Historic Music Programs
These presentations are well-researched concert/lectures with a strong focus on entertainment. They have been enthusiastically received at
historical societies, museums, libraries and other academic settings from New England to California. Songs are presented a capella or
accompanied on guitar and 5-string banjo. The programs are designed to run for one hour, but can be adapted for longer or shorter
presentations. Time is always allotted for discussion.
We will be happy to adapt an historic music program to suit the needs of your historical or entertainment setting, and are always pleased to
provide a musical background ambiance for your event.
Songs from the War of 1812
This program gives background information and insight into the causes and the incidents of this conflict, which pitted a very
young United States of America against our "mother country" and most bitter enemy, Great Britain. In response to British
actions and policy the halls of Congress echoed with the cries of "Free Trade and No Impressment." There was also great
concern about the British arming our Native-American enemies on the frontier. In June of 1812 Congress declared War in an
effort to enforce our sovereignty. The conflict lasted until January of 1815. Some remarkable music was popular during the
War of 1812. This program presents songs from both the British and American sides. Recruiting songs, ballads, songs of the
hardship of those whom the soldiers left behind, patriotic songs and songs which described major battles are all presented in
this very entertaining and informative program. View a video of the song "How Happy the Soldier" here.
A Songwriter from Connecticut: The Music of Henry Clay Work
This program presents some of the most interesting and engaging songs of one of the most popular songwriters of the 19th
century. Henry Clay Work wrote melodies that continue to be familiar today. They were the great "pop" hits of the '50s, '60s
and '70s (1850s '60s and '70s that is!). Work was born, received much of his education and died in Connecticut. Songs he
wrote, including "Marching Through Georgia," "Grandfather's Clock," "The Ship That Never Returned" formed the soundtrack
of the period. Ten of H.C. Work’s songs are presented in this program, along with biographical information on his life and a
discussion of the challenges of presenting music of the 1860s in a culture that understandably requires “political correctness.”
View a video of the song "The Days When We Were Young" here.
Music of the American Civil War
Our nation recently commemorated the sesquicentennial of our most divisive conflict, the War Between the States.
Songs that were popular during that conflict give us great insight into the American spirit of the time.
Program titles include
The Greatest Hits of the Civil War
Maritime Songs of the Civil War
The Boys of the Battlefield: The Civil War as Told by Its Professional Songwriters
View a video of Stephen Foster's song "The Glendy Burke" here.
Historical Songs of Outlaws, Villains and Rogues
This presentation addresses the human obsession with and documentation of misdeeds using songs as the informational
medium. Ballads collected by Francis James Child in the late 1800s (some going back hundreds of years), penny
broadsides and popular songs from the 1700s to the mid 20th century are presented to tell the stories of Captain Kidd,
Jesse James, Stagger Lee, Pretty Boy Floyd and a number of others. This program includes a discussion of why we as a
culture are so fascinated by misdeeds, violence and mayhem. View a video of the song "Duncan and Brady" here.
The Days When We Were Young
A companion piece to my CD recording, which includes selections from four of my most popular historic music programs.
This presentation is geared more toward entertainment than academics. Historic details are presented to a lesser degree.
The program can include material from any of my presentations in a mix and match musical journey through American
history. View a video of the song "The Days When We Were Young" here.
Sweet Sorrow: Historic Songs of Love, Pursuit, Connecting and Parting
This is an entertaining, amusing and light-hearted musical journey through the adventures and
misadventures of lovers over the years.
View a video of the song "Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy" here.
In Their Own Words: Songs of Our Seafaring Traditions
This program presents music from the English-speaking maritime world during the period from the 1790s to the
1930s. Mariners developed sea chanteys to coordinate shipboard work and composed songs to sing at leisure.
In doing so they described their lives and expressed their thoughts and opinions. This program gives insight into
the lives of deep-water sailors, fishermen, whalers and others who made their living at sea. It can be adapted as
a children’s program and includes instrumental accompaniment on the concertina (a squeezebox that was often
taken to sea) as well as the guitar and banjo. View a video of the song "Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy" here.
On the Job: Historic Songs of American Work and Trades
Occupational songs have been around for as long as people have been proud of the work that they’ve done.
Our ancestors described their working lives in songs about their trades. This program includes songs about
farmers, sailors, cowboys, peddlers, housewives, railroaders, soldiers and others. This presentation includes
a discussion of the labor movement in America and the modern use of songs which describe work. View a
video of the song "The Connecticut Peddler" here.
|Rick Spencer will develop a program specifically suited to the needs of your historical or entertainment setting. References are
available on request. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Freemen for Frémont!: Music of the Presidential Campaign of 1856
Before the days of radio or television it was common for campaign promoters to distribute songbooks to those gathered at political
rallies. In between the speeches and other activities the crowd would be prompted to open the book and sing the songs about the virtues
of our candidates and the failings of the opposition. In 1856 the “Freeman’s Glee Book” was published to promote the Presidential
aspirations of John C. Frémont, the first man to receive the nomination from the young Republican Party. “Freemen for Frémont!”
presents ten songs from the book along with background information on the issues and personalities of the campaign. Frémont, James
Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, “Bully” Brooks, the Kansas-Nebraska Act are all discussed along with the “tabloid” issues of the day. The
songs are insightful, humorous, patriotic and inflammatory. This program promotes an understanding of the United States on the brink
of Civil War. View a video of the song "Hurrah For Frémont!" here.
John C. Frémont
Henry Clay Work
Creating a National Identity: Songs of the Irish-Americans and Irish Conflict as Told in Song are two
collaborative programs with the Irish duo “Ask Your Father.” The first is a musical journey through the history of the
songs of Irish America. The second presents songs that have come out of centuries of conflict, from Ireland's earliest
days to the present.
A 19th Century Christmastide
For many the romance of Christmas is linked to a distant land, rituals of the "perfect Christmas". Perhaps most
influential was Charles Dickens and the images of his most precious story (both the still images he created and the moving
ones which came later). A 19th Century Christmastide is a selection of songs which were popular at the end of the
1800s. The songs are almost universally recognizable. For those who have embraced history as a passion the romantic
notions of the ideal Christmas are entwined with songs which were part of the holidays in Victorian England and
America. I present these songs as ambient, period music for holiday gatherings or as a historic music program with
commentary on the background and origins of the songs and the evolution of America's 19th Century Audience members
are welcome to sing along. A list of songs is available on request. View a video of the songs "God Rest Ye Merry
Gentlemen" here, and "Here We Come a-Wassailing" here.
To End All Wars: Songs of the First World War
On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife Sophie were
assassinated. Scholars agree that this was the catalyst of the terrible conflict that claimed over
10 million lives and came to be called “The War to End All Wars.” The popular and folk songs
of the First World War were patriotic and inspiring. Some were filled with pathos, describing
tragedy, loss, fear and hope. A surprising number were humorous. Music tied the men on the
battlefield to their families at home. It united people in their beliefs, and inspired those who left
home and family to fight. To listen to the songs of the First World War is to hear the cultural
history of the period brought vividly to life. “To End All Wars: Songs of the First World War”
is a presentation of period songs, some well-known, others more obscure, along with a
discussion of the issues, events and personalities of the War.
Splendid Isolation: Songs of Warren Zevon
Warren William Zevon (1947-2003) was a gifted and sometimes troubled genius who wrote songs
which were commentaries on late 20th century American life. His pieces were clever, satirical, sensitive, dark and
humorous. Although he made his living as a rock musician he always claimed that his compositions were "basically
folk songs." Mr. Zevon recorded 12 studio albums and two live ones. He was very highly regarded by his
professional colleagues. Now more than ten years after his death he continues to have a fan base and following that
borders on cult status. Warren Zevon won two posthumous Grammy awards for his final recording "The Wind." I
have put together a program of what I consider some of his very finest songs. View a video of the songs
"Splendid Isolation" here, and "Mutineer" here.
The Grain, the Grape and the Hop: Drinking Songs Old and Recent
For almost as long as fermented beverages have been around we've been celebrating the consumption of them in song. This
program presents a selection of songs that have been composed over the years to describe the joys (and a few of the
sorrows) of drinking. A token temperance song or two might find their way into the presentation as well.
A Glass of Beer History is a collaborative program with Christopher Dobbs, Dawn Indermuehle and Rick Spencer. The
program lasts approximately an hour and a half. Over this period, we take people on a 6,000-year journey through the
history beer, with a heavy emphasis on its origins, evolution in Europe (focus on England and Germany), coming to America,
its place in our country over the last 200 plus years, temperance, and the modern craft-brew phenomenon. The program
includes a power point presentation, a discussion on the history of our favorite beverage, a sampling of at least five beers and
a number of very entertaining drinking songs. The program is approximately an hour and a half long.
A Song of the Seasons
The promise of Spring, the warmth of the long days of
Summer, the Autumn harvest and the deep, dark Winter have
all been described eloquently in music. The allegorical song of
the seasons of human life is a long standing tradition as well.
This program presents some of the best of both.
Over There:The World War I Diaries of Dr. Jessie Weston Fisher .
Dr. Jessie Fisher kept two diaries during her time in France working with the American Red Cross. This
program is a performance piece based on those diaries. The program includes excerpts from the diaries, a
presentation of relevant historic images, and several songs from the First World War.
For information about this program please click here.
Songs of the Second World War
The popular music of the Second World War was influenced by many different cultural traditions.
Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville, Swing, Country, Jazz, Blues and Big Band music were blending in a
diverse and dynamic way to form the soundtrack of the period. "Songs of WWII" is a program
that combines some of the most entertaining and popular songs of the 1940s along with
background information on the War and the music that it inspired.
Between the Great Wars: American Popular Music 1918-1941
The end of WWI, the "Roaring '20s", flappers, women's suffrage, a racy new slang, prohibition, the
Stock Market crash, the Great Depression and preparation for a second Great War were all part of
the American experience between 1918 and 1941. During this period the radio was broadcasting an
eclectic mix of different sounds and we were developing an appetite for a variety of musical styles.
The popular and folk music that were mainstream at the time included songs from traditions as
diverse as gospel, country, blues, vaudeville, jazz, swing and others. Songwriters like Irving Berlin,
George M. Cohan, the Gershwins, Jimmie Rogers and others were making their mark on American
pop culture. This is a program of American songs from one of our most interesting and dynamic
times in our history.
Are We There Yet?: Songs of American Transportation is a lighthearted
look at the our motivation to be "on the move" from one place to another, and
about the many modes of transportation we've used in getting from there to
here. The presentation includes traditional and modern songs about travel by
just about every different mode you can imagine.
From Seneca Falls to the 19th Amendment: Songs of the American Woman Suffrage Movement
The struggle for woman suffrage was an important and hard-fought step toward gender equality. Music
was one of the significant tools used in the crusade for a woman's right to vote. Songs were composed
to advance (and to oppose) the agenda that culminated in the 1919 ratification of the
19th Amendment to the Constitution. This program presents some of the most engaging and interesting
songs of the movement, with historical commentary, in commemoration of the approaching centennial of
a woman's right to vote.
An American Pop Music Time Machine is a musical voyage through American history, using popular
songs from our past as the vehicle to connect to our cultural heritage.
American popular music has always been a reflection of our culture and our times. To listen to the folk and
popular songs from our past is to hear history brought vividly to life.
Our time machine programs are flexible and can take the listener from music of early post-Colonial, through
the period of westward expansion, into the days of the Minstrel shows, Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, the Jazz
age, through the early days of Rock 'n Roll and up to the modern age.
We can focus on music of any period between the 1780s and 1980s, in 50 or 100 year segments, or we can
emphasize a particular theme.