Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Henry working on the MTA

Interesting article this quarter in Connecticut's history magazine, The Hog River Journal, on the life and oeuvre of Henry Clay Work, who was born right here in Middletown.

There is a statue to commemorate the composer and his work on the South Green (Union Park), but interesting information in the story about history of that statue, and others, which have since disappeared.

Work was born in a house on Mill Street, which still stands. He wrote well-known, and well-loved songs like Grandfather's Clock and Marchin' Through Georgia, though not while he was living in Middletown.

One fact the story in the Hog River Journal neglects one story about Work's place in popular music. The tune for his song, The Ship That Never Returned, was borrowed by the composer of the song The Wreck of the Old 97, which when recorded by Texas classical music singer Vernon Dalhart, in a Southern tenor, became the first 1,000,000 selling record in recording history (the other side of the record was The Prisoner's Song, which was the real hit). The Wreck of the Old 97 has been recorded by hundreds of singers, including a popular version by Johnny Cash. But it became a top ten hit when used as a campaign song for a socialist candidate for mayor, with new lyrics written by folkies Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes. The Kingston Trio took that song and made it a top-ten hit called "M.T.A"

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