Tuesday, August 21, 2012

To hear the songs, look for the round orange circle with the  white arrow

A Musical
music  by Susan Maskin and  Bernie Katzman

lyrics by Susan Maskin
arranged and performed by Bernie Katzman

many of the songs presented as instrumentals; lyrics are posted


 March 10, 2013 is the 100th anniversary of
the death of Harriet Tubman
She was between 91 and 93.

My purpose in creating this historical musical is to pay tribute to Harriet (Araminta) Ross Tubman and the many  people who were passengers and conductors on the Underground Railroad. I also want to pay tribute to all of the other  enslaved African Americans who were unable to make the trip.

Most of the songs posted are instrumentals followed by lyrics. There are also improvisations created by Bernie Katzman  which are based on the original melody.  The song automatically played here is called "Forever to be Free" and might have reflected the thoughts that Harriet
thought throughout her life and especially in her later years. ( It is also called  Moments,  (click and scroll down) another song I wrote with  the same melody but other lyrics)

This musical is based on the life of Harriet Tubman, a famous abolitionist and humanitarian who escaped from slavery and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Although much of the information is based on whatever we know of the facts of her life, there are some songs in which the characters and/or events are fictitious. Nevertheless, the fictitious parts are based on the reality of life as lived by most enslaved Americans during the pre-Civil War period. Additional information and songs describe the Underground Railroad in general and those who worked for the crusade to rescue enslaved people in the United States.

It is very difficult to write about this topic. There are many myths about Harriet Tubman and  the Underground Railroad and it  is difficult to separate myth from reality.Some of what we think of with regard to the Underground Railroad is unproven, and thus might be more legend than fact.  The veracity of those "factors" vary .  For example, it is thought that most enslaved people were helped  along the way by beneficent  abolitionists who put lanterns in the windows of "safe houses."  While this  certainly did happen, it might not have  happened to the extent that we think it did. Several songs and symbols are noted as  guiding their way. While it is believed that this might be partially true, we have to remember that many of the enslaved people  escaped on their own, without any guidance at all; their journeys haphazard. Sometimes these people had guides called "conductors", both Black and White who knew the route. Oftentimes, the escaped person would maintain his or her journey totally alone.  

I do not believe that there is  written proof that songs such as "Follow the Drinking Gourd" was a symbolic aid to escape.There is no documented proof that it was not used that way. There is no absolute proof that quilts were used  as symbols either...but might have been. However, though we can not prove one way or the other whether these were more fact than legend or the other way round, or to what extent it was fact, to what extent  legend , it is true that just about  most if not all enslaved people thought constantly about freedom while those who supported their rights, and even helped them existed both North and South as well. Furthermore, it is  important to pay  tribute to people who struggled for the rights of all Americans to live with the sacred right of freedom and respect.

This musical reflects both fact and legend about Harriet Ross Tubman Davis specifically and the UGRR generally.

Harriet was born and named Araminta (Minty) Ross in 1820 or 1821 (exact records were not kept.) Minty was one of the many children of Rit and Ben Ross. There are few records of her childhood, and much of what we know of her  comes from oral history. (An early biography of Harriet Tubman by Sarah Bradford -published about 1869, is the source used by modern biographers. Bradford had interviews with Harriet Tubman.) 

Minty, as she was called, was rebellious from a young age. As was true of other enslaved people, Minty (later Harriet, after her mother who was called Rit for short) longed for freedom. While still living in Maryland, she married John Tubman, a free man in the area. (It is thought that by the 1840's there were quite a few free black people living in Maryland and Delaware.) Minty's father, Ben, was manumitted (freed) as dictated by  the will of the plantation owner where Ben lived. It is thought that according to the will, he was to be freed at the age of 45.  Not too much is known about Ben Ross except he was very clever and therefore relied upon by the owner of the plantation on which he lived.  The same specification about Rit might have been part of the will of the owner of the plantation  where she was enslaved.

  The owner of the plantation where Harriet was born, Edward Brodess, was frequently in debt. He raised money  selling the services of his people to others. He  also very frequently  sold many of them south. It is thought that a few of Harriet's siblings were sold away and never heard from again. This  practice caused great, constant fear among the enslaved people living on his plantation as in all planataions.  Several of the enslaved attempted escape, a few successfully. One of them was Harriet Tubman.

    In 1849 Harriet Tubman escaped with the  help of  antislavery activists using  a network of "safe houses" and symbols . The routes followed  were collectively known as the "Underground Railroad." Harriet returned  to the south many times (perhaps as many as 19 trips--estimates are 13 to 19 ) to help her family and others escape to the Northern states and to Canada.  During the Civil War, she was a Union activist, nurse and spy. In 1869 she remarried, Nelson Davis--a marriage that lasted 19 years until he passed away. Harriet Tubman Davis spent the rest of her life engaged in humanitarian causes. She was especially active in the woman's suffrage movement.  In the latter years of her life she built a home for the aged in Auburn N.Y. which she helped run until her death  in 1913 at the age of  about 91. I believe she was one of the most courageous people who  ever lived.

In 1936, the Federal Writer's Project under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) began interviewing former enslaved people who were still alive at that time. The link is:

Please note: As I have never studied linguistics, the songs only  very vaguely reflect period  speech patterns, and  in some songs, none at all. My purpose is to create songs which will reflect the history of the times, and to pay tribute to those people who suffered under the institution of slavery as well as those  who sought to be of assistance.

Please use the song menu for easiest navigation of this website.

Thank you for visiting this blog and in so-doing paying tribute to Harriet Tubman, to all others working on the Underground Railroad, to  enslaved people who rode the railroad, to  those who escaped totally on their own, and  to those who were never able to make the trip, to the abolitionists  nationwide, and to all Americans who believed and still believe in the basic principles  of freedom upon which the United States of America was founded. 



Friday, June 15, 2012

     Abraham Lincoln won the election for the presidency in 1860, despite the fact that he was not on the ballet in many southern states, His election culminated many years of what came to be known as “sectionalism” (meaning loyalty to the interest of ones own district rather to the nation as a whole), especially over the issue of slavery.
      Lincoln’s election  ultimately spurred ten states of the “Deep South” to  declare its secession from the United States.. South Carolina (December 20,1860), Mississippi (January 9, 1861) Florida (January 10,1861), Alabama (January 11, 1861), Georgia (January 19,1861), Louisiana, (January 26, 1861), Texas, (February 1, 1861), Virginia (April 17,1861, Arkansas, May 6,1861, North Carolina, May 20, 1861, Tennessee June 8, 1861), formed what came to be called The Confederate States of America.  Four slave holding states,Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and Missouri  did not declare secession and remained loyal to the United States.  A portion  of Virginia broke away, remained loyal to the United States union, and became a new state known as West Virginia.
    The Civil War began after the attack and capture by Confederates of the US federal Forth Sumter on April 12, 1861.  The war lasted until 1865 and was one of the bloodiest wars ever fought by Americans, and the third war fought on American soil. (The Mexican War of 1848 was technically fought on Mexican territory which was annexed to the United States at the end of the war.) Enslaved people were freed as a result of the Civil war. The thirteenth amendment to the Constitution forbids slavery in the United States.
    Harriet Tubman was an active participant in the Civil War. Having had experience as conductor on the Underground Railroad, she knew her way around the land, how to hide, how to disguise herself.  She was an expert organizer and had many scouts working with and for her. She was also a nurse who knew  natural  remedies, for example, some home remedies for dysentery  which was a common ailment among union soldiers. Her courage and determination were extremely helpful to the Union.

Harriet Tubman continued her activism after the Civil War. She was especially dedicated to the cause of Woman’s Rights in general and the woman’s suffrage movement in particular. She spent her last years building and working at a home for the elderly. She died in Auburn New York in 1913. Her gravestone reads:

Harriet Tubman Davis, Heroine of the Underground Railroad,
nurse and scout in the Civil War. Born about 1820 in
Maryland, died March 20, 1913 at Auburn,NY.


The civil war a  long time fought
Misery is what it wrought
Nursing the wounded, the hours were long
A spy for the union my will was strong.

The war  now over, the slaves free at last.
Now we must move from an ugly past,
Though it’s time to lay down the gun,
Other battles continue more to be done.

I’ll fight those fights for humankind,
Devote my heart and the whole of my mind,
Helping people take a stand,
Pushing for justice in our land.

I “ll  crusade  both day and night
The battles continue, turn wrong to right,
Has always been my destiny,
It’s my mission, always  shall be


Sunday, May 6, 2012


Although Jim and Sarah are fictional characters, their situation represents the reality of enslaved people. Jim and Sarah married according to a traditional African custom. But their lives were not their own. As so often happened, families were split up as one member of the family was "sold."  The expressions, "sold south" and "sold down the river" come from this era.  Needless to say, it was a tragedy for those involved.

Communication was usually severed and it was not uncommon for a family members never to hear from those sold away ever again. In this segment, Jim heard that he was to be sold. He decides to run away. He promises
to come back for Sarah and their child..but he was captured, and sold anyway.


Jim's part
Sarah, Sarah, Sarah my darlin'..
Just as soon as the  sun sets in the sky.
I must go, I must run away to night.
It's mighty hard, so hard to say good-bye.

Sarah's Part
Jim, Jim, Jim my darlin,
Though we promised, from the very start.
That we would stay, together forever.
We would never, never ever part.

And yet I know, I know it to be true.
That if you stay, I fear what they will do.
They'll sell you down south, so far away from me.
Then neither one of us would ever breathe free.

Jim's Part

Remember, Sarah, Sarah my darlin,
I promise this, it's what I plan to do.
I somehow will,  I'll come back here for you.
And our child, come back for her too.

Cause I'll find a way to rescue you.
 Then both of you, like me, will breathe free air too.

IMPROVISATION,by Bernie Katzman

Please click the music below for the entire transcription

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

......What ya doin' Minty, Sittin' in the corner?
......Get yourself goin', There's work to be done.
......The missus don't like ..........No lazy slave girl , 
......There aint no rest here,  Never fun.

.......Com-on,  Minty, Get ya-self movin' 
.......Life don't change,  oh can't ya' see, 
.......Plantations for us is sure not free, 
.......And won't ...............never be.


......It aint no fair mama,  workin' like a cart horse 
......Livin' for the big house, night and day.
,,,,,,I needs to be free, be my own master, 
,,,,,,For me, it's the only way. 

......I know in my heart......I'm headin' for freedom 
,..,,,Ain't just a dream, ....it's on my mind
......May not be today's or tomorrow's plan, 
,,..,,But it's freedom for me......that's what I'll find.

Improvisation by Bernie Katzman

As a young girl, Minty  was often "hired out." This means she was put to work for other families in some capacity. In one case, for example, she was hired out to a weaver...a woman who mistreated her terribly. Minty was beaten  on a regular basis.  At one point she had the measles, but was still made to work. It was at this time she was able to get back to her mother who nursed her back to health.

 Although some enslaved people found ways of making a little money, most were penniless. There were a few people who, with some meager savings and money donated by abolitionists, were able to buy their freedom..but this was rare. 

Many of the "owners" of enslaved people were small  farmers, "owning" two or three people.  The larger plantations might have had many workers. There were some Black slave "owners", probably accounting to fewer than 2%. These were free Black people living in the south as well.  Though some "owned" the enslaved people for commercial reasons,  a good many  were known as "benevolent slave owners." They bought slaves to enable  them a better, more tolerable life;  they bought family members, to keep them together; they bought them in order to free them (manumission.

The facts of Minty's early life are sketchy. Written documents were generally not kept. A few incidents
are known, howeverHarriet herself retained some memories and was known, in her senior years, to
speak to children about her life and memories. One of her distinct memories from childhood was  a
infants bed, carved out of a tree, presumably by her father. she also remembered, as a young  child being
played with (tossed up and down) by some young white girls. 

  As a child, Minty/Harriet was severely injured when a hard object  thrown towards another enslaved person,  accidentally hit her head leaving a  physical scar . Fainting spells plagued her for the rest of  her life. Beatings, mutilations and other severe treatment was suffered by the enslaved people if they committed even the most minor  of offenses.

In this song, Minty is refusing to go to her assignment. Her mother and an older sister are terrified that she will get a beating--once again-- so they are urging her to get up and go to work. There is no record of this event actually happening.  I made the incident up... it is not even legend. However, the love of  and concern for family members was very strong among enslaved people. The song symbolizes the intimidation suffered by enslaved people, and the deep love and concern of family members.

    Minty replies by telling her mother and sister about her longing to be free, and her intentions to break away from her present condition. She tells them that it is not just a dream, but is on her mind as a reality for the future. This song represents both the feelings of hopelessness and yet the yearnings to be free in spite of despair. The song, therefore, is symbolic.

 In actuality, as far as we know, Minty's mother, Rit, had a strong , courageous, rebellious spirit of her own as did so many other enslaved people.  It is thought that when  her youngest son, Harriet Tubman's brother, was to be "sold", Rit hid him for  a month until the "sale" was abandoned.

......What ya doin' Minty, Sittin' in the corner?
......Get yourself goin', There's work to be done.
......The missus don't like ..........No lazy slave girl ,
......There aint no rest here,  Never fun.

.......Com-on,  Minty, Get ya-self movin'
.......Life don't change,  oh can't ya' see,
.......Plantations for us is sure not free,
.......And won't ...............never be.


......It aint no fair mama,  workin' like a cart horse
......Livin' for the big house, night and day.
,,,,,,I needs to be free, be my own master,
,,,,,,For me, it's the only way.

......I know in my heart......I'm headin' for freedom
,..,,,Ain't just a dream, ....it's on my mind
......May not be today's or tomorrow's plan,
,,..,,But it's freedom for me......that's what I'll find.

Improvisation by Bernie Katzman


Click on the notation below to see the entire transcription,as
done by Dylan Roberts

sdsf What Ya Doin' Minty: Improvisation by Bernie Katzman by Susan Maskin

Monday, March 19, 2012

  Living conditions for most enslaved people were terrible. They usually lived in one room, dirt floor shacks, usually without windows.  They ate poorly and  wore shabby clothing and often wore no shoes. ( One spiritual,GOING  TO SHOUT ALL OVER GOD'S HEAVEN, has the following verse:

I’ve got shoes, you’ve got  shoes
All of God’s children got shoes
When I get to Heaven goin’ to put on my shoes
Goin’ to walk all over God’s Heaven

Disease was common. People worked long days, from "day clean to day gone."--and when there was a full moon, sometimes into the night. A prominent thought on the enslaved person's mind was freedom.  In this song, Harriet  expresses her feelings of anger and misery over of her situation and emphasizes her continual determination to be a free person, as she knows she should be.  


I wake each mornin'.... feelin'blue..
Moanin'; and groanin' 'bout what I gotta do.
Go up to the big house, work mornin' til night..
Doin' what they say to do with never a fight.

Workin' and workin' the way I be told..
And always a-fearin', I gonna be sold.

The Missus think that I'm property.
But I got feelin's that she ain't never see.
 I be a  slave...  just to push around.
To her just a bug to crawl on the ground.

That's my life, don't belong to me.
But only for now...I soon will be free.

That day will come, cause I'm really mad.
Livin' this way is awefully sad.
It's no life for me, not at all.
I'll stand up for myself...really tall.

Cause I.... Know I'm a woman, a woman who.
Can be my own person, with so much more to do.
I'll help myself and my people too..
Have a better life,  a life brand new.

That's why I decided, I gonna see.
Me, and my brothers and sisters be free...

Click the music for the entire   song

Transcription by Dylan Roberts

Harriet Beecher Stowe started Uncle Tom's Cabin with a deal made between a plantation owner and a slave trader.It is a most tragic event, as every aspect of slavery was.  In this song, Mr.  Edward Brodess (the owner of the plantation in Maryland where Harriet Tubman was born)  meets with a fictitious slave trader named Mr. Len.  Although this song narrative is partially fictitious, it represents the actual events that happened all to often.  Some of the plantation owners went into debt and needed to raise money. They did so by either hiring out their enslaved people (as Harriet/Minty was hired out) or by selling them. The music represents the tragedy of the events. It is cruelly ironic that the two men were "animated," while eating a  sumptuous meal. They were quite satisfied with their "business deal".

The Song



Today, in the big house,
There were two men.

One Mr. Brodess, the other Mr. Len.
They sat at a table,they ate a sumptuous meal.
Both men were animated, talking with zeal.

Mr. Len was a broker, came a long way.
to purchase some slaves,
For which he would pay,
As little as possible, 'cause 
What he did feel..
As a slave trader, his object,
Get a good deal.

So Brodess told Len, 
That he has this slave, Jim.
Real  strong and quite able,
not many like him.
Then Len said to Brodess, he must add to the lot..
Throw a child into the deal..
He could take it or not.

In no time they agreed,
A fair price for the pair.
No matter who suffered,
Wretched despair.
They're slaves, after all, who cares how they feel,
So long as some money, changed hands in the deal.

And that's what went on, in the gloom of that room.
An agreement was made, that sealed another's doom.


Improvisation, by Bernie Katzman