Celebrating American Music

Dakota Wind - Album Cover
This segment of Fun Friday originally appeared on November 22, 2013. Don’t want to wait until Friday for your dose of classical music humor? Check out the archive of  Fun Friday posts.

1. “General William Booth Enters Heaven” by Charles Ives. Refinersfire composer Michael Linton calls this “The greatest piece of music written by an American”, which is why it is number one on our list of music.

The lyrics can be found at Song of America.

2. Should “classical American composer” be one of the clues at your favorite bar on trivia night, chances are Aaron Copland is the answer. If you are looking to improve your classical American composer lexicon, start here with Copland’s “Hoe-down.” I bet you’ll recognize it.

3. No medium is more quintessentially American than that of the musical, and no musical is more quintessentially American than Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. “Trouble” is a perfect blend of the utterly ridiculous and the painfully American.

4. We can’t celebrate American music without paying homage to Country Music, and who better to represent the genre than the delightful Dolly Parton? Here is one of her great autobiographical songs,”Coat of Many Colors”

5. Of all George Gershwin’s wonderfully memorable tunes, “Summertime” is my personal favorite. There is something so intoxicating and unforgettable about the melody. Watch the great Kathleen Battle deliver a performance of this haunting and heartbreaking American classic.

6. You can’t talk about American music without giving a nod to Gospel music. Thanks to these great songs, many an American has risen to her feet and rendered up a powerful message of praise. Who better to show us how this is done than the uncomparable Mahalia  Jackson. Try not to tap your toes as she sings “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”.

7. Jay Unger’s “Ashokan Farewell” was featured in Ken Burns’ PBS miniseries, The Civil War. It is truly one of the most gorgeous melodies ever written.

Our last three picks feature the music of Refinersfire composers Michael Linton and Chris McMurtry. You can check out and purchase their music here .

8.”Winter Song” by Aireline represents the Pop/Rock portion of American music on our list. I love this song. It’s thoughtful, peaceful, and thanks to the driving piano chords on the second and third beats, also a bit unsettling. Give it a listen. You won’t be disappointed to discover this band’s great music.

9. “Home on the Range” has superseded its writer (Dr. Brewster M. Higley) and composer (Daniel E. Kelley) in fame, but their collaboration produced an instantly recognizable American classic. This arrangement and video by Michael Linton features singer H. Stephen Smith. A portrait of him can be found here.

10. Stephen Foster’s “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” may not have blondes rushing to the hair salon to darken their flaxen locks, but this tune holds a special place in American’s heart. It may even be one of the first “I want you back” songs in our nation’s history. This arrangement by Michael Linton features the fabulous mezzo-soprano Kathleen Shimeta. You can find out more about Ms. Shimeta and her wonderful work uncovering the music of American composer Gena Branscombe here.

Learn more about the history of “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” at Song of America.

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