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Songs From The Tall Grass 19
While much has been done to revive the musical traditions of Appalachia, the Eastern seaboard, the Ozarks, and the South, little has been written about the songs that were sung in the dirt soddies, prairie schoolhouses, at barn socials, and the two-room homesteads on the Great American prairie in the 1800s. Back then, singing schools and singing conventions dotted the landscape. Unsung heroes like C. E. Leslie and Ransom Randall traveled by buggy from town-to-town, teaching homesteaders how to read music and how to sing out. The tools of their trade were songbooks written specifically for this purpose. Providing a rich assortment of original songs about prairie life and the ideals these pioneers held dear, these songbooks offer remarkable insight into homestead character and daily life. Organizations like The Grange (The National Order of Patrons of Husbandry) printed their own songbooks and Grange meetings traditionally opened and closed with a song. Collectively, these varied treasures represent a remarkable musical tradition. Songs From The Tall Grass reaches deep into this past and weaves them into a tale that personifies and honors the homestead experience.The lyrics in Songs From The Tall Grass are based on words from these songbooks.

Music and additional lyrics written by Randy Hale. Once Was A Pioneer lyrics by Adryan Russ and Randy Hale. Band and choral arrangements by Randy Hale and David Pinto.

All songs R.W. Halesong Music (BMI). Text End

Songs From The Tall Grass 12

Home on the Prairie

Lyrics by C.E. Leslie, circa 1882; Music and additional lyrics by Randy Hale.
In his book, Leslie's Challenge, C.E. Leslie describes this song as, "A good picnic glee." A remarkable man, during the latter part of the 19th century, Leslie wrote and produced songbooks and hosted concerts and singing conventions throughout the Midwest. In the summer of 1881, Leslie, his wife and twenty-eight assistants spent fourteen weeks training singers in seventy-three towns for a performance at the "Kansas State Musical Jubilee." On the night of August 1st, the choir, consisting of 1,800 sopranos, 1,600 altos, 1,200 tenors and 1,400 basses, gathered together for the first time and performed for a sell-out crowd. Hailed in the local papers as "...the grandest exhibition of music in the history of Kansas!" Leslie's genius left a distinctive mark on the flavor and quality of music on the prairie. Text End

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Colorado Trail

In its economy of words, you can hear the loneliness and sorrow of the wide, open prairie. Text End

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Lane County Bachelor

Lyrics by Frank Baker, circa 1850; Music and additional lyrics by Randy Hale based on "The Irish Washerwoman."
Homestead life was hard for a bachelor as evidenced in an entry in the Freemen's Champion, August 13, 1857. "We learn that at the land Sales at Osawkee unmarried men were obliged to pay 25 cents per acre more for land than married men. In behalf of this unfortunate class of individuals we strongly protest against this outrageous proceeding. In the states, where girls are plenty, we would shout "Amen!" to all such operations; but here, where "ribs" are So scarce that nearly all our bachelors are made So from necessity, owing to their inability to obtain the article, we do think this taxation levied upon them entirely unjust and tyrannical." Text End

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Neighbors were an essential part of surviving on the prairie and trade of food and services was an everyday occurrence in homestead economy. If you didn't share what you had, you were considered worthless, and as the song implies, just might be left to fend for yourself. Text End

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Hazel Dell

Music and lyrics by George Root, circa 1855
In her beautiful journal, Molly Dorsey Sanford wrote about her family's arrive at their homestead in Nebraska Territory in 1857."The sunrise was glorious! The trees full of singing birds ringing out a welcome. Soft zephyrs floated o'er us, bright flowers gave out their perfume, and all nature was glad. Father had named the place 'Hazel Dell', and we christened it by singing that sweet song. And such a chorus as went up from those lumbering wagons! Birds stopped their carols to listen, and festive chipmunks flew from their hiding places, bewildered with the noise. And when we reached the cabin joyful hurrahs! resounded long and loud." Text End

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I Love Thee

Music by Vinnie Ream; Lyrics by John Rollin Ridge, circa 1860; Interlude music by Randy Hale.
John Rollin Ridge was a Cherokee poet. Vinnie Ream was a young girl who lived on the Oklahoma Territory. When she moved back to Washington DC with her family, Ridge wrote her a love poem. Vinnie put his words to music. A remarkable young woman, Vinnie became a sculpture and was the first woman artist to ever be commissioned by Congress. Her statue of Abraham Lincoln stands in the Capital Rotunda, today. Text End

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Fret & Growl

Lyrics by James Henry, circa 1879; Music and additional lyrics by Randy Hale.
We found more than one song that offered advice about frettin' over things you have no control over. A common theme among the hearty homesteaders, crying over spilt milk or complaining about things gone wrong just wasn't their style. Text End

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Boll Weevil

In the late 1800s, settlers weren't the only ones to rush into the new territories. A little black bug called the boll weevil made its way across the Rio Grande from Mexico and into Texas. Dubbed the most costly insect in the history of American agriculture, the hungry boll weevil got a song all its own. Text End

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Be Kind To The Loved Ones

Lyrics by I.B. Woodbury, circa 1906; Music and additional lyrics by Randy Hale.
A hundred years ago, singing was the centerpiece of family entertainment and neighbors and friends were always welcome. Many songs focused on honor and respect for family life. Text End

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Do Not Mortgage The Farm

Song lyrics by E. R. Latta and Jas. L. Orr, circa 1891; Spoken lyrics by Will Carelton, circa 1891; Music and additional lyrics by Randy Hale.
At the turn of the century, banks and railroads inflated the costs of shipping grain back East, causing ruin for many homesteaders. This song combines the lyrics from a song called Do Not Mortgage The Farm and a poem by Will Carleton But The Mortgage Worked The Hardest read at Farmers' Alliance meetings. Together, they capture all the sorrow and the loss. Text End

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Once Was A Pioneer

Lyrics by Adryan Russ and Randy Hale; Music by Randy Hale, circa 1998.
Three sets of Randy's great grandparents made the last great land rush of 1892 into Oklahoma Territory. This song is dedicated to them and the thousands of men, women and children who made the run that day. Text End

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Busy Children

Children of all ages worked very hard on the prairie, and glorifying their chores was one way to encourage them. Text End

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Brave Old Plow

Lyrics by C.A. Hall, circa 1872; Music by Randy Hale.
We found this in a gem of a songbook called, Songs For The Grange Set To Music and Dedicated To the Order of Patrons of Husbandry In the United States. This beautiful collection of songs honors the things that were truly important in a farmer's life. Text End

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Put My Little Shoes Away

Traditional; Music by Randy Hale as suggested by a traditional theme.
Infant mortality rates cast a dark shadow over prairie life and many of the most beautiful songs we found dealt with death. This one comes from O.B. Campbell who was editor of the Daily Journal in Vinita, Oklahoma from 1935 to 1969 and founder of the Eastern Trails Museum. An award-winning journalist and avid historian and music lover, O.B. gathered many songs during his lifetime. His son, John Campbell, graciously sent us a tape of O.B. singing some of his favorites...many of which we had never heard before. This is one of O.B.'s songs. With many thanks to John Campbell. Text End

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Home On The Range

Music and lyrics by Dr. Bruce Higley and Daniel E. Kelley, circa 1872
As far as anyone can tell, this popular song was passed along from farmer to cowboy to homesteader for more than fifty years before ever being published. The night FDR was first elected President, he told a group of reporters it was his favorite song. Overnight, it became a hit and was recorded by a variety of artists. Out of the blue, dozens of people claimed authorship. In order to settle the royalty disputes, the Music Publishers Protective Association sent Samuel Moanfeldt, a New York lawyer, through every state West of the Mississippi to track down the origins of the words and music. It took Moanfeldt three months and hundreds of interviews to discover that two homesteaders from Kansas had written the tune sixty years earlier. Many of the original verses still remain obscure. Text End

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Stay On The Farm

Lyrics by Jas. L. Orr, circa 1891; Music and additional lyrics by Randy Hale.
As early as the 1890s, the lure of the city was endangering the continuity and safekeeping of the homestead farm. This song comes from a book called Grange Melodies, and as far as we can tell, it is the second in a series of songbooks published by The Grange. The Grange was formed in 1867 to organize farmers whose lives were devastated by the Civil War and recognized the importance of the farm and the power of strong family life. It soon became the voice of reason, respect and encouragement for the American farmer, and often still is today. Text End

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Prairie Lullaby

Lyrics and Music by Randy Hale.
Randy's homage to the prairie babies who grew up strong in the West. Text End

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Hand That Rocks The Cradle

Lyrics by W.R. Wallace, circa 1891; Music and additional lyrics by Randy Hale.
The Grange was the first organization in America to give women the right to vote. These beautiful lyrics are from a Grange songbook and give women the credit they truly deserved. Text End

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A Hundred Years From Now

Lyrics by E. Spencer and R. H. Randall, circa 1899; Music and additional lyrics by Randy Hale.
We found the lyrics to this amazing song in a small archive in Wellington, Kansas. It is from Sharps and Flats by Ranson H. Randall. One can only imagine what the writers would think of the world today. Text End

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“Hale handles the traditional songs with extraordinary care.”
- Senior Beacon