy in falling into the company line, he was sure to be greeted with such expressions as "Come, old fellow, you ought to be at it if you are going to help us free the slaves"; or, "This can't be John Brown--why, John Brown is dead." And then some wag would add, in a solemn, drawling tone, as if it were his purpose to give particular emphasis to the fact that John Brown was really, actually dead: "Yes, yes, poor old John Brown is dead; his body lies mouldering in the grave." [George Kimball, "Origin of the John Brown Song", "New England Magazine", new series 1 (1890):372] According to Kimball, these sayings became by-words among the soldiers and were eventually put to the tune of "Say, Brothers".
Mainesongwriter and Union soldier Thomas Brigham Bishop(1835-1905), a sometime associate of the better known Stephen Foster, has also been credited as the originator of the John Brown Song. [ "Music of the Civil War Era" 2004, by Steven Cornelius, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0313320810, page 26] Bishop's version was first published by John Churchof Cincinnati in 1861. The details of this account derive from Bishop's friend and biographer John James MacIntyre. Bishop, who would later command a company of black troops in the American Civil War, was in nearby Martinsburgwhen Brown was hanged at Charles Townin 1859 and Bishop wrote the first four verses of the song at the time. The "Jeff Davis" verse was added later when it caught on as a Union marching song. According to MacIntyre, Bishop's account was that he based the song on an earlier hymn he had written for, or in mockery of, a pious brother-in-law, taking from this earlier song the "glory hallelujah" chorus, the phrase " to be a soldier in the army of the Lord", and the tune. This hymn had been popular at religious meetings in Maine. [ Time Magazine 1 July 1935 as archived at: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,770050,00.html?iid=chix-sphere, accessed 14, 17 March 2008 ]
Once John Brown's Body became popular as a marching song, more literary versions of the John Brown lyrics were created [http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/johnbrown/brownbody.html John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave ] ] . For example,
William Weston Pattonwrote his influential version in October 1861 which was published in the Chicago Tribune, 16th December of that year. The "Song of the First of Arkansas" was written, or written down, by Capt. Lindley Miller in 1864. [David Walls, "Marching Song of the First Arkansas Colored Regiment: A Contested Attribution," "The Arkansas Historical Quarterly", Winter 2007, 401-421.] ", although a version of that song is also attributed to Sojourner Truth[Annie J. Randall, "A Censorship of Forgetting: Origins and Origin Myths of 'Battle Hymn of the Republic'", in Music, Power, and Politics, edited by Annie J. Randall, Routledge, 2004, n13 ] The President’s Proclamation" was written by Edna Dean Proctor in 1863 on the occasion of the Emancipation Proclamation. Other versions include the "Marching song of the 4th Battalion of Rifles, 13th Reg., Massachusetts Volunteers" and the "Kriegslied der Division Blenker", written for the Blenker Division, a group of German soldiers who had participated in the European revolutions of 1848/49 and fought for the Union in the American Civil War. [ [http://brenthugh.com/piano/john-brown.html Texts Sung to the Tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "John Brown's Body", arranged in approximate chronological order] ]
Other Related Texts
The tune was later also used for "
The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (written February 1862; this song was directly inspired by "John Brown's Body"), " Marching Song of the First Arkansas," " Solidarity Forever," and " The Battle Hymn of Cooperation."
Sailors are known to have adapted "John Brown's Body" into a
sea shanty- specifically, into a "Capstan Shanty", used during anchor-raising.
The "John Brown" tune has proven popular for folk-created texts, with hundreds of knock-offs, parodies, and school-yard versions [ [http://www.cocojams.com/teacher_taunts.htm Teacher Taunts] ] created over the years. A version about a baby with a cold is often sung by school-age children. The "Baby" version includes sound effects and pantomime. [http://www.worldkids.net/entertainment/music/lyrics/kidsongs/jonbrown.htm]
The lyrics generally show an increase in complexity and syllable count as they move from simple, orally-transmitted camp meeting song, to an orally composed marching song, to more consciously literary versions.
The increasing syllable count led to an ever-increasing number of dotted rhythms in the melody to accommodate the increased number of syllables. The result is that the verse and chorus, which were musically identical in the "Say, Brothers", became quite distinct rhythmically in "John Brown's Body", and even more so in the more elaborate versions of the "John Brown Song" and in the "Battle Hymn of the Republic".
:(1st verse):Say, brothers, will you meet us (3x):On Canaan's happy shore.
:(Refrain):Glory, glory, hallelujah (3x):For ever, evermore!
:(2nd verse):By the grace of God we'll meet you (3x):Where parting is no more.
:(3rd verse):Jesus lives and reigns forever (3x):On Canaan's happy shore.
John Brown's Body
:John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave; (3X):His soul's marching on!
hallelujah! Glory, halle—hallelujah!::Glory, halle—hallelujah! his soul's marching on!
:He's gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord! (3X):His soul's marching on!
:John Brown's knapsack is strapped upon his back! (3X):His soul's marching on!
:His pet lambs will meet him on the way; (3X):They go marching on!
:They will hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree! (3X):As they march along!
:Now, three rousing cheers for the Union; (3X):As we are marching on!
Library of Congress: [ [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/scsmhtml/scsmhome.html "We'll Sing to Abe Our Song": Sheet Music about Lincoln, Emancipation, and the Civil War, from the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana ] ] )
The version by
William Weston Patton:::Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave, :While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;:But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,:His soul is marching on.
:John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave,:And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save;:Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave,:His soul is marching on.
:He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few,:And frightened "Old Virginny" till she trembled thru and thru;:They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew,:But his soul is marching on.
:John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see,:Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be,:And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free,:For his soul is marching on.
:The conflict that he heralded he looks from heaven to view,:On the army of the Union with its flag red, white and blue.:And heaven shall ring with anthems o’er the deed they mean to do,:For his soul is marching on.
:Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may,:The death blow of oppression in a better time and way,:For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day,:And his soul is marching on
*Scholes, Percy A. (1955). "John Brown's Body", "The Oxford Companion of Music". Ninth edition. London: Oxford University Press.
*Stutler, Boyd B. (1960). "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! The Story of "John Brown's Body" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic"." Cincinnati: The C. J. Krehbiel Co.
*Vowell, Sarah. (2005). "John Brown's Body," in "The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad". Ed. by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus. New York: W. W. Norton.
* [http://home.att.net/~dmercado/audio/jbb.mid Example version of "John Brown's Body"] (
* [http://home.comcast.net/~jay.schmidt/ft.warren/song.html More John Brown Song information]
* [http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21566/21566-h/images/johnbrown.pdf Sheet music] for "John Brown's Song", from
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.