On the Eighth of January, 1815, Andrew Jackson led his troops in the Battle of New Orleans, in which his small band routed a larger number of British Troops. The War of 1812 had officially ended two weeks before but word had not yet crossed the water. The victory was a big deal in the eyes of Americans and made Andrew Jackson a celebrity, setting him up to win the presidency a few years later.
The Eighth of January became a holiday every year after that, more important than the Fourth of July. A fiddle tune about the day was also born. Slippery Hill is a website that has recordings of old time tunes. If you search its collection for “The Eighth of January”, just about 30 versions pop all, all very different from each other, yet still the same tune. And even more variations exist. Many years later, words were set to the tune by Jimmy Driftwood and immortalized in 1959 by Johnny Horton, becoming the Top 40 hit “The Battle of New Orleans”.
Many of you know that I play Old Time music on the fiddle and Jamie plays the banjo. This is an excellent description of Old Time Music from the late great Mike Seeger that captures the essence. Part of what I love is the honor we pay to whoever was the source of the tune. We will describe the tune as John Lusk’s version, or Cyril Stinnet’s, or Ernest Claunch’s. I have linked to this version of Cuje Bertram ‘s “The Eighth of January” played by Libby Weitnaur and Jake Blount. If you listen you can hear “The Battle of New Orleans” in the tune.
We are part of a greater community of musicians from around the world, who share our love of the music with each other. The community has been an important part of our lives, even more so during the Pandemic. Usually we travel to festivals or camps and play together but this year most events were cancelled. Some resourceful folks have been organizing a nightly concert with excellent people performing nightly. Quarantine Happy Hour is worth connecting to if you are on Facebook.
Tonight’s Quarantine Happy Hour was a collection of different versions of “The Eight of January”, each so very different, yet the original tune was in there in each of them.. That variation and depth is one reason I love Old Time Music. The community is another. It is hard to feel completely alone because of them (many of you).
In American music, many events have been immortalized in song, especially political events. We play tunes called “Booth Shot Lincoln”, “Cleveland Marching to the White House”, and more. I am sure that many tunes will be forthcoming about the pandemic and the insurrection. I know some have already been written.
This is all I have for you tonight. The news is too dire, cases and deaths are up and rising. Disinformation is rampant. People are hurting and lonely, which is why connection is so key. Play “The Eighth of January” if you know it. That is what I am going to do right now. Bob Holt’s version if you want to know.
Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, and reach out to others.
And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.