Special Collections and the Yellow Rose of Texas

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My experience in the Special Collections has been exciting. The day our class went up to the 6th floor to take a tour, I couldn’t believe that in all my time in UTA I hadn’t been to this part of the library. It’s so pretty! The Special Collections section reminds me of a place I’ve only seen in movies: the dim lighting, glass casing, ancient artifacts—everything! It’s all beautiful. I’m glad I was there for the class tour or else I would have had no idea where to even begin my search.

I went with a friend the first time. We acted like silly girls “oohing” and gasping every time we opened a folder and looked at the beautiful, timeless manuscripts. One of the first documents I looked at was the McFadin vs. Calvit legal document. It still had the red, hot-seal wax encrusted on it! I got chills and goose bumps when I first handled this material.

Unfortunately, aside from my awe, I felt a little overwhelmed and clueless when conducting my research. There are so many different areas to explore that I had no idea where to begin. I began reading the McFadin case, and had a bit of trouble understanding the handwriting. With enough time I began to make progress and come to a fuller understanding of the text, but it’s very time-consuming. I made copies of the copies, and am currently trying to read the document.

We made different discoveries and marveled at the material. We encountered a bill of sale to a Philemon Terrel Jr, who bought his father, Philemon Terrel Sr., for $100 in hand. I got really excited about this one and my voice kept getting louder and louder as I read aloud the proceedings of the letter. I was touched by this act of a son trying to buy his own father.

Yet before we knew it, it was time to close. Time goes by so fast in the archives. The research process is so much more time-consuming than I had thought. As we were leaving and getting our things from the bins I asked one of the librarians about the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” She was shocked when I confessed I had never heard the song. A second librarian joined us and they both began telling us about the song and the lyrics. Then one of the librarians (I can’t remember his name) mentioned something that caught my attention. He said that the lyrics have changed; that they once used to say the word “darkey.” I was deeply intrigued by this.

The next day I came back and asked to see the original version sheet music that was published in 1858. I wanted to see how the lyrics have changed through the years, so after that I asked how many other versions of the sheet music were available. Apparently, UTA holds 9 different versions of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” I knew it would be too time-consuming to look at all of them, so I asked for the original, the 1936, and the 1955 versions.

Original sheet music published in 1858.

Original sheet music published in 1858.

I was happy to confirm what the librarian had said the day before; the original song lyrics include the word “darkey.”

The first stanza and chorus of the original (1858) lyrics are as follows:

There’s a yellow rose in Texas

That I am going to see,

No other darkey knows her

No darkey only me

She cried so when I left her

It like to broke my heart

And If I ever find her

We never more will part

Chorus:

She’s the sweetest rose of color

This darkey ever knew

Her eyes are bright as diamonds

They sparkle like the dew

You may talk about your dearest May

And sing of Rosa Lee

But the Yellow Rose of Texas

Beats the belles of Tennessee

I then compared these lyrics to those of the 1936 version.YellowRoseofTexas1936

The first stanza and chorus are as follows:

There’s a Yellow Rose in Texas

I’m going there to see

No other fellow knows her

Nobody only me

She cried so when I left her

It like to broke my heart

And if we ever meet again

We never more shall part

Chorus:

She’s the sweetest rose of color

This fellow ever knew

Her eyes are bright as diamonds

They sparkle like the dew

You may talk about your dearest maids

And sing of Rosy Lee

But the Yellow Rose of Texas

Beats the belles of Tennessee

There are a few lyrical differences, but the major change is the word “darkey” to “fellow.” The 1955 version has a few other minor differences in lyrics, but not any that indicate a major shift in significance or connotation.

From this point forward my goal was to track the evolution of this song’s lyrics. I asked if there were any versions of the song after 1858, and earlier than 1936, but there aren’t any. A shift is apparent in the lyrics, and I want to find out when this shift happened. If I could identify the year or time-frame when the lyrics began to change, I could correlate the change to the historical context of the time and deduce what social, political, and racial influences caused this shift in the lyrics.

If I continue to research this topic, I’d like to look into versions of the song that could have been influenced by the Civil War. 1858 is the first publication of “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” only three years before the start of the Civil War. I am currently doing some on-going research into this subject. Perhaps, if given the opportunity, one day I could map out the evolution of this song and see how the times affected, not only its lyrics, but also its music.

One thing I noticed in the sheet music, other than the lyric modifications, was a slight stylistic shift in style. Since I have not been able to analyze previous versions of the music, and there is a 78 year gap between the originally published sheet music and the next available one in the Special Collections, it is difficult to declare any significant change in style. The one thing I was able to notice is that the later 1936 and 1955 versions call for a faster, more upbeat tempo. The original 1858 score reads: Allegretto, and the 1936 and 1955 versions call for Moderato. Also, the original sheet music is intended for accompaniment of piano and guitar, while the 1936 is for piano, guitar, ukulele, and a special Hawaiian guitar. It would be interesting to see how the shift in tempo and innovative accompaniment style has changed and how it has been affected by the different artistic and cultural movements.

In the end, I’ve had a great experience in the Special Collections. There are a few more documents that I would like to look in to. Unfortunately there’s not enough time to fulfill an in-depth investigation of ALL of them. However, if our research can add even the smallest bit of enrichment to our history, then I’m happy to do my part. The Special Collections has certainly exceeded my expectations and left me in awe.

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