The Yellow Rose of Texas

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"The Yellow Rose of Texas"
The Yellow Rose of Texas-mm.jpg
Single by Mitch Miller
B-side Blackberry Winter
Released August 6, 1955
Format 7-inch single
Genre Folk music
Length 03:00
Label Columbia Records
Writer(s) Don George / Randy Starr / Traditional / Fred Wise
Mitch Miller singles chronology

Autumn Leaves / In My Arms
(1955)
The Yellow Rose of Texas / Blackberry Winter
(1955)
Bonnie Blue Gal
(1956)

Peaked @ #1 on May 28, 1955

Written by an anonymous songwriter known as J.K., the earliest known version of this American folk song was found in Edwin Pearce Christy's 1853 songbook Christy's Plantation Melodies, No. 2. Christy was a balladeer and was widely known for Christy's Minstrels, a blackface minstrel show that started out of New York City in 1847. Sung from the perspective of an African American narrator, the tune follows his quest to find his lost love, a biracial woman he calls "The Yellow Rose of Texas." This became associated with folk heroine Emily D. West, a free black woman from Connecticut who was contracted as an indentured servant for James Morgan at a hotel in Morgan's Point, Texas. During the Texas Revolution, West and the rest of the hotel residents were captured by Mexican troops led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. According to legend, Santa Anna lost the ensuing 18-minute Battle of San Jacinto because he was in the middle of raping West when General Sam Houston led the attack on the Mexican camp. Houston allegedly told the story to Englishman William Bollaert, who wrote in his journal of the heroic "mulatta girl belonging to Col. Morgan who was closeted in the tent with Gen. Santana's troops during the Battle of San Jacinto and distracted the General while Texas troops advanced."

West's story was further cemented in history when it became the basis for Anita Richmond Bunkley's 1989 novel Emily, The Yellow Rose. Most of the ensuing versions replaced problematic racial terms such as "darkie" and "sweetest rose of color" with "soldier" and "sweetest little flower." This is the case with Mitch Miller's 1955 rendition, reworked by lyricist Don George, that topped the Billboard pop chart when it was used in the James Dean film Giant. Unfortunately, the altered lyrics also remove any indication that the tune arose from a significant piece of black history. During the American Civil War, the Confederate soldiers in the Texas Brigade adopted this as a marching song. Elvis Presley's version was used in his 1964 movie Viva Las Vegas. Gene Autry performed this on his eponymous TV series. His version was included in the 1994 miniseries James A. Michener's Texas. Several TV shows have borrowed this, including The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, The Mentalist, and Friends. Roger McGuinn, of The Byrds, has been keeping traditional folk music alive for years through the Folk Den section of his website, where he records and uploads his own versions of the songs, including this one. He tells Songfacts of the song: "It's historically interesting, because it was a song that was sung in the Civil War by the troops, and it was kind of a rallying song. It's gone through many stages, where people have interpreted it in different ways. I went back to look at the original, and it was totally different from what you would hear Mitch Miller do. But it's a great melody, and it was a great song."

His version is included on the 2016 album The Folk Den Project: Twentieth Anniversary Edition.

Music video

Lyrics

Theres a yellow rose in Texas that I am gonna see
Nobody else could miss her, not half as much as 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

Shes the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew
You may talk about your Clementine and sing of Rosa Lee
But the Yellow Rose of Texas is the only girl for me.

Where the Rio Grande is flowin, and starry skies are bright
She walks along the river in the quiet summer night
I know that she remembers when we parted long ago
I promised to return and not to leave her so

Shes the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew
You may talk about your Clementine and sing of Rosa Lee
But the Yellow Rose of Texas is the only girl for me.

Oh, now Im gonna find her, for my heart is full of woe
Well do the things together we did so long ago
Well play the banjo gaily, shell love me like before
And the Yellow Rose of Texas shall be mine forevermore

Shes the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew
You may talk about your Clementine and sing of Rosa Lee
But the Yellow Rose of Texas is the only girl for me.


Weekly charts

Chart (1955) Peak
position
August 6, 1955 17
August 13, 1955 5
August 20, 1955 3
August 27, 1955 3
September 3, 1955 1
September 10, 1955 1
September 17, 1955 1
September 24, 1955 1
October 1, 1955 1
October 8, 1955 2
October 15, 1955 1
October 22, 1955 3
October 29, 1955 3
November 5, 1955 3
November 12, 1955 4
November 19, 1955 5
November 26, 1955 9
December 3, 1955 11
December 10, 1955 16