Popular parlor songs were the main form of secular musical entertainment in the early years of the United States. They were heard regularly in the homes of our principal statesmen, authors, intellectuals, professionals, and businessmen. Laborers and slaves also sang them. They were the principal fare of concert and stage performances, and were freely interpolated into Italian operas, Shakespearean plays, lyceum lectures, and church services. In short, parlor songs played a dominant role in American cultural history. This was the music that Jefferson, Lincoln, Longfellow, Whitman, and Emily Dickinson enjoyed. Yet, whether owing to prejudice or misinformation, we still kw little about the songs they listened to and sang: why and for whom written; when heard; or how performed. This book attempts to contribute that kwledge. Contemporary diaries, biographies, fiction, newspapers, periodicals, and books on music were studied and the music itself exhaustively analyzed in order to reach accurate conclusions about the popular culture that emerged between the American Revolution and the Civil War. The reader comes away with a sympathetic understanding of the human hopes, fears, and joys embodied in the songs, and with a curiosity about the countless melodic gems awaiting exploration.
Nicholas Tawa was born in Boston and is professor of music at the University of Massachusetts, Boston campus. He has studied the popular-music culture of America for over twenty-five years and has written a Harvard Ph. D. dissertation and numerous published articles on the subject. He was also cofounder of the Sonneck Society, in 1974, and through this organization has fought to promote the performance of, and to encourage serious research in, American music. For the last six years he has been First Vice-President of that society and the editor of the newsletter.