Thursday, March 26, 2015

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Kingdom Coming in the Year of Jubilo

Here is a classic American tune that perhaps you first heard in an old cartoon.

Like this one:

Or maybe you remember it from Ken Burn's Civil War series.

Or maybe ever so often it just bounces around in your subconscious, just part of your American musical DNA.

It's called "Kingdom Coming" or sometimes "Year of Jubilo." And it was written in 1862, during the Civil War, by a  popular songwriter of the day named Henry C, Work (1832-1884).

Warning: The song was written for a minstrel show. And we all know about minstrel shows. Indeed, this song does contain a racist epithet: "darkies" and it's meant to be sung in minstrel show dialect.

But before we condemn Henry C. Work, consider his life. Born a Connecticut yankee, he was a devout abolitionist and supporter of the Union in the war,  It ran in the family. His parents’ house was used as a stop in the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves fleeing to Canada.

Despite the minstrel show conventions found here, the lyrics mostly ridicule the "massa," who has been frightened away from his own plantation by Union gunships.

It's a song of liberation in which the slaves celebrate, locking the cruel overseer in the smokehouse and helping themselves to the massa's liquor cabinet.

“The whip is lost, the handcuffs broken, but the master will have his pay ..."

I couldn't find any Youtubes of the song from the 1860s, but here's an old version by National Barn Dance radio star Chubby Parker:

Will Rogers sang it the 1932 film Too Busy to Work in which Rogers, playing a drifter named "Jubilo," who is reunited with his long-lost daughter,

Singer Pokey LaFarge did a wonderful version of "Kingdom Coming" in the 2013 compilation Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War. He cleaned it up a little, changing "darkies" to "brothers."

But my favorite version still is that of The Holy Modal Rounders, who recorded two versions of it through the years, both titled "Year of Jubilo." They joyously screw with the lyrics. In the Rounders' versions you don’t see Lincoln’s gunships, you see Lincoln himself with “a piece of paper in his hand,” presumably the Emancipation Proclamation. “Abe Lincoln come, ha ha/Jeff Davis go, ho ho,” they sing.)

Have yourself a jubilant Thursday!

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