John Brown's Body

"John Brown's Body" (originally known as "John Brown's Song") is an American marching song about the abolitionist John Brown. The song was popular in the Union during the American Civil War. The tune arose out of the folk hymn tradition of the American camp meeting movement of the 19th century. According to an 1890 account, the original John Brown lyrics were a collective effort by a group of Union soldiers who were referring both to the famous John Brown and also, humorously, to a Sergeant John Brown of their own battalion. Various other authors have published additional verses and/or claimed credit for originating the John Brown lyrics.

The "flavor of coarseness, possibly of irreverence" led many of the era to feel uncomfortable with the earliest "John Brown" lyrics. This in turn led to the creation of many variant versions of the text that aspired to a higher literary quality. The most famous of these is Julia Ward Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which was written when a friend suggested, "Why do you not write some good words for that stirring tune?"

Numerous informal versions and adaptations of the lyrics and music have been created from the mid 1800s down to the present, making "John Brown's Body" an example of a living folk music tradition.

Read more about John Brown's Body:  History of The Tune, Other Related Texts, Lyrics

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