Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Red Wing--She's Stickin' To the Union Too

The tune "Red Wing" (in G major) is popular among the Old Time musicians we know around here. Every time I hear it, I think of Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid." I knew that was a parody, so I used the wonders of the Internet to track down the original lyrics. I found these and more at All about "Red Wing" by Perfessor Bill Edwards. First, the lyrics:

 "Red Wing"
Words by Thurland Chattaway, Music by Kerry Mills

Verse 1: There once lived an Indian maid, a shy little prairie maid,
Who sang a lay, a love song gay, as on the plain she'd while away the day;
She loved a warrior bold, this shy little maid of old,
But brave and gay, he rode one day to battle far away.

Chorus: Now, the moon shines to night on pretty Red Wing,
The breeze is sighing, the night bird's crying,
For afar 'neath his star her brave is sleeping,
While Red Wing's weeping her heart away.

Verse 2: She watched for him day and night, she kept all the campfires bright,
And under the sky, each night she would lie, and dream about his coming by and by;
But when all the braves returned, the heart of Red Wing yearned,
For far, far away, her warrior gay, fell bravely in the fray.

Chorus: Now, the moon shines to night on pretty Red Wing,
The breeze is sighing, the night bird's crying,
For afar 'neath his star her brave is sleeping,
While Red Wing's weeping her heart away.

"The Perfessor" also provides audio samples of the original music, which is somewhat different than the banjo tune I play. He explains the musical changes and describes the early history of the composition..

Frederick Allen (Kerry) Mills (M) and Thurland Chattaway (L) - 1907: Mills, who has been credited with writing the first compositions that set the standard format for published cakewalks, spent twenty years trying to keep up with current musical trends and fads. With this piece he was addressing a craze for Native American (Indian)-themed compositions established in 1902 by the publication of Hiawatha by Charles N. Daniels (as Neil Moret). So Mills composed a standard pop tune and titled it with a Native American name, supplying a cover to match the theme....

....Red Wing...was published in at least three different forms. The first was as an intermezzo, a popular three-sectioned piano composition format. This version of the piece features a rarely-heard trio which was excised when he commissioned Thurland Chattaway to retrofit lyrics representing an "Indian Fable" to go with the tune. The other two versions of the piece are represented by the song sans trio, and the song with a male "quartette" section tacked on to the chorus. Why this is such a little known fact is in part because the song versions outsold the intermezzo by an overwhelming margin (the song was reprinted in later years while the intermezzo was all but forgotten), and because of an odd decision (or non-decision) by Mills to use an identical cover for all versions regardless of the content....

...following Red Wing's publication (1908), a 24 year old Native American girl from the Winnebago reservation started to break into films, eventually making some with the venerable D.W. Griffith. She was also a star in the first silent adaptation of the novel Ramona. Her name just happened to be Princess Redwing (one word). There is no definitive evidence either way as to any connection with the titling of Mills' composition, but the timing was, perhaps, fortuitous for both. It is not too likely that she openly endorsed the piece, as from the 1930s until her death at 91(?) in 1974, Princess Redwing was an advocate and spokesperson for Indian rights, and also fought against stereotypes of Native Americans....

Just because it's what will always spring to mind when I hear the tune, here are Woody Guthrie's lyrics:

There once was a union maid, she never was afraid,
Of the goons and the ginks and the company finks;
And the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.
She went to the Union hall, when a meeting it was called,
And when the company boys came round,
She always stood her ground.

    Oh you can't scare me, I'm stickin' to the Union,
    I'm stickin' to the Union, I'm stickin' to the Union.
    Oh you can't scare me, I'm stickin' to the Union,
    I'm stickin' to the Union till the day I die.

This union maid was wise to the tricks of the company spies,
She couldn't be fooled by the company rules,
She'd always organise.
She'd always get her way when she struck for higher pay,
She'd show her card to the National Guard,
And this is what she'd say:


You girls who want to be free just take a tip from me!
Get you a man who's a union man
And join the Ladies' Auxiliary.
Married life ain't hard when you've got a union card.
A union man has a happy life
When he's got a union wife.


According to Songs of Work and Protest by Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, the third (unfortunately condescending) verse was added by Millard Lampell, one of the Almanac Singers, with whom Guthrie first performed the song. I came across this substitute from a Maritime Union of Australia Web page documenting Songs and chants for the MUA & Community Assembly Picket Lines in a 1998 action.

A woman's life is hard, even with a Union card,
She's got to stand on her own two feet,
Not be the servant of a male elite.
It's time to take a stand, start working hand in hand,
For there's a job that's just begun & a fight that's got to be won.

I like that bit about not being a servant of a male elite.


Larry said...

Here in Hannibal Red Wing is one of our crowd-pleaser tunes. I've worked up many variations and harmony parts over the years while playing my fiddle.

Thanks for the link to the Perfessor's site!

Rebecca Clayton said...

Yes, the Perfessor is a great resource, yet Google doesn't place him very high in tune searches--I think I found him 30 or 40 retreivals down. Go figure.