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[Detail] Let me kiss him for his mother

Historic Commemorations

Songs often provide a means to observe and celebrate important events in a nation's history. For example, a search on the phrase, Bunker Hill, produces accounts of the 1775 battle including two versions of the same song entitled, "Battle of Bunker Hill."

One version of the song is attributed to a British officer on the day after the battle while an 1825 edition describes the historic importance of the conflict:

"'Tis fifty years since on these heights, / The British were repulsed, / By freedom's sons who swore their rights / Should never be insulted."

Meanwhile, the 1843 song, "Bunker-Hill Battle" announces,

"We shall not undertake in verse / To sketch the facts in full, / But merely some few deeds rehearse."

This song chronicles events leading up to the battle such as the Stamp Tax and conflicts with the British at Lexington and Concord.

A search on the term, birthday, produces a song celebrating the 133rd anniversary of Thomas Paine's birthday and works commemorating George Washington's birthday in both 1815 and 1864.

May war's discordant, dismal notes
Assail our ear no more.
Propitious Heaven has now decreed,
That war and discord cease,
Angels fly
Down the sky,
To bring the news of Peace,

From "On Washington's Birthday (1815)."

Burst the fetters of oppression,
Let our land in truth be free,
And no longer Slavery's curse
Blast the land of Liberty.
On to victory! brothers, on!
Shout the name of Washington.

From "Ode on Washington's Birthday (1864)."

For additional examples, search on the names of specific historical events or figures.

  • Why do you think that people celebrated these specific events and figures?
  • What types of images appear in these songs to create excitement about the past?
  • What is the prevalent attitude in the songs describing the Battle of Bunker Hill?
  • What is transpiring in the nation in both 1815 and 1864?
  • Why do you think that Washington was an important figure to invoke during these times?
  • How do these songs use historic events to discuss contemporary issues?
  • Is there a modern-day equivalent to song sheets that plays the same role in commemorating past events?