music: George R. Poulton, lyrics: W. W.
Arr: Ruth Randle & Merv
The ballad of Aura Lea, with its poetic lyrics and wistful melody about
the "Maid with Golden Hair" is found in most books of
American folk songs. It may be surprising to learn that
it originated as a Civil War song, published in
Cincinnati, Ohio in 1861 , with the title, Aura Lea. The composer was George R. Poulton, with lyrics by W. W. Fosdick.
Few have heard most
of these lyrics today. It was initially written in a 2/4 march tempo, with repetitive musical cadence as accompaniment. It was copied by the Confederacy in 1864, using the same lyrics with a revised accompaniment that included four-part choral harmony.
The nostalgic appeal of Aura Lee persisted long after the Civil War ended, and America gradually acquired a new folk song. In folk tradition,
the lyrics changed somewhat over the years - for
example, in verse 1, the blackbird was sometimes "in"
or "on", but often "'neath" the willow tree. Sometimes he "rocked",
sometimes "piped" as he sang. The tempo gradually slowed
to a more romantic ballad style. The original version
also had a chorus, which repeated the last lines of the
first verse. I have included that in this arrangement. The sheet music can be found in a search of
the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection.
This beautiful melody was
later adapted for a song called Army Blue, and
was chosen as the official song of the U.S. Military
Academy/West Point Class
of 1865.Traditionally played for Graduating Class
Front and Center, March, when the West Point First
Class steps out of ranks for the final time as cadets;
it is also played as the last dance at all hops. The
first six stanzas were written by L.W. Becklaw. The Army
Blue lyrics can be found in the West Point link below.
And of course, this same melody was
adapted for Elvis Presley's song, Love Me Tender.
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