QUESTION #1: The lionization of George Washington in song and music after the American Revolution and during the early and middle years of the Federal period when Washington was President range from what are known as Washington’s Marches which were played during military ceremonies and to commemorate Washington’s victory at the Battle of Trenton; some of these marches were also played celebrate Washington’s election as the first US President.
There were also musical pieces and compositions that lionized or idolized Washington as President and as a great American military leader and general. For example, in 1786, a piece called “New Song” published in the Philadelphia Continental Journal glorified Washington and his role in the Revolution; another called “Ode on the Birthday of his Excellency George Washington” celebrated his birthday; and William Selby’s “Ode in Honour of General Washington” celebrated his Presidency and heroism during the Revolution.
In addition, there were various songs that celebrated President Washington’s Inaugural Tour of 1789, such as the “President’s March” which was played at his inauguration ceremony at Federal Hall in New York City, and the “Ode for American Independence” on July 4, 1789 which contains verses that lionizes Washington as the American hero from Mount Vernon, his landed estate in Virginia.
QUESTION #2: The use of nostalgia or memories of things that are long past and which remain cherished in the mind for many years, dates back to the earliest American songs, ballads, odes, and other popular musical pieces and compositions.
One of the first of these nostalgic musical compositions was “The Girl I Left Behind Me” by Henry Carey, composed circa 1760 and which tells the story of the proverbial girl left behind after the narrator enlists in the army. One of the most popular composers of nostalgic songs and ballads was John Hill Hewitt with such pieces as “Ah! Fondly I Remember” of 1837 and “Wilt Thou Think of Me?” of 1836, both of which contain melodic lines dedicated to things of the past, such as a special personal event in one’s life or someone from the distant past (i.e., an “old flame”) who still conjures up nostalgic thoughts in the mind.
Obviously, the use of nostalgia in popular songs appealed to a broad range of listeners, musicians, and music publishers which helped to increase sales of sheet music and the popularity of concerts featuring songs filled with memories of the past, such as songs dedicated to the memory of George Washington.
QUESTION #3: Most popular American songs were written after the War of 1812 with the exception of the national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key in 1814. By 1825, American popular songs and ballads has blossomed into a distinctive category of music, helped along by the songs of John Hill Hewitt and especially “The Minstrel’s Return’d From the War” which references a minstrel returning from battle during the War of 1812 and then called to war again in which he is killed on the battlefield. Other Hewitt favorites included war anthems and ballads like “O! Soon Return” in 1829 and “The Soldier’s Farewell” in 1831.
As a sentimental piece filled with nostalgia, “The Minstrel’s Return’d From the War” inspired other American composers like Stephen Foster who between 1850 and 1851 composed more than fifteen songs that greatly appealed to American sentimentalities. Some of Foster’s most popular songs at this time included “Old Folks at Home” and especially “My Old Kentucky Home” with its lilting melody that appealed to listeners in the Deep South during a time when human slavery was being hotly debated.
At the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, other composers and songsters had emerged on the scene, such as Claudio Grafulla with his “Washington Greys” in 1861 which celebrated the New York State militia; Bertrand Hoffacker with his “Anderson March,” dedicated to Major Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter; and George F. Root with popular wartime songs like “Battle Cry for Freedom,” “Just Before the Battle,” and “Just After the Battle.”