While watching the Western Hostiles (2018) you may have noticed a character singing a beautiful song while playing mandolin around the campfire. What was the song?
Although it sounds like it is a timeless folk song, it is a new song written by Ryan Bingham called “How Shall a Sparrow Fly.” Bingham recorded the song for Hostiles, which stars Christian Bale. And that is Bingham playing the song as a sergeant in the movie.
In the video below, Bingham plays “How Shall a Sparrow Fly.”
Bingham also co-wrote with T. Bone Burnett the excellent Oscar-winning song “The Weary Kind,” which appeared in Crazy Heart (2009). That film, which starred Jeff Bridges, was directed by Scott Cooper, who also directed Hostiles.
Bingham recently explained to Variety that Cooper asked Bingham to be in Hostiles when he saw some video of Bingham on horses. After getting the script, Bingham worked up “How Shall a Sparrow Fly” on his mandolin while touring.
Unfortunately, “How Shall a Sparrow Fly” did not receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Song. But it is a wonderful song from the singer-songwriter.
“How Shall a Sparrow Fly?” appears on the Hostilessoundtrack with a full orchestra.
Josh White — who was born on February 11, 1914 — had one of the more interesting American lives during the twentieth century, even though he died at the young age of 55 on September 5, 1969. He was a folk singer, guitarist, songwriter, civil rights activist, actor, friend to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and much more.
He was an important figure in the century, although many people born in the last fifty years may not have heard of him. His music influenced many of the major performers who came after him. Allmusic calls him “one of the unquestioned linchpins of the first stirrings of the folk revival.”
His work for civil rights and social justice made him a target of the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s. He testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), where he read the lyrics to one of his recordings, the anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” that was written by Abel Meeropol. Many twisted his words, so that for a period he was blacklisted by both the Right and the Left.
White lived such a full life that I can’t even begin to summarize it here in a short blog post. I encourage you to read more about him, including the long Wikipedia post about his life and this video of his son Josh White Jr. telling stories at The Bohemian Cafe in Greenville, South Carolina on August 20, 2016.
The House I Live In (What Is America to Me?)
White was among the first to record many songs we know today. He had the first hit recording of “The House I Live In (What Is America to Me?).” The song, which was written during World War II by Earl Robinson and Lewis Allan (a pen name for Meeropol), captured a dream for what a post-war America might be.
The children in the playground, The faces that I see, All races and religions, That’s America to me.
You know the song, even though you may not have been around when White’s version was a hit. But the reason you know the song is because of White.
It was White who taught “The House I Live In” to Frank Sinatra, who became identified with the song. After White taught it to Sinatra, Ol’ Blue Eyes sang the song in an honorary Academy Award winning short for MGM. The short was made to oppose anti-Semitism.
As for White, I don’t know, but it seems that through all of the problems, he loved this country. Otherwise, he would not have done so much for it.
The blacklisting by the music industry ended in 1955, and he began performing in various venues around the world. The TV blacklisting ended later in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy asked White to perform on a national civil rights program, “Dinner with the President.”
Subsequently in that same year, he performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. And in January 1965, he performed at Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration.
Today, the lyrics of “The House I Live In” may seem a little naive. Some might find them cheesy. I suppose, though, that most people no matter what their political party, would agree that it was a nice dream. And while White never saw the accomplishment of the dream, he reminded us that it is one still worth fighting for. Leave your two cents in the comments.
John Prine is releasing a new album The Tree of Forgiveness, which features the first single, “Summer’s End.” Any John Prine album is cause for celebration, but The Tree of Forgiveness is extra special because it will be the singer-songwriter’s first album of new material in thirteen years.
The new album contains ten songs written or co-written by Prine. The co-writers include Pat McLaughlin, Roger Cook, Dan Auerbach, Keith Sykes and Phil Spector. Also, the album features special guests Brandi Carlile (harmony vocals on some songs), Jason Isbell (guitar), and Amanda Shires (fiddle and background vocals).
Prine released the first single, “Summer’s End,” with an accompanying video. Joshua Britt and Nielson Hubbard edited and directed the video, which highlights the lyrics.
In the song, which may allude to death as much as the ending of summer, Prine beckons the listener to “come on home.” So, check out “Summer’s End,” which was written by Prine and Pat McLaughlin.
Alan Peter Kuperschmidt, who became known as musician Al Kooper, was born on February 5, 1944. Kooper played a number of important roles in the history of music, such as work as a producer and writer and for organizing Blood, Sweat & Tears. But most people know his work from a chance role he played in one of the greatest rock songs of all time, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”
On June 16, 1965, Kooper showed up for the second day of the production of “Like A Rolling Stone,” which was being produced by Tom Wilson. Kooper, who was a 21-year-old session guitarist, arrived merely as a guest of Wilson.
Initially, Kooper hoped to work his way into the session on guitar. But then he realized that guitarist Mike Bloomfield was more talented than him.
After Paul Griffin moved from playing organ on the song to playing piano, Kooper tried to get Wilson to let him play an organ part. Wilson rejected the idea. But when Wilson left the room, Kooper went into the session and took over the Hammond organ. Wilson let Kooper remain, and Kooper added the now famous organ riff to the song. When Dylan heard the playback, he reportedly asked for more organ.
The following video explains Kooper’s role in the recording of “Like a Rolling Stone,” including an interview with Kooper. Check it out.
Kooper went on to other amazing work, including playing organ for Dylan on tour and playing that instrument on the recording of “Just Like a Woman,” released in 1966. Among his many other accomplishments, he discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd, producing and performing on their first three albums. That’s him again on organ in “Free Bird,” even though he was officially credited under the name Roosevelt Gook. He also played piano, organ, and French horn parts on The Rolling Stones’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
Singer Eva Cassidy was born in Washington, D.C. on February 2, 1963. She began singing at an early age, and eventually garnered attention in her hometown.
Many came to admire her jazz and blues work. But during Cassidy’s lifetime, her fame was largely limited to the DC area. While she was singing, she also worked at Behnke Nursery in Maryland doing greenhouse work between 1981 and 1995. In 1992, she released an album of duets with Chuck Brown, The Other Side. But on November 2, 1996, at the age of 33, Cassidy died from melanoma.
Several months before she died, she released a live album, Live at Blues Alley. The album provided Cassidy with more fans, and it began to receive wider attention after her death. Additional posthumous albums added to Cassidy’s legacy. Artists such as Paul McCartney became fans, and a 2001 Nightline episode about Cassidy became one of the most popular segments ever on the show.
Today, through the wonders of the Internet, many more music fans are familiar with Cassidy’s beautiful voice. Unfortunately, she never knew how much she would be appreciated. But fortunately for us, we have her music, as well as some camcorder video from a performance at Blues Alley in D.C. Check out Eva Cassidy singing Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
What is your favorite Eva Cassidy recording? Leave your two cents in the comments.