About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 25 times over and a great-grandmother of 19. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega with Genealogy Journeys where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that can be found at http://genaandjean.blogspot.com and more about my own business projects is on my Circlemending website.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Songs and Their Back-Stories

I have entered into an agreement to begin a new music series on songs and ancestors: "Songs of Yesterday." This will be printed in the on-line e-publication, GenWeekly. The first 2 (one in Nov., one in Dec.) will address a couple of Christmas songs and their history. I just finished writing the one for Nov. on "Good King Wenceslaus" and I will get the one for Dec., on "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," "in the can" sometime in the next couple of weeks. These will be followed, in 2010, by discussions of other songs and, as I understand it, accompanied by MP3 recordings from my CDs. I am very excited about this as it is a project that I have dabbled in for most of my life (seriously, dating back to my earliest experiences with music when I was a pre-teen; I would go to the library to research the histories of songs while flunking my history classes in school . . . go figure). Now I get to do this for an audience! And it's also exciting to find that others are interested in the "back stories" behind some of these songs.

Speaking of "back stories," I had a fun experience this past week doing a podcast with Susan E. King where we discussed the use of songs to connect to each other, both as individuals and as cultures. This is certainly an aspect of the backgrounds behind the songs that we often sing without realizing what emotions and experiences went into the creations. When I wrote the song about my father being a ham radio operator for an archaelogical research project in 1928, but where he was really the communications expert for a bootlegging operation, I knew the little "sidebars" my father had told me, but they couldn't be included in the song, both for lack of time/space in the song and because of the many details involved. When I sing the song live, I can include, in my introduction, the interesting "additions" to the story the song tells, but when people hear just the song, they miss a great deal.

The songs of bygone eras are not any different. We get a few short verses that tell about an event, but all the details leading up to that event are usually left out. Or we hear about an emotional reaction to a particular experience, but "the rest of the story" is usually omitted. What happened before the song was written to inspire the author? What happened after the events of the song occurred? Did they live happily ever after? Were people punished for wrong-doings mentioned in the song? These are the things I look forward to discussing in this series of articles for GenWeekly and I hope that some of my blog readers will consider subscribing (for that and the many other valuable genealogical articles that are produced weekly).

Now that I have advertised for this genealogy resource, let me address one of the songs that I have pondered about, especially this week after viewing a History Channel special on the Search for Jesse James (both his treasure and his alleged identity). There are those who believe that Jesse James was not killed by Robert Ford after all. I'm not going to debate this (though I will admit that the evidence is quite compelling), but I find that my musician self has a big problem: I love the song "Jesse James," in which the chorus states "Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life, three children they were brave, but that dirty little coward, who shot down Mr. Howard, has went and laid poor Jesse in his grave." An alternate chorus (the one I prefer) says, "Oh, I wonder where my poor old Jesse's gone, I wonder where my poor old Jesse's gone; I will meet him in that land where I've never been before, and I wonder where my poor old Jesse's gone." Both of these do not allow for the possibility that Bob Ford "missed" or that the death was staged. Do we need a new song now? Or was the song part of the conspiracy to convince the world that Jesse had been killed? So many questions. Maybe it's time for a new verse . . . any takers? Oh, OK, I'll add that to my "to do" list!

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