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|"The Yellow Rose Of Texas"|
Cover of 1858 sheet music.
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|"The Yellow Rose Of Texas"|
Cover of 1858 sheet music.
"Yellow Rose Of Texas" performed by the United States Coast Guard Band
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"The Yellow Rose of Texas" is a traditional folk song. The original love song has become associated with the legend that Emily D. West, a biracial indentured servant, "helped win the Battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle in the Texas Revolution". Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.
The Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin has an unpublished early handwritten version of the song, perhaps dating from the time of the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. The author is unknown; the earliest published version, by Firth, Pond and Company of New York and dated September 2, 1858, identifies the composer and arranger as "J.K."; its lyrics are "almost identical" to those in the handwritten manuscript, though it says it had been arranged and composed for the vaudeville performer Charles H. Brown.
The soundtrack to the TV miniseries James A. Michener's Texas dates a version of the song to June 2, 1933 and co-credits both the authorship and performance to Gene Autry and Jimmy Long. Don George reworked the original version of the song, which Mitch Miller made into a popular recording in 1955 that knocked Bill Haley's "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock" from the top of the Best Sellers chart in the U.S. Miller's version was featured in the motion picture Giant, and interestingly hit #1 on the U.S. pop chart the same week Giant star James Dean died. Stan Freberg had a simultaneous hit of a parody version in which the bandleader warred with the snare drummer, Alvin Stoller, who also featured prominently in Miller's arrangement. Billboard ranked Miller's version as the No. 3 song of 1955.
The song is believed by some to have been based on a Texas legend from the days of the Texas War of Independence. According to the legend, Emily D. West (also known as "Emily Morgan") was seized by Mexican forces during the looting of Galveston. She seduced General Antonio López de Santa Anna, President of Mexico and commander of the Mexican forces. The legend credits her supposed seduction of Santa Anna with lowering the guard of the Mexican army and facilitating the Texan victory in the Battle of San Jacinto, waged in 1836 near present-day Houston. Santa Anna's opponent was General Sam Houston, who won the battle literally in minutes, and with almost no casualties. West was a mulatto. The original lyrics refer to her as the "yellow" rose, in keeping with the historical use of term "high yellow" as a description of light skin among Black and/or multiracial people in the South.
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Historians assert that if West was with Santa Anna, it was not by her choice, nor did she play any part in deciding the battle. The seduction legend was largely unknown until the publication in the 1950s of a version of the lyrics based on William Bollaert's account. Bollaert, a British subject, spent two years in Texas — 1842 to 1844 — and was a prolific writer, publishing more than 80 articles on various subjects.
The basic facts are that Emily West, a free person of color, migrated to Texas from New York City in late 1835 as an indentured servant under contract to the agent James Morgan. She was born free in New Haven, Connecticut. Sources describe her as a teen or as a woman of twenty. She was to work as a housekeeper at the New Washington Association's hotel, near what was then called New Washington and is now Morgan's Point. Historians say she became known by Morgan's surname, as was the custom at the time for indentured servants and slaves.
Santa Anna reportedly saw West in April 1836 when he invaded New Washington prior to the Battle of San Jacinto. West and other black servants were taken to his camp, along with some white residents who were captured. According to legend, Santa Anna was with her when Texan General Sam Houston's troops arrived, forcing him to flee suddenly without weapons or armor and enabling his capture the next day. (Note: The seduction of a military leader by a beautiful woman who brings about his downfall, is featured in both the account of Jael in the Book of Judges in the Bible, and the Book of Judith, in the Apocrypha.)
|Original version, from the MS in the University of Texas archives|
More than 25 years later, the lyrics were changed to eliminate the more racially specific lyrics, with "Soldier" replacing "darky;" and the first line of the chorus, "She's the sweetest rose of color," (a reference to the African-European free people of color) changed to "She's the sweetest little rosebud ..."
Sometimes "Dearest May" is replaced with "Clementine."
This song became popular among Confederate soldiers in the Texas Brigade during the American Civil War; upon taking command of the Army of Tennessee in July 1864, General John Bell Hood introduced it as a marching song. The final verse and chorus were slightly altered by the remains of Hood's force after their crushing defeat at the Battle of Nashville that December:
The modified lyrics reference famous Confederate military commanders Joseph Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee. Texan veterans sang it openly to mock Hood's mishandling of their Nashville campaign.
In this version of the chorus, "soldier" replaced "darky." The same substitution is made throughout the song.
There is also a children’s text, following the same tune, with different lyrics:
In 1984, country music artists Johnny Lee and Lane Brody recorded a song called "The Yellow Rose," which retained the original melody of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" but with new lyrics, for the title theme to a TV series also entitled The Yellow Rose. It was a Number One country hit that year.