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Singing for Freedom

Singing for Freedom: The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Reform

Scott Gac
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Singing for Freedom
    Book Description:

    In the two decades prior to the Civil War, the Hutchinson Family Singers of New Hampshire became America's most popular musical act. Out of a Baptist revival upbringing, John, Asa, Judson, and Abby Hutchinson transformed themselves in the 1840s into national icons, taking up the reform issues of their age and singing out especially for temperance and antislavery reform. This engaging book is the first to tell the full story of the Hutchinsons, how they contributed to the transformation of American culture, and how they originated the marketable American protest song.

    Through concerts, writings, sheet music publications, and books of lyrics, the Hutchinson Family Singers established a new space for civic action, a place at the intersection of culture, reform, religion, and politics. The book documents the Hutchinsons' impact on abolition and other reform projects and offers an original conception of the rising importance of popular culture in antebellum America.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13836-8
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Prelude
    (pp. 1-18)

    The stagecoach nearly flipped, throwing the cello from the rooftop luggage rack. No one inside was hurt. The instrument lay on the ground, cracked. In all their years of concertizing, the Hutchinson Family Singers had luckily avoided the personal injury that often troubled rail, road, and steamship travelers. This particular September accident claimed the group’s sacrificial lamb, Asa’s bass viol (which they also called a cello). Its wooden body, pockmarked from thousands of miles of musical journeying, again needed patching and gluing. After nearly a decade of performing, a driver’s unusually sharp turn reaf-firmed the utility of Asa, John, and...

  5. Part First
    (pp. 19-68)

    In 1890 only John and Abby remained. The two had survived their siblings and many of their reform-minded friends. At sixty-nine and sixty-one years old, John and Abby continued to sing and otherwise advocate for a variety of reforms, especially civil rights, temperance, and women’s rights. As part of the antislavery vanguard, they took part in countless events celebrating the role of abolitionists in ending slavery, occasions which in the closing decade of the nineteenth century lacked conviction. The emancipation of nearly four million slaves finalized by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 was a highlight in the lives of reformers,...

  6. Part Second
    (pp. 69-103)

    At the dawn of the nineteenth century, the United States —situated on the eastern edge of North America—bound together an island of sixteen territories surrounded by water, antagonistic natives, and foreign possessions. American foreign policy reflected this volatile mixture and, soon, the country would again battle the British, who, this time, set fire to the White House. The nation’s precarious place within the global context paralleled its internal divides. An unwelcome factionalization had already replaced the unity of the Revolution, ensuring that the Constitution would remain “a doubtful experiment” for the near future. Three times in the first two...

  7. Intermission (Bridge to Part Third)
    (pp. 104-123)

    If you had attended the annual convention of New Hampshire Baptists in 1829, you would have heard the bad news. “So far as we can learn the tone of religious feeling in our churches,” announced the committee charged with gauging religiosity, “it is generally low. No extensive revivals have been experienced during the past year.” Separating church from state during the nation’s establishment had slowly unraveled the tax-based support of New England religious institutions and replaced it with congregation-driven financial backing; in the first decades of the nineteenth century, revivals—with the new adherents they attracted—would become the lifeblood...

  8. Part Third
    (pp. 124-164)

    This chapter is about music—a fall concert; the first steps toward a career in entertainment; the search for an identity—and also about reform, burgeoning fame, and, again, some music: sheet music and some of the group’s most popular songs of 1843.

    To start, the fall concert: 6 November 1840, a Friday event, the start of what is later claimed to be more than twelve thousand shows given by the Hutchinsons. The Milford citizen and lawyer Solomon K. Livermore spoke on the merits of music to begin the evening. Jesse Hutchinson—“the father,” according to the reviewer for the...

  9. Part Fourth
    (pp. 165-205)

    Though the Hutchinson Family Singers feared a small turnout on 3 January 1844, they knew before showtime that their “antislavery friend” James Miller McKim—a Garrisonian abolitionist—had sold nearly enough tickets to cover their expenses. To the Hutchinsons’ surprise, the two or three hundred Philadelphians who showed at the group’s performance proved an excitable bunch; Asa called them “one of the most enthusiastic audience ever I saw.” About 150 swarmed the singers after the show, and the next day thePublic Ledgerreported that “their performances are something in the style of the Rainers; but the Hutchinsons have greater...

  10. Finale
    (pp. 206-248)

    “We left Boston Saturday afternoon, August 15, leaving friends all well,” wrote Asa. “We sang a song at parting in the time of ‘Cranbambuli’ in which we bid farewell to New England and expressed a hope that we should have a safe passage in the ‘Great Cambria’ to the Mother Country.” Eager to test their talents abroad, the Hutchinson Family Singers quit the personal comfort and professional security of the United States to tour England and Ireland in 1845. Joining the likes of bugler Frank Johnson and minstrel man Thomas Dartmouth Rice, the Hutchinson troupe was about to enter a...

  11. Appendix: Lyrics to Select Hutchinson Family Singers Songs
    (pp. 249-256)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 257-300)
  13. Index
    (pp. 301-312)