When Johnny Comes Marching Home by Mich Miller's Chorus.
Today we are going back to the origins of Decoration/Memorial Day and making it our first two-fer! When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again is one of the best known of all Civil War Songs but the song of anticipated triumph was something of a white wash on an earlier and far grimmer Irish song.
|The original sheet music acknowleged Patrick Gilmore's band but credited his alias Louis Lambert as the writer.
The lyrics to When Johnny Comes Marching Home were written by the Irish-American bandleader Patrick Gilmore while he was serving as band master to the 24th Massachusetts Infantry in 1863. The sheet music was published that year by Henry Tolman & Co. crediting words and music credited to Louis Lambert. Although Gilmore was already a famed bandleader before the war he thought that the French sounding pseudonym might seem more romantic and sophisticated. After the song’s initial wild success he was proud to proclaim authorship.
But he didn’t claim to write the music. In 1883 he described the melody as:
…a musical waif which I happened to hear somebody humming in the early days of the rebellion, and taking a fancy to it, wrote it down, dressed it up, gave it a name, and rhymed it into usefulness for a special purpose suited to the times.
The tune Gilmore adapted was the Civil War drinking song Johnny Fill Up the Bowl. The melody was even older than that, stretching back to the Seventeenth Century ballad The Three Ravens.
|Patrick Gilmore and his band in the 1870's.
After the war Gilmore was asked to organize a musical victory celebration in New Orleans. That success emboldened him to undertake two major music festivals in Boston, the National Peace Jubilee in 1869 and the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival in 1872. These featured monster orchestras of massed bands with the finest singers and instrumentalists including the only American appearance by the Waltz King Johann Strauss II. They cemented Gilmore’s reputation as the leading musical figure of the age. Coliseums were erected for the occasions, holding 60- and 120,000 persons. Grateful Bostonians presented Gilmore with medals and cash, but in 1873 he moved to New York City where he built Gilmore’s Concert Garden, which became the first Madison Square Garden. Then he took his band on acclaimed tours of Europe.
He was during his lifetime bigger than John Phillip Souza and lived long enough to make early Edison cylinder records.
Gilmore was back in America preparing an 1892 musical celebration of the quadricentennial of Christopher Columbus’ voyage of discovery, when he collapsed and died in St. Louis at age 64.
But Gilmore never acknowledged the influence another song—Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye. As an Irishmen from the Auld Sod, he must have known that one.
|The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.
Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye was written in the voice of a young lass made pregnant by a lad who ran away to be a soldier. She sees him on his return from serving in a foreign war in a British Red Coat in the late 18th or early 19th Century. It was a powerful anti-recruiting song especially popular with the Fenians. Although presumed to be older it was not published in London until 1867 and was credited to Joseph B. Geoghegan, a prolific songwriter and successful music hall performer. It was set to the same melody as When Johnny Comes Marching Home because that was already a familiar tune on both sides of the Atlantic. Most musical scholars believe it had an older folk origin, but some believe it was penned by Geohegan as a rebuke to triumphant bravado of Gilmore’s song.
Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye sung by the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.
Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye was re-popularized when The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem recorded it in 1961. During the Vietnam conflict it became an anti-war and anti-draft anthem.