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
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
DESCRIPTIVE WAR-TIME BALLAD
By WILL OAKLAND and CHORUS
Just Before the Battle, Mother
Music and Words by GEORGE F. ROOT
JUST BEFORE THE BATTLE, MOTHER
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.