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Ricliard B. Harwell is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of "Civil War History," a former editor of its column "The Continuing War," and the guest editor of the issue devoted to Robert E. Lee. He is executive secretary of the Association of College and Reference Libraries, and formerly served as librarian of Special Collections on Southern History at Emory and Duke Universities and at the Virginia State Library. Among his numerous publications on the Civil War is the monograph. Confederate Music, published by the University of North Carolina Press. The Star Of the Bonnie Blue Flag RICHARD B. HARWELL the somber impersonality that marks the crude wood-cut portrait of Harry Macarthy on the cover of the sole surviving copy of a program for his Personation Concerts belies the personality' that must have sparkled with the abundant diamonds of the foppish costume that was his trade mark. Composer, singer; producer, actor; Macarthy was the pride of the Confederate stage, the star of the Bonnie Blue Flag. In the waning days of the Confederacy Macarthy fled the South (to the scornful delight of John Hill Hewitt, his principal rival as a Confederate tunesmith), but in the bright days of Southern hopes he was the darling of the Confederate theaters. His ability as an entertainer was heralded in all the principal Southern cities, and his songs delighted both parlor and campfire. Thrust into fame with his "The Bonnie Blue Flag," he plugged the tune till it rivalled "Dixie" as a Southern war song. As early as August 13, 1861 the New Orleans Picayune commented: "His song of the 'Bonnie Blue Flag, whose single star has grown into eleven,' is nightly encored, and, deservedly. In the first place, it is a good song, and, in the next, he sings it with infinite spirit and effect" Macarthy was born in England in 1834 and came to America at the age of fifteen. By 1860 he had made something of a reputation in the provincial theatrical circuit of the South. His programs, in which he was assisted by his wife, Lottie Estelle, were billed as Personation Concerts. "Assisted " is the proper word. Lottie Estelle was not Macarthy's co-star but 285 286RICHARD B. HARWELL an adjunct. Although she provided him time for costume changes with her dance numbers and accompaniment for him in duets, the Personation Concerts were essentially one-man shows. If Macarthy had ever played in New York, he had certainly established no reputation there. His appeal was to the unsophisticated audience. Perhaps his adoption of the sobriquet "The Arkansas Comedian" had some direct relation to his early and enthusiastic reception in that frontier state. The Fort Smith Herald wrote of him on August 11, 1860: "In his peculiar line—the delineation of comic characters and the singing of comic songs—he has no superiors. There is a freshness, an originality, and a hearty drollery in his style that never fails to bring down the house. The rich Irish brogue comes as trippingly from his lips as though it was his mother tongue, while his Dutch and Negro dialects are true to life. Mr. M. is quite a young man, and will no doubt make a brilliant figure in the dramatic world. We trust we may long have the pleasure of laughing at his jokes and applauding his songs." The Little Rock Daily Democrat went all out in 1862, calling him "a good singer, an excellent dancer, a musician, and a genius." Its comment continued, "He enters fully into the spirit of all his characters with a vim that makes them real, and a humor that is irresistible. His songs, of which he has an endless store, and many of them written by himself, are replete with sentiment, pathos and drollery. His stories are told in a style that saves every point. His gestures are always rounded and graceful. His tastes are natural, inoffensive and pleasing. He is certainly one of the best mimics and singers we have ever seen—success to him." "The Bonnie Blue Flag" was written by Macarthy in the spring of 1861 and introduced into his performances during an engagement at Jackson, Mississippi. To this piece...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 285-290
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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