Before the radio, every home which could afford it had a parlor piano, and most young ladies of the family could “play a little”. The hymnal was a standard to be seen on the music rack, as well as ornate, over-sized pages of sheet music which featured vignettes of touching scenes on their covers. The tunes were sung to dozing infants in front of the fire, and passed down from generation to generation.
Some of the most sentimental and poignant melodies were inspired by the Civil War, and many featured heart-rending lyrics about waiting mothers. Perhaps the most popular melody of this type was Just Before the Battle, Mother.
The themes which were so universal to tender hearts everywhere dealt with loss and grief, separation and death. Motherhood was held in such high regard that many songs had a grieving mother, a mother lost to death, or a child’s loss of its mother as themes. These became known as “tearjerkers” and were a staple of the music writer’s industry for a time well after WWI. The Baggage Coach Ahead is one such very popular sad song about the loss of a mother and a father’s explanation to a little child about the mother being in the “baggage coach ahead” as they were taking her body home for burial. Many of these songs have entered into the realm of American folk music. Many of the lyrics were written by women, some were mothers.
To hear some of these old favorites, visit the links below- you may need a handkerchief.