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Just Before the Battle, Mother

Title: Just Before the Battle, Mother

Artist: Will Oakland and Chorus

Catalogue Number: Edison Blue Amberol 1516

Date: 1912


Will OaklandOriginally recorded ca. 1910 and released on Edison 4-minute wax Amberol, "Just Before the Battle, Mother" was one of the first celluloid Blue Amberols issued, appearing in the second list, from December 1912. The short-lived and not especially durable Amberols were initially advertised in popular magazines as being four-and-one-half-minutes long. This selection proves the point!

The selection is unusual in that the middle portion of the war-time favorite contains a descriptive interlude that features the sounds of battle, with bugles and all. This was one of the ways Edison studios stretched out a two- or three-minute song to take advantage of the extra time on the long-playing cylinders.

Will Oakland made his name singing material like this. It may seem overly pathetic today, but songs such as "Just Before the Battle, Mother" hit a responsive chord with the post-Civil War audiences of the minstrel stage, for whom the memories of fallen sons were still fresh wounds.

The tender and vulnerable sound of the countertenor made the emotional impression even the greater. But as Will Oakland's star continued to rise between 1908 and 1911, he was deemed a star capable of pairing with the great Billy Murray in the Heidelberg Quintet. Read more about the only collection to document the Heidelberg, and you will marvel at their unique sound!

The text below is from the original record slip for this Recording of the Month (reprinted from Ronald Dethlefson, Eidson Blue Amberol Recordings 1912-1914, 2nd ed. Woodland Hills, CA: Stationery X-Press, 1997).

Edison Record No. 1516



Just Before the Battle, Mother

Music and Words by GEORGE F. ROOT


Just before the battle, mother,
I am thinking most of you,
While upon the field we're watching,
With the enemy in view.
Comrades brave are 'round me lying,
Fill'd with thoughts of home and God;
For well they know that on the morrow,
Some will sleep beneath the sod.

Farewell, mother, you may never
Press me to your heart again,
But, oh, you'll not forget me mother,
If I'm number'd with the slain.

Hark! I hear the bugles sounding,
'Tis the signal for the fight,
Now, may God protect us, Mother,
As he ever does the right.
Hear the "Battle Cry of Freedom,"
How it swells upon the air,
Oh, yes, we'll rally 'round the standard,
Or we'll perish nobly there.

GEORGE FREDERICK ROOT was born at Sheffield, Mass., on August 30th, 1820. He early became the pupil of George J. Webb, a noted organist in Boston. His progress was rapid and in 1844 he moved to New York City, becoming the organist at the "Church of the Strangers." He also taught singing at various institutions during this period. In 1850 he went to Paris for a year's study and upon his return successfully produced his first large work, the Cantata "Flower Queen." He wrote several cantatas which were uniformly well received, numbers of part songs, and much church music. His fame after all these years, however, rests entirely upon his popular soldier songs such as "The Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp."

"Just Before the Battle, Mother," while generally classed with war songs, is less martial than the others, however, and is written more on the order of a "heart song." While not as familiar as "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp," yet it is well known, and very popular.

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