18th Century, anon [Brass Band Journal, 1854]
So much has been written, speculating on the origins of this song that attempts to trace its source are futile. Critically, the tune is weak and the lyrics pathetic -- just the kind of song a soldier could love! Originally intended as an insult to the Continental Army, the tune was picked up and sung with gusto by the colonists that its words became a sort of “in your face” gesture towards the British invaders. It became a unifying thread among soldiers for the newly United States and a bond of solidarity for Union (and Confederate) soldiers with their forefathers. This was one of only two tunes Gen. U.S. Grant said he knew. The other wasn't.
Yankee Doodle w/ Variations
Richard Willis [piano, ca. 1820]
Shortly after Richard Willis came to America, from Ireland, his talents were rewarded with a commission to be Director of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He held the position from 1817 to 1830. Being a bugle virtuoso, Willis composed the variations to feature the newly introduced “keyed,” or Kent bugle. Invented in 1810 by another Irishman, Joseph Haliday, the keyed bugle was basically a standard instrument with holes along its tubing and padded keys, similar to those found on woodwind instruments, which were hinged so that by pressing a key, the pad would rise allowing the tone to escape from a shorter length of pipe. This is the same principle as all woodwind instruments. The tone of the instrument changes dramatically as more of the chamber is used. For this reason, it was not accepted into the orchestra. Different makers installed as few as 5 to as many as 12 keys onto the bugle's frame. Because of the lack of standardization and the obvious manipulation skills required, the instrument was abandoned when Friedrich Blühmel’s invention of rotary valves (1828) proved to be easier to play and maintain. Many masters of the instrument, who were not impressed, continued to perform on the bugles. One of the most widely known virtuosos was Francis Johnson.
The Yellow Rose of Texas
1858, J. K. [piano: Wm. A. Pond & Co.]
The yellow rose was a mulatto indentured servant, named Emily D. West, who kept Mexican General Santa Anna “occupied” so as to allow Sam Houston’s Texans to slip up and defeat the Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto. This minstrel song was apparently written in response to other songs about girls from different states such as Arkansas Kate and Belle ob Tenisee; however, unlike the others, Rose was not written in the burnt cork dialect. The only reference to the latter is the use of “darkie” when referring to the singer. When Southern soldiers sang this, the word “soldier” or fellow would likely be substituted. Several parodies exist but the most famous was sung in reference to Gen. John Bell Hood of Texas and his disastrous Tennessee campaign of 1864. The identity of J.K. is an enigma. Pure speculation might suggest Joseph Kelp, Joseph K. Emmett (1840-1891), Joseph Philip Knight (1812 – 1887) (Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep). With new words by Mrs. M.J. Young it became The Song of the Texas Rangers.