[Editor’s Note: The next few blogs will concentrate on songs chosen for our upcoming Americana concert. The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ acclaimed Chamber Chorale brings to life America’s collective musical ancestry with the final performance of Americana on Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m. as part of the highly acclaimed Music Series of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego. Tickets at SDGMC.org or at the door.]
Although its exact origins are held secret by the 1800s fur traders and explorers who first sang this dramatically flowing American folk shanty, the earliest lyrics tell the simple tale of a man who fell in love. As often happened with these brave yet lonely pioneers, their attentions were drawn to Native Americans—and in the case of this song, to the daughter of Chief Shenandoah. “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter,” the explorer proclaims!
American and Canadian explorers were a rough-hewn crowd, but enjoyed reputations as melodic singers as they navigated the great waterways on their lengthy journeys. From the bows of their canoes, boats and ships, the musical storytelling spread among early American voyagers traversing the country’s great rivers. The Missouri River, portrayed in the original verses as the “rolling river” gives rise to the song also becoming known as “Across the Wide Missouri.”
Artwork: Boatmen on the Missouri c. 1846