Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Friday Night Concert: “Kindom Come” with Pokey LaFarge

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 6, 2013


PokeyA cut from the new album, Divided and United: The Songs of the Civil War, produced by Randall Poster. Divided and United offers more than 30 (!) tracks of period songs, re-interpreted by modern artists, including well-known performers like Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs, Taj Mahal, Lee Ann Womack and Dolly Parton. Some of the best, though, are from less-familiar artists like Shovels & Rope and Pokey LaFarge (right). There’s a neat NPR story on the new album here.

From the interview:


The collection features lesser-known songs of the Civil War, some by a songwriter named Henry Clay Work. According to [project historian Sean] Wilentz, Work was a key member of a group of composers that wrote the history of the era through song.
“Henry Clay Work was part of a sort of diffuse Tin Pan Alley that produced a lot of the songs that we think of as iconic Civil War songs,” Wilentz tells NPR’s Melissa Block. “We think of them kind of drifting up out of the campfires in the trenches of the war itself, but they were composed by commercial songwriters, much as we have commercial songwriters today. To make a hit in the 1850s and ’60s meant you were selling a lot of sheet music, which is what they did.”
Some of the songs written by Work and other composers became popular through minstrel-show performances. One of the songs revamped in the new collection — “Kingdom Come” sung by — tells the story of slaves celebrating after their master has run away to escape from armed forces sent by Abraham Lincoln. Wilentz says the tune was a “pretty edgy song” at the time it was created.
“It was written before the Emancipation Proclamation, so it’s prospective of all of that,” Wilentz says. “It was actually being sung on the blackface minstrel stage. So, you have white guys in blackface, celebrating the end of slavery and the skedaddling of the master, who they make fun of. This is a great thing about American culture, particularly in this period. The inversions of race, of politics, of what’s going on, all sung to a very rousing tune, is remarkable.”


I’ve known this song for years, but I never heard this verse:


The overseer he makes us trouble, and drive us ’round a spell,
We locked him in the smokehouse cellar, with the key thrown down the well.
The whip is lost, the handcuffs broken, but the massa’ll have his pay,
He’s old enough, big enough, ought to known better than to try an’ run away!






One Response

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  1. Edward W. Baptist said, on December 6, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    My favorite version is “Old Master’s Run Away” by Sam and Kirk McGee, but it does not contain that overseer verse.

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