An American Trilogy is a 1971 song medley arranged by country composer Mickey Newbury and popularized by Elvis Presley, who included it as a showstopper in his concert routines. The medley uses three 19th-century songs:
“Dixie” — a blackface minstrel song that became an anthem of the Confederacy; “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” — a marching hymn of the Union Army during the American Civil War; and “All My Trials” — a Bahamian lullaby related to African American spirituals and widely used by folk music revivalists
Newbury first recorded An American Trilogy for his 1971 album Frisco Mabel Joy, and the medley featured prominently on his first concert album, Live at Montezuma Hall, released in 1973. The studio recording reached No. 26 on the charts in 1972, and No. 9 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart.
Elvis began singing An American Trilogy in concert in January 1972; a live recording made the following month was released as a single by RCA Records. Elvis modifies Newbury's sequence by reprising after All My Trials both Dixie (in the solo flute) and The Battle Hymn. He performs the medley in the 1972 filmed documentary Elvis on Tour, and again in the 1973 satellite telecast Aloha from Hawaii. In terms of chart success, his RCA version did less well than Newbury's single, reaching No. 66 late in 1972, and it peaked at No. 31 on the Easy Listening chart. In 2002 the medley was covered by heavy metal band Manowar, appearing as the sixth track on the album Warriors of the World. It was also featured on country singer Billy “Crash” Craddock's live album Live -N- Kickin' in 2009. Alwyn Humphreys' arrangement for male choir is popular and features on albums by the Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir and Morriston Orpheus Choir. An American Trilogy is referenced and partially sung in the Manic Street Preachers' Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier on the Everything Must Go album. It was also arranged for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the 2015 compilation album, If I Can Dream. In all, over 465 versions have been recorded by various artists.
“Dixie”, also known as “Dixie's Land”, “I Wish I Was in Dixie”, and other titles, is a popular song in the Southern United States. It is one of the most distinctively Southern musical products of the 19th century and probably the best-known song to have come out of blackface minstrelsy. It was not a folk song at its creation, but it has since entered the American folk vernacular. The song likely cemented the word “Dixie” in the American vocabulary as a nickname for the Southern United States.
Most sources credit Ohio-born Daniel Decatur Emmett with the song's composition, although other people have claimed credit, even during Emmett's lifetime. Compounding the problem are Emmett's own confused accounts of its writing and his tardiness in registering its copyright. The latest challenge has been made on behalf of the Snowden Family Band of Knox County, Ohio, who may have collaborated with Emmett to write “Dixie”.
“Dixie” originated in the minstrel shows of the 1850s and quickly became popular throughout the United States. During the American Civil War, it was adopted as a de facto national anthem of the Confederate States of America. New versions appeared at this time that more explicitly tied the song to the events of the Civil War.
The song was a favorite of President Abraham Lincoln; he had it played at some of his political rallies and at the announcement of General Robert E. Lee's surrender. The earliest known recording of this song was performed by Billy Murray, in a duet with Ada Jones, in 1916.
Countless lyrical variants of “Dixie” exist, but the version attributed to Dan Emmett and its variations are the most popular. Emmett's lyrics as they were originally intended reflect the mood of the United States in the late 1850s toward growing abolitionist sentiment. The song presented the point of view, common to minstrelsy at the time, that slavery was overall a positive institution. The pining slave had been used in minstrel tunes since the early 1850s, including Emmett's “I Ain't Got Time to Tarry” and “Johnny Roach”. The fact that “Dixie” and its precursors are dance tunes only further made light of the subject. In short, “Dixie” made the case, more strongly than any previous minstrel tune had, that slaves belonged in bondage. This was accomplished through the song's protagonist, who, in comic black dialect, implies that despite his freedom, he is homesick for the plantation of his birth.
The lyrics use many common phrases found in minstrel tunes of the day—“I wish I was in …” dates to at least “Clare de Kitchen” (early 1830s), and “Away down south in …” appears in many more songs, including Emmett's “I'm Gwine ober de Mountain” (1843). The second stanza clearly echoes “Gumbo Chaff” from the 1830s: “Den Missus she did marry Big Bill de weaver / Soon she found out he was a gay deceiver.” The final stanza rewords portions of Emmett's own “De Wild Goose-Nation”: “De tarapin he thot it was time for to trabble / He screw aron his tail and begin to scratch grabble.” Even the phrase “Dixie's land” had been used in Emmett's “Johnny Roach” and “I Ain't Got Time to Tarry,” both first performed earlier in 1859.
As with other minstrel material, “Dixie” entered common circulation among blackface performers, and many of them added their own verses or altered the song in other ways. Emmett himself adopted the tune for a pseudo-African American spiritual in the 1870s or 1880s. The chorus changed to:
I wish I was in Canaan Oaber dar—Oaber dar, In Canaan's lann de color'd man Can lib an die in cloaber Oaber dar—Oaber dar, Oaber dar in de lann ob Canaan.
Both Union and Confederate composers produced war versions of the song during the American Civil War. These variants standardized the spelling and made the song more militant, replacing the slave scenario with specific references to the conflict or to Northern or Southern pride. This Confederate verse by Albert Pike is representative:
Southrons! hear your country call you! Up! lest worse than death befall you! … Hear the Northern thunders mutter! … Northern flags in South wind flutter; … Send them back your fierce defiance! Stamp upon the cursed alliance!
Compare Frances J. Crosby's Union lyrics:
On! ye patriots to the battle, Hear Fort Moultrie's cannon rattle! Then away, then away, then away to the fight! Go meet those Southern traitors, With iron will. And should your courage falter, boys, Remember Bunker Hill.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The Stars and Stripes forever! Hurrah! Hurrah! Our Union shall not sever!
A second “unofficial” Union version was popular among Union troops, referred to as Union Dixie:
Away down South in the land of traitors, Rattlesnakes and alligators, Right away, come away, right away, come away. Where cotton's king and men are chattels, Union boys will win the battles, Right away, come away, right away, come away.
Then we'll all go down to Dixie, Away, away, Each Dixie boy must understand That he must mind his Uncle Sam.
“The New Dixie!: The True 'Dixie' for Northern Singers” takes a different approach, turning the original song on its head:
Den I'm glad I'm not in Dixie
In Yankee land I'll took my stand, Nor lib no die in Dixie
Soldiers on both sides wrote endless parody versions of the song. Often these discussed the banalities of camp life: “Pork and cabbage in the pot, / It goes in cold and comes out hot,” or, “Vinegar put right on red beet, / It makes them always fit to eat.” Others were more nonsensical: “Way down South in the fields of cotton, / Vinegar shoes and paper stockings.”
Aside from its being rendered in standard English, the chorus was the only section not regularly altered, even for parodies. The first verse and chorus, in non-dialect form, are the best-known portions of the song today:
I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten, Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land. In Dixie Land where I was born in, early on a frosty mornin', Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.
Then I wish I was in Dixie, hooray! hooray! In Dixie Land I'll take my stand to live and die in Dixie, Away, away, away down South in Dixie, Away, away, away down South in Dixie.
Battle Hymn of the Republic (Song)
The “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, also known as “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” outside of the United States, is a lyric by the American writer Julia Ward Howe using the music from the song “John Brown's Body”. Howe's more famous lyrics were written in November 1861 and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. The song links the judgment of the wicked at the end of the age (Old Testament, Isaiah 63; New Testament, Revelation 19) with the American Civil War. Since that time, it has become an extremely popular and well-known American patriotic song
The “Glory, Hallelujah” tune was a folk hymn developed in the oral hymn tradition of camp meetings in the southern United States and first documented in the early 1800s. In the first known version, “Canaan's Happy Shore,” the text includes the verse “Oh! Brothers will you meet me (3×)/On Canaan's happy shore?” and chorus “There we'll shout and give him glory (3×)/For glory is his own”; this developed into the familiar “Glory, glory, hallelujah” chorus by the 1850s. The tune and variants of these words spread across both the southern and northern United States.
The “Glory, Hallelujah” tune was a folk hymn developed in the oral hymn tradition of camp meetings in the southern United States and first documented in the early 1800s. In the first known version, “Canaan's Happy Shore,” the text includes the verse “Oh! Brothers will you meet me (3×)/On Canaan's happy shore?” and chorus “There we'll shout and give him glory (3×)/For glory is his own”; this developed into the familiar “Glory, glory, hallelujah” chorus by the 1850s. The tune and variants of these words spread across both the southern and northern United States. As the “John Brown's Body” song
At a flag-raising ceremony at Fort Warren, near Boston, Massachusetts, on Sunday, May 12, 1861, the John Brown song, using the well known “Oh! Brothers” tune and the “Glory, Hallelujah” chorus, was publicly played “perhaps for the first time.” The American Civil War had begun the previous month.
In 1890, George Kimball wrote his account of how the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Massachusetts militia, known as the “Tiger” Battalion, collectively worked out the lyrics to “John Brown's Body.” Kimball wrote:
We had a jovial Scotchman in the battalion, named John Brown. … [A]nd as he happened to bear the identical name of the old hero of Harper's Ferry, he became at once the butt of his comrades. If he made his appearance a few minutes late among the working squad, or was a little tardy in falling into the company line, he was sure to be greeted with such expressions as “Come, old fellow, you ought to be at it if you are going to help us free the slaves,” or, “This can't be John Brown—why, John Brown is dead.” And then some wag would add, in a solemn, drawling tone, as if it were his purpose to give particular emphasis to the fact that John Brown was really, actually dead: “Yes, yes, poor old John Brown is dead; his body lies mouldering in the grave.”
According to Kimball, these sayings became by-words among the soldiers and, in a communal effort — similar in many ways to the spontaneous composition of camp meeting songs described above — were gradually put to the tune of “Say, Brothers”:
Finally ditties composed of the most nonsensical, doggerel rhymes, setting for the fact that John Brown was dead and that his body was undergoing the process of decomposition, began to be sung to the music of the hymn above given. These ditties underwent various ramifications, until eventually the lines were reached,—
“John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, His soul's marching on.”
“He's gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord, His soul's marching on.”
These lines seemed to give general satisfaction, the idea that Brown's soul was “marching on” receiving recognition at once as having a germ of inspiration in it. They were sung over and over again with a great deal of gusto, the “Glory, hallelujah” chorus being always added.
Some leaders of the battalion, feeling the words were coarse and irreverent, tried to urge the adoption of more fitting lyrics, but to no avail. The lyrics were soon prepared for publication by members of the battalion, together with publisher C. S. Hall. They selected and polished verses they felt appropriate, and may even have enlisted the services of a local poet to help polish and create verses.
The official histories of the old First Artillery and of the 55th Artillery (1918) also record the Tiger Battalion's role in creating the John Brown Song, confirming the general thrust of Kimball's version with a few additional details.
Kimball's battalion was dispatched to Murray, Kentucky, early in the Civil War, and Julia Ward Howe heard this song during a public review of the troops outside Washington, D.C., on Upton Hill, Virginia. Rufus R. Dawes, then in command of Company “K” of the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, stated in his memoirs that the man who started the singing was Sergeant John Ticknor of his company. Howe's companion at the review, The Reverend James Freeman Clarke, suggested to Howe that she write new words for the fighting men's song. Staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington on the night of November 18, 1861, Howe wrote the verses to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Of the writing of the lyrics, Howe remembered:
I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, “I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.” So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.
Howe's “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was first published on the front page of The Atlantic Monthly of February 1862. The sixth verse written by Howe, which is less commonly sung, was not published at that time. The song was also published as a broadside in 1863 by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments in Philadelphia.
Both “John Brown” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” were published in Father Kemp's Old Folks Concert Tunes in 1874 and reprinted in 1889. Both songs had the same Chorus with an additional “Glory” in the second line: “Glory! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!”
Julia Ward Howe was married to Samuel Gridley Howe, the famed scholar in education of the blind. Samuel and Julia were also active leaders in anti-slavery politics and strong supporters of the Union. Samuel Howe was a member of the Secret Six, the group who funded John Brown's work.
First published version
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, Glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps, They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps; I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps: His day is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel: “As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal”; Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel, Since God is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Since God is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat; Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! While God is marching on.
* Many modern recordings of the Battle Hymn of the Republic use the lyric “As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free” as opposed to the lyric originally written by Julia Ward Howe: “let us die to make men free.” Other versions
Howe's original manuscript differed slightly from the published version. Most significantly, it included a final verse:
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave, He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave, So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave, Our God is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Our God is marching on!
In the 1862 sheet music, the chorus always begins:
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!“
All My Trials (Song)
“All My Trials” is a folk song which became popular during the social protest movements of the late 1950s and 1960s. Alternative titles it has been recorded under include “Bahamian Lullaby” and “All My Sorrows.” The origins of the song are unclear, as it appears to not have been documented in any musicological or historical records (such as the Roud Folk Song Index, Archive of American Folk Song, or an ethnomusicologist's field recordings or notes) until after the first commercial recording was released (as “Bahamian Lullaby”) on Bob Gibson's 1956 debut album Offbeat Folksongs.
In the first commercial release on the 1956 album Offbeat Folksong, Gibson did not mention the history of the song. The next two artists to release it, Cynthia Gooding (as “All My Trials” in 1957) and Billy Faier (as “Bahamian Lullaby” in 1959), both wrote in their albums' liner notes that they each learned the song from Erik Darling. Gooding explained it was “supposed to be a white spiritual that went to the British West Indie] and returned with the lovely rhythm of the Islands,” presumably as told to her by Darling. Faier wrote that he heard Darling sing the song “four or five times in spring 1954,” when Darling would have been performing with his folk group The Tarriers. However, bibliographic folk song indexes, such as the Traditional Ballad Index do not mention the Bahamas as an origin, listing it as unknown.
The Joan Baez Songbook (published 1964; Baez released the song as “All My Trials” in 1960) suggests it began as a pre-Civil War era American Southern gospel song, which was introduced to the Bahamas where it became a lullaby, and was forgotten in the US until it was brought back from the Bahamas and popularized during the roots revival.
One of the song's couplets can be traced back to England, as evidenced by a 1798 gravestone in Tysoe, Warwickshire:
This life is a city of crooked streets, Death is the market-place where all men meet, If life were merchandise that money could buy The rich would live and the poor would die
The song tells the story of a mother on her death bed, comforting her children, “Hush little baby, don't you cry./You know your mama's bound to die,” because, as she explains, “All my trials, Lord,/Soon be over.” The message — that no matter how bleak the situation seemed, the struggle would “soon be over” — propelled the song to the status of an anthem, recorded by many of the leading artists of the era.
The song is usually classified as a Spiritual because of its biblical and religious imagery. There are references to the “Lord”, “a little book” with a message of “liberty”, “brothers”, “religion”, “paradise”, “pilgrims” and the “tree of life” awaiting her after her hardships, referred to as “trials”. There is an allegory of the river Jordan, the crossing thereof representing the Christian experience of death as something which ”…chills the body but not the soul.“ The river/death allegory was popularised by John Bunyan in his classic, The Pilgrim's Progress and the wording echoes the teaching of Jesus, to ”…fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.“ (Matthew 10:28)
The song was recorded numerous times by folk artists, including Harry Belafonte, Bob Gibson, Pete Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, Anita Carter, Joan Baez, The Seekers, Peter, Paul and Mary, Nick and Gabrielle Drake, and The Kelly Family among many others. Pop and rock artists have also released interpretations of the song, including Paul McCartney, Dick and Dee Dee, Ray Stevens, and Cerys Matthews Another version of the song, “All My Sorrows”, was made popular by the Kingston Trio, who recorded it in 1959, followed by The Shadows in 1961 and The Searchers in 1963 on Sugar and Spice
The melody and chord changes were used as the basis of the Brandywine Singers' “Summer's Come and Gone” (Billboard #129, 1963). A fragment of the song is used in the Mickey Newbury anthem “An American Trilogy”, also recorded by Elvis Presley. Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham did his own arrangement of the Kingston Trio's “All My Sorrows” on his 1992 solo album Out of the Cradle.