Happy Land
Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder

$10.00

The Songs

What They Are Saying

Liner Notes

Lyrics

Download Hi Res Image

 

LINER NOTES       

           This recording pays tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) for her efforts to illuminate, explain, and capture the place that music-making once occupied in the family life of ordinary Americans.  Embedded in her classic series of eight Little House books are references to 127 songs and tunes.  There are parlor songs, stage songs, minstrel show songs, patriotic songs, Scottish and Irish songs, hymns, spirituals, fiddle tunes, singing school songs, play party songs, folk songs, a Child ballad, broadside ballads, Christmas songs, catches and rounds, and references to “cowboy songs” and “Osage war dances.”  Throughout, the guiding musical spirit is Wilder’s father, Charles Ingalls (1835-1902), who missed few opportunities to sing and play his fiddle.  And it’s “Pa’s fiddle,” carefully wrapped, stowed in its fiddle-box, and cushioned by pillows, that accompanies the Ingalls family through all its adventures and comes to symbolize the endurance of the family unit in an often wild and threatening frontier world.  Indeed, Wilder wrote to her publisher that “(t)here is one thing that will always remain the same to remind people of little Laura’s days on the prairie, and that is Pa’s fiddle.” 
            There may be no books in American literature of comparable standing and popularity where America’s music is so central to the themes, assumes such a major narrative role, and is found in such rich abundance.  If Laura Ingalls Wilder penned what have become the books that best express “The Great American Family,” then the music she referred to in those books has become an important part of that mythology too.  This recording is an effort to give new voice and sound to music that has lain silent on the page for far too long.  For as Wilder herself wrote, “if you want the spirit of these times, you should [hear] these old songs.” 

1.         The Girl I Left Behind Me (Jep Bisbee)   0:37
2.         The Girl I Left Behind Me (Pat Enright)   2:48
3.         Sweet By and By (Andrea Zonn)   3:28
4.         The Blue Juniata (Riders in the Sky)   2:04 
5.         Oh! Susanna (Keith Little)   2:24
6.         Roll the Old Chariot Along (The Princely Players)   4:07
7.         Highland Mary (Deborah Packard)   3:17
8.         Arkansas Traveler/Devil’s Dream (Pa’s Fiddle Band)   2:25
9.         Captain Jinks (Riders in the Sky)   3:13
10.       Oft in the Stilly Night (Deborah Packard & John Mock)   2:37
11.       The Big Sunflower (Douglas B Green)   2:47
12.       Happy Land (Peggy Duncan Singers & Pa’s Fiddle Band)   2:30  
13.       Barbara Allen (Deborah Packard)   5:23
14.       Nelly Was a Lady (Dave Olney)   3:45
15.       Uncle Sam’s Farm (Douglas B. Green)   3:21
16.       Promised Land (Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp Singers)   0:39
17.       On Jordan’s Stormy Banks (Walnut Grove Church)   2:35
18.       Bonus Track:  The Devil’s Dream (Jep Bisbee)   3:03

Produced by Butch Baldassari and Dale Cockrell
Mixed at Signal Path Studio by Mark Howard, Nashville, Tenn.
Mastered at Foxwood Mastering & Editing by David Shipley, Nashville, Tenn.
Graphic Art Design:  Celeste Krenz
Cover Art:  Kit Swaggert

Also available:
The Happy Land Companion (a songbook edition of the music to this CD)

Catalog Number:  PFR 0167-2

Copyright  © 2005 Cackle and Splash Music, BMI. 

The Girl I Left Behind Me

            Pa Ingalls died before a recording could be made of his fiddle playing.  The closest we might be able to come to recapturing his “old-time” sound is to be heard on the recordings made by Jasper E. “Jep” Bisbee.  Bisbee was born eight years after Pa (in 1843) and about fifty miles from Ingalls’ birthplace in upstate New York.  Like Pa, Bisbee moved west as a boy, settling eventually in Michigan.  (Pa moved to Illinois, then on to Wisconsin.)  There Bisbee acquired a local reputation as a fine fiddler, again retracing Pa’s history.  Unlike Pa, Bisbee at age eighty was “discovered” by Henry Ford, who sent him to Thomas Edison in 1923 to make recordings of his playing.  Two of his songs are included on this recording, both accompanied on the piano by his daughter. 
            “The Girl I Left Behind Me” is a tune that dates back to the early 19th century.  Although often performed as an instrumental piece (as in Bisbee’s performance here), words have long been sung to the tune as well.  One such version spoke of experiences on cattle runs out West.  Since the Ingalls family settled on what was then the western frontier, it is not surprising that On the Banks of Plum Creek refers to this “cowboy” version of the song.

Fiddle tune version:  Jasper Bisbee – fiddle; Beulah Bisbee-Schuler – piano

Recorded 23 November 1923; Edison Company Studio, West Orange, New Jersey; transcription courtesy of Edison National Historic Site, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior.  The performance on this recording is edited from a longer medley of tunes, also titled “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”

Song version:  Pat Enright – vocal, guitar; Butch Baldassari – mandolin; Joe Caverlee – fiddle; Byron House – bass

Recorded 15 March 2005; Signal Path Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; Mark Howard, engineer

Sweet By and By

            This much-loved hymn was composed by Joseph Philbrick Webster (1819-75) in 1867, set to words penned by his friend Sanford Fillmore Bennett (1836-1898).  It was apparently written quickly and on the spot, inspired by an offhand remark by Webster.  Published the next year, it soon gained wide favor.  Although there is only one reference to the hymn in Wilder’s books (in The Long Winter), she wrote in her unpublished memoir (titled “Pioneer Girl”) that Pa “loved to play the hymns we had sung in the little church at Walnut Grove” in Minnesota (the setting for On the Banks of Plum Creek), “but of all, ‘The Sweet By and By’ was his favorite.  (So much that it was sung at his funeral).”

Andrea Zonn – vocal lead; Peggy Stewart Duncan, Mark Powelson, Jane Sherberg, Jon Sherberg – harmony vocals; Butch Baldassari – mandolin; Joe Caverlee – fiddle; Pat Enright – guitar; Byron House – bass; Mark Howard – guitar, high-strung guitar

Recorded 15, 29 March 2005; Signal Path Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; Mark Howard, engineer

The Blue Juniata

            Marion Dix Sullivan composed the lyrics and melody to “The Blue Juniata,” which was then arranged by Edward L. White and published in 1844.  The song appeared during a time when many Americans were becoming more concerned about the plight of the American Indian, as its sympathetic narrative suggests.  The song’s placement in Little House on the Prairie points up the moral dilemma.  In a dramatic chapter, Ma and her daughters manage to hold off two Osage men who were attempting to steal the family’s cache of furs, virtually their entire capital.  (In an ironic parallel, the Ingalls family was then, in 1870, living on land that was officially “Indian territory,” virtually all that still “belonged” to a whole nation of people.)  As the Ingalls children prepare for bed, they hear “The Blue Juniata,” a deeply poignant song about loss.  Laura, who is clearly moved by the sympathetic portrayal of the “Indian girl, bright Alfarata,” wonders, “Where did the voice of Alfarata go, Ma?”  She is told that Alfarata probably went west because that is what “the government makes [the Indians do].”  She asks if the Osage will have to go west.  “Yes,” Pa said.  “When white settlers come into a country, the Indians have to move on.”  “But, Pa, I thought this was Indian Territory.  Won’t it make the Indians mad to have to—”  “No more questions, Laura,” Pa said, firmly.  “Go to sleep.”  And the chapter ends, but the question, underscored by the song, lingers.

Riders in the Sky:  Ranger Doug – lead vocal, guitar; Too Slim – bunkhouse bass; Woody Paul – fiddle; Joey the Cowpolka King – accordion

Recorded 7 February 2005; Signal Path Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; Mark Howard, engineer
 
Oh! Susanna

            Stephen Foster (1826-64) wrote “Oh! Susanna” in 1847, the first in a string of unforgettable songs by America’s greatest songwriter.  Foster’s gift was that he could write a melody that sounded so natural and easy that it seemed not to have been composed at all, but just revealed.  Indeed, many of his best songs have become “folk songs,” in the best sense of that term.  “Oh!  Susanna,” with its upbeat, optimistic tune and zany, fun-loving lyrics, immediately swept the country and soon people were making up new verses to express their own topsy-turvy lives.  The song was especially favored by those who rushed to the California goldfields in 1849.  The text sung here, which has words and images in common with references to the song in Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and On the Banks of Plum Creek, is “the company song” of the Eliza, a ship from Salem, Massachusetts that carried miners and supplies to California.

Keith Little – vocal, guitar; John Balch – banjo; Butch Baldassari – mandolin; Casey Driessen – fiddle

Recorded 3 June 2002; Atlantis Recording Studio, Hendersonville, Tenn.; Voytek Kochanek, engineer

Roll the Old Chariot Along

            Sailors for centuries often chanted a special sort of rhythmic song that eased them in their heavy labors, a form called the “sea shanty.”  One such shanty was called “Nelson’s Blood,” with a verse consisting of three repeated lines of “Oh, a drop of Nelson’s blood wouldn’t do us any harm,” followed by “And we’ll all hang on behind”; the refrain was:  “So we’ll roll the old chariot along [3x], And we’ll all hang on behind!”  Many sailors in the 19th century were black, which might help explain how this shanty got dressed up as a religious spiritual (as performed here) and moved into a church setting; . . . Or it could have just as well started in the church and found double duty onboard ship!  In Wilder’s The Long Winter the song appears in yet another guise, as a worksong (closely related to the shanty).  Here Pa and his neighbors propel a railroad handcar along to the rhythms of:  “We’ll ROLL the O-old CHARiot aLONG [3x], and we WON’T drag ON beHIND!”

The Princely Players:  James Brown, bass; Shirley Cody, alto; Jacqueline Elston, soprano; Gloria Ransom, soprano; Calvin Settles*, tenor and starter; Odessa Settles, tenor & alto; Nita Smith, alto; Robert Smith, baritone and caller

*appears by permission of Settles Connection

Recorded 27 February 2005;  New England Sound, Nashville, Tenn.; John Mock, engineer

Highland Mary

            Robert Burns (1759-96), the “National Bard of Scotland,” wrote this song in 1792.  “Highland” Mary was a real person to whom Burns had been briefly engaged some six years before.  Mary Campbell died suddenly after their engagement though, a tragic loss whose only gain was the inspiration for this song.  Burns “heard” poetry as set to music, in this case to the melody of a Scottish folksong, “Katherine Ogie.”  He sent the song to London publisher George Thomson in November 1792, who published it in a piano arrangement in the Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs.  This song and many others by Burns were enormously popular in 19th-century America, especially to those of Scottish descent.  Such a person was Caroline Quiner “Ma” Ingalls, who must have instilled her love for this music in her daughters, primary among them Mary, the eldest.  Given the song’s namesake, it should not surprise that this was known to the family as “Mary’s song” (These Happen Golden Years; the song also appears in By the Shores of Silver Lake).

Deborah Packard – vocal; Casey Driessen – fiddle; Karen Krieger – piano; John Mock – guitar, penny whistle
 
Recorded 3 June 2002; Atlantis Recording Studio, Hendersonville, Tenn.; Voytek Kochanek, engineer

The Arkansas Traveler/The Devil’s Dream

These old fiddle tunes were obvious favorites of Pa Ingalls and his daughter Laura, for they show up several times in her books.  Both “The Arkansas Traveler” and “The Devil’s Dream” first appear in the historical record in the 19th century.  These tunes, like many hundreds of others, functioned primarily for social entertainment and dancing.  Like most such fiddle tunes, each tune typically has an opening strain (A) that is repeated; a second strain (B) that is also repeated; and then a repeat of the whole process (AABB) until the dancers and/or the fiddlers are happily exhausted.

John Balch – banjo; Butch Baldassari – mandolin; Casey Driessen – fiddle; Keith Little – guitar

Recorded 3 June 2002; Atlantis Recording Studio, Hendersonville, Tenn.; Voytek Kochanek, engineer

Captain Jinks

            This comic song, full of “high jinks” (an expression traceable to this music),  was written by Englishman William Lingard in 1868 and set to music by T. Maclagan.  The song quickly quickly made its way across the Atlantic (as did Lingard, as well!), where it became quite the rage.  It even spawned other perspectives on the Captain, one of the most famous being that of his wife, “Mistress Jinks of Madison Square” (the stage performance of which was always an occasion for large, awkward, male singer-comedians to appear in delicate and extravagant ladies’ dress).
            Pa obviously enjoyed this toe-tapper of a song, for it appears in Little House in the Big Woods, On the Banks of Plum Creek, and By the Shores of Silver Lake, where “Mistress Jinks” also makes an appearance.  

Riders in the Sky:  Side Meat – vocal; Too Slim – bunkhouse bass, vocal; Ranger Doug – guitar, vocal; Woody Paul – fiddle, vocal; Joey the Cowpolka King – accordion, vocal

Recorded 7 February 2005; Signal Path Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; Mark Howard, engineer

Oft in the Stilly Night

            Thomas Moore (1779-1852), a beloved Irish poet, published this song in 1818, with an arrangement by John Stevenson.  Following after the example of Robert Burns he conceived the text to fit a folksong identified only as a “Scotch air.”  It gained wide popularity in 19th-century America, including the special favor of Abraham Lincoln.  One source at the end of the century claimed that “Oft in the Stilly Night” was second only to “Home, Sweet Home” on the list of the century’s most popular songs. 
            This song is among those in a songfest described in By the Shore of Silver Lake that also included “Billy Boy,” “Camptown Races,” “Three Blind Mice,” “Nelly Was a Lady,” “Ben Bolt,” and Burns’ “Bonny Doon.”

Deborah Packard – vocal; John Mock – guitar, harmonium

Recorded 14 March 2005; Signal Path Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; Mark Howard, engineer

The Big Sunflower

            The most popular form of 19th-century American music theatre was the blackface minstrel show.  As hard as is to imagine today, millions of Americans flocked to the theatres and stages in cities, towns, and crossroads to see the dances and antics of  white men with faces blackened by grease-and-burnt-cork and to hear their music and jokes.  (Indeed, Pa Ingalls stars in an amateur minstrel show in The Little Town on the Prairie.)  One of the biggest minstrel stars of the 1860s was Billy Emerson, and this song, written by Bobby Newcomb in 1868, became his theme song.  A bouncy, happy song, it functions in The Long Winter both to signal despair in the face of unrelenting blizzards—Laura calls it Pa’s “trouble song”—and to project a shaft of its sunny cheer into the gloom.

Douglas B. Green – vocal; Butch Baldassari – 4-string mandolin-banjo; Casey Driessen – fiddle; Karen Krieger – piano, spoken word; John Mock – concertina, percussion

Recorded 3 June 2002; Atlantis Recording Studio, Hendersonville, Tenn.; Voytek Kochanek, engineer

Happy Land

            Scottish educator and poet Andrew Young (1807-89) wrote the words to this hymn while living in India in 1838.  He expected that his words would be fit to a popular song of that time by Robert Archibald Smith, titled “I Have Come from a Happy Land:  The Celebrated Dancing Girls’ Song.”  The sheet music cover of the song claims that the melody is a “Hindustani Air.”  By 1842 the song had been arranged, set to Young’s text, and published as a hymn.  In that form it quickly appeared in hymnbooks intended for use in Sunday schools; it was through this avenue that the song came to be known by the Ingalls family.
            “Happy Land” appears more often in Wilder’s books than any other hymn.  Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, and The Long Winter all include references.  Supposedly “Ma’s favorite,” it stands for strength-in-family and in opposition to a unruly, outside world, most graphically illustrated in Little House on the Prairie when Ma Ingalls cradled Pa’s pistol and sang “There is a happy land,” while nearby Osage Indians powwowed and seemingly threatened the Ingalls and other settlers.  The hymn was widely enough known that it developed comic parody verses, one of which is recounted in By the Shores of Silver Lake.

Peggy Stewart Duncan – soprano; Mark Powelson – tenor; Jane Sherberg – alto; Jon Sherberg – bass; Butch Baldassari – mandolin; Joe Caverlee – fiddle; Pat Enright – guitar; Byron House – bass

Recorded 15 March 2005; Signal Path Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; Mark Howard, engineer

Barbara Allen

            “Barbara Allen” likely originated in the early 17th century and has since become surely one of the best-known ballads in the English language.  It was brought to the New World in the minds, hearts, and voices of immigrants from the British Isles and was soon rooted in American ballad traditions.  Like other such ballads, deeply felt emotions surge throughout “Barbara Allen”; few things are more tragic than a mix of young love, misunderstanding, false pride, and death.  Although we often think of this today as a “mountain ballad,” it was once sung widely, even by frontier folk like Pa Ingalls far out on the edge of the Great Plains, there “by the shores of Silver Lake.”

Deborah Packard – vocal; Byron House – bass; John Mock – low whistle
 
Recorded 7, 14 March 2005; Signal Path Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; Mark Howard, engineer

Nelly Was a Lady

            Another song by Stephen Foster, and another song that came from the stage of the minstrel show.  Minstrelsy generally was an expression of deep-seated and widespread American racism:  African Americans were represented there as objects of crude humor and ridicule.  Stephen Foster, to his great credit, was one of the few who tried to express a degree of sympathy for the terrible plight of slaves.  “Nelly” (published in 1849) is noteworthy for being one of the first of that sort.  The song is about a deep and tragic love affair, during a time when blacks were presumed by many whites not to have the capacity for such “white” feelings.  And, Nelly isn’t represented as some ridiculous female “wench” figure either, as, typically, female slaves (especially) were at the time.  Instead:  “Nelly was a LADY!”  And the music convincingly underscores the sincerity of sentiment, with the melody being one of the most searingly beautiful ever penned by Foster (or anyone else, for that matter!).
            This song is referenced in By the Shores of Silver Lake, closing out an evening of singing and music-making with the Boasts, close family friends of the Ingalls. 

Dave Olney – vocal, guitar; Joe Caverlee – fiddle; Byron House – bass
 
Recorded 7 March 2005; Signal Path Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; Mark Howard, engineer

Uncle Sam’s Farm

            “Dedicated to All Creation,” this song was written in 1850 by Jesse Hutchinson, Jr., a member of the famed Hutchinson Family Singers.  It quickly because one of the Hutchinsons’ best-known songs, for the spirited “Go ahead!” sensibility (a motto perhaps borrowed from Davy Crockett) undoubtedly appealed to a country filled with hope and optimism for its future.
            This song makes a pivotal appearance in By the Shores of Silver Lake as the Ingalls family heads out to the Dakota Territory to homestead their own farm.  Pa, and eventually even baby Grace, sang and whistled that “Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm!”

Douglas B. Green – vocal; Butch Baldassari – mandolin; Casey Driessen – fiddle; Karen Krieger – piano; John Mock – concertina, percussion

Recorded 3 June 2002; Atlantis Recording Studio, Hendersonville, Tenn.; Voytek Kochanek, engineer

Promised Land

            The text to this hymn, which is often known by its opening line—“On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand”—was written in the late 18th century by Samuel Stennett (1727-95), an English minister.  Several different tunes have been sung to it in the times since.  One of the most popular during the 19th century was “Promised Land,” first published in William Walker’s Southern Harmony (1835) and attributed there to “Miss M. Durham.”  This setting was especially popular in the Southern shapenote tradition, a distinctive style of singing that is full-voiced (and loud!), “beautiful” in the full commitment and energetic participation of its amateur singers.  As is generally the case in this tradition, the singers begin by singing their parts in “fasola” (as in “do-re-mi-FA-SO-LA”), which might sound confusing at times because some singers are, for example, on “fa” while others are another note in the chord (like “la”).  In a typical performance the singers would continue after practicing their parts in fasola and sing all the verses of the hymn.  This recording includes a performance of only the fasola section of “Promised Land.”
            The Long Winter, set during the infamously “hard winter” of 1880-81 in Dakota Territory, often features music-making as a way to express strength and perseverance in the face of unrelenting blizzards.  Such is the case when “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks” is sung by the Ingalls family.

The Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp Singers:  Laurens Blankers, Kerene Box, Marilyn Burchett, David Carlton, Dorothea McCowan, Heidi Nolen, Tim Reynolds, Sandie Scott, Bob Simmons

Recorded 27 February 2005; New England Sound, Nashville, Tenn.; John Mock, engineer

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks

            “Promised Land” was arranged in 1895 by Rigdon McCoy McIntosh (1836-99), retitled, and set as a “gospel hymn,” a spirited, accessible, almost “popular” sort of sacred music.  Although the frontier Ingalls family would not have known this arrangement of the hymn, Wilder, writing in the 1930s and ‘40s, would likely have heard in her mind’s ear this well-known version when she referred to the hymn.
            Our performance here collects many of the artists from the recording, singing and playing together in community of the same “promised land”—both earthly and spiritual—sought so vividly by the Ingalls family.

Vocals:  Laurens Blankers, Kerene Box, James Brown, Marilyn Burchett, David Carlton, Dale Cockrell, Shirley Cody, Peggy Stewart Duncan, Jacqueline Elston, Dorothea McCowan, Heidi Nolen, Dave Olney, Mark Powelson, Gloria Ransom, Tim Reynolds, Sandie Scott, Calvin Settles, Odessa Settles, Jane Sherberg, Jon Sherberg, Bob Simmons, Nita Smith, Robert Smith
Joe Caverlee – fiddle; Byron House – bass; Jeff Lisenby – reed accordion 

Recorded 27 February 2005; New England Sound, Nashville, Tenn.; John Mock, engineer; and 7, 15 March 2005; Signal Path Studio, Nashville, Tenn.; Mark Howard, engineer

The Devil’s Dream [bonus track]

            Jep Bisbee, our stand-in for Pa Ingalls, gets the last word with this fine old-time fiddle tune, accompanied, like Pa, by his daughter.

Jasper Bisbee – fiddle; Beulah Bisbee-Schuler – piano

Recorded 23 November 1923; Edison Company studio, West Orange, New Jersey; transcription courtesy of Edison National Historic Site, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior

Notes by Dale Cockrell, Professor of Musicology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

©2015 PA’S FIDDLE RECORDINGS, LLC • ALL RIGHTS RESERVED • DESIGN BY PRIMETYME SOLUTIONS, LLC