Country musicians and folk musicians separate themselves into two different genres. The fact remains, however, that there are similar narratives both groups bring to the social and political history of the world. No more is that found than with songs of life and death, of love lost, and of the human joys and tragedies that take place across generations. War is one of those topics, and it is through music that patriotism or protest become part of the dialogue.
Music was part of war. In ancient times, the battle harp was held in esteem and played as men marched into war. The bugle sound signals the rising of the soldier from his bed to meet the duties of the day. Often times those duties meant putting one’s life in danger. Music was also part of the soldier’s funeral, battle, with taps played at the graveside of those to be honored in death.
Songs of protest and patriotism showed the varying emotions brought about by conflict. Whereas songs such as Over There and the Ballad of the Green Berets were patriotic pieces, there were also songs of protest. Country songs narrated the conflict that many men and women had about war, such as the song by Kris Kristofferson called Good Christian Soldier. The ambivalence of battle and faith was reflected by the song Kristofferson understood because he too had been in the Vietnam war.
During the Second World War patriotic themes became part of the country music songs. These songs underlined values related to one’s country, and in America the red, white, and blue were the keywords for nearly every song that was written. Still within the verses, one can find the words of protest and the pain that told the story of the human toll of war.
The Letter Edged in Black was taken from the elements of an old folk song and adapted with new words to tell the story of a mother receiving a letter from her son who died in battle. The old folk song Tramp on the Street was also changed by country music artists who added the verse about the death of a soldier, comparing it to the Jesus’ mother’s pain in losing her son with the pain of the mother who has lost a son in war.
One of the most heartfelt tunes to come out of the second world war was done by Molly O’Day, a singer who was lauded by musicians everywhere for her pure country tones. She was a country star during the country music heydays of the 1940′s and 50′s. Those who identify country music as brusque and harsher sounding at times, or corny, in some ways, would likely agree with the music critics of the day that Molly O’Day was a special singer who could present a song with great compassion and feeling, and with great beauty of tone, as she did the song Teardrops in the Snow. The song has all the ingredients of the conflict that was felt following the war and the loss families had from the battle fought by their sons. The image of the mother at the gravesite became embedded in the minds of many throughout the world, and no more was that image pronounced than in this song Teardrops in the Snow.