A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Welcome to our new series highlighting the music we have here at Thomas Ford Memorial Library. Each week of 2013 we will discuss one of our favorite songs from the collection. Classical or Country, Hip-Hop or Heavy Metal, we’ll be blogging for every taste.
When I was a kid in Texas, I heard a very sanitized version of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” A recording by Mitch Miller and His Gang, later used in the movie Giant (1956), had topped the Billboard Best Seller chart for five weeks in 1955. We learned the lyrics from this military march-like version in elementary school music classes. It was one of many patriotic songs we learned. We were never told the back story, of course.
According to both The Handbook of Texas and the Texas Legends website from the faculty at Texas A&M University, the song goes back at least to the battle for Texas independence in 1836. A transcription of the lyrics from that year is held at the University of Texas. What is particularly surprising is that the original lyrics recount the longing of a slave for his mulatto lover back in Texas and that a legend claims that the yellow rose seduced Mexican General Santa Anna allowing the Texans to defeat the Mexican Army at San Jacinto. The lyrics started changing during the Civil War, and many versions were sung by later traveling minstrels.
In the 20th century, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” became associated with cowboys thanks to its use in movies by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Thomas Ford has Autry’s 1933 hit single with orchestra and harmonizing cowboys in its Gene Autry Collection. We also have a jaunty cowboy harmonica and voice rendition on the compact disc When the Cactus is in Bloom by Bob Bovee and Gail Heil, Friday at the Ford artists.
Review by Rick