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Music of the Spanish American War Era

by Jack L. McSherry, Jr.

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Editors note: We have received several questions about the song they sang in the miniseries "The Rough Riders". Click Here for the answer! 
Click hereto link to cylinder recordings of music of the Spanish American War Period

Click here for a biography of John Philip Sousa
Click here for a diary of tom Davis, 1st U.S. Cavalry Band
Click here for information on the 3rd Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regimental Band
Click here for a view of the 9th Pennsylvania National Guard Band
Click here for information on the 49th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regimental Band
Click here to read Charles Post's description of the 71st New York Regimental Band under fire
Click here for information on the 161st Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regimental Band
Click here to for the roster and instrumentation of the 3rd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry
Click here to read an account of the effect of army bands on camp life

Sousa's musical score

At the time of the Spanish-American War, popular music was sold primarily as sheet music for the piano and parlor singing. To allow people to hear new songs, and therefore want to purchase them, the sheet music companies would hire promoters to go out to public locations and perform the music. Some of these people became very popular musicians and singers. Other songs were promoted by nationwide tours of composer/performers. Some of the most popular musicians of the era were Arthur Collins, George Gaskin, George W. Johnson, Harry MacDonough, Vess Ossman, Steve Porter, Dan Quinn, John Philip Sousa, Len Spencer and Cal Stewart .

Another way for the public to hear the new music was through the Berliner Gramophone. This machine, invented by Emile Berliner of Washington, D. C., played music from flat discs. Berliner first registered the trademark of a dog listening to a horned gramophone, which was later used by the Victor Talking Machine Company. The founder of Victor, Eldridge L. Johnson, had worked for Berliner before starting his own firm. Other recording instruments available were Thomas Edison's Phonograph, and the Bell-Tainter Graphophone. These machines recorded on cylinders rather than disks.

Sousa , as the band sees himSousa, as the audience sees himMany of the artists of the day recorded music for these machines. The popular band of John Philip Sousa recorded some of his marches on the Berliner discs, although Sousa would let one of his leading musicians conduct the band for these sessions because he did not believe in recorded music! It was during this era that New York's "Tin Pan Alley" evolved. This was an area in the city where song writers worked. Ragtime, a forefather of Jazz, was becoming popular in the late '90s. Among the early Ragtime artists were Vess Ossman and Scott Joplin.

Some of the most popular songs of the era were:

"(There'll be) A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" (probably written by Joe Hayden and Theodore A. Metz) - This famous song was actually written for use in minstrel shows, as is obvious from the style. It was very popular during the Spanish American War and was a favorite of Roosevelt's Rough Riders. The Spanish and Cubans heard this song so often some thought it was the American National Anthem!

"After the Ball" (Charles K. Harris, from the 1892 musical extravanga "A Trip to Chinatown") - Sousa played this tune daily at the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893. It is considered one of the most successful songs of all time.

"El Capitan March" (John Philip Sousa) - This song was played by the USFS OLYMPIA Brass Band as the Asiatic Squadron steamed out of Mirs Bay, headed for Manila Bay and destiny. Click here for a 25 Kb recording.

"The Laughing Song" - The Laughing Song was actually entitled,"I'm Old But I'm Awfully Tough". The popular name evolved because the chorus consisted only of very infectious laughter. Sung by several different artists, probably the most popular version was by George W. Johnson.

"My Wild Irish Rose" (Chaucey Olcott) - Olcott was a matinee idol who introduced this song in his show "A Romance of Athlone." Click here for a 12 Kb recording.

"On the Banks of the Wabash" (Paul Dresser)

"Stars & Stripes Forever" (John Philip Sousa) - Stars and Stripes Forever was first played in concert by the Sousa Band in Philadelphia on May, 14 1897. Click here for a 45 Kb recording.

"Sweet Rosie O'Grady"

"Washington Post March" (John Philip Sousa)- When written by Sousa in 1889, this song started an international dance craze! Click here for a 38 Kb recording.

Listed below are some of the songs known to have been played and\or sung aboard the US Flagship OLYMPIA. The OLYMPIA's Brass Band was under the direction of Band Master Michele Valifuoco.

Admiral's March ||| American (A march by Ripley) ||| Amorita
Auld Lang Syne (click to hear -4 Kb)  ||| Columbia Gem of the Ocean
Dancing in the Barn ||| El Capitan (click to hear - 25 Kb)||| God Save the Queen
Home Sweet Home ||| Independence March ||| Indian War ||| La Fiesta
La Paloma (click to hear -91Kb) ||| La Souveraine
Liberty Bell March (click to hear -29Kb) ||| Ma Voisine Polka
Nancy Lee ||| On the Beautiful Rhine ||| On the Bowery ||| Papa's Baby Boy Waltz |||
Plantation Songs ||| Quanto io T'amo |||  Remembrance of Naples ||| Robin Hood
Salvation Army ||| Star Spangled Banner  (click to hear -14Kb)
Suwanee River ||| There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight
Ugo Conte do Parigi ||| Under the Double Eagle March
Visions of Paradise ||| War Songs of the Boys in Blue
Washington Post March (click here to hear- 38 Kb) ||| Yankee Doodle


(As a service to our readers, clicking on book title in red will take you to that book on Clicking on the name of a website in red will take you to that website)

Agay, Denes, Best Loved Songs of American People. (New York: Doubleday, 1975).

Dewey, Adelbert, The Life and Letters of Admiral Dewey.  (New York: The Woolfall Co., 1899).

Gracyk, Tim, "Berliners: The Earliest Discs, 1882-1900"(website)

Holloway, A., Hero Tales of the American Soldier and Sailor. (Philadelphia: Elliott Publishing Co., 1899).

Sternlicht, Sanford, McKinley's Bulldog, the Battleship Oregon. (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, Inc., 1977).

West, Richard S, Jr., Admirals of American empire.., New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948.

Wozniak, Steve A.,"Popular Songs 1895-1939" (website)

Young, Louis Stanley, (editor). Bounding Billow. August - September 1898 issue. Ship's newspaper, USFS OLYMPIA.

Dewey's Flagship, OLYMPIA needs your help!! Click here to learn how you can help!
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