The Ballad Of Booth

Album: Assassins Soundtrack (1990)
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Songfacts®:

  • "The Ballad Of Booth" or simply "Ballad Of Booth" is the second song from the offbeat Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins; it is performed as a duet by the unrepentant Booth and the Balladeer, who is in effect the Master of Ceremonies.

    Poetic license aside, the song contains one minor error; it gives Booth's age as 27; he was actually less than 3 weeks short of his 27th birthday when he was shot dead at Port Royal, Virginia on April 26, 1865 by Union soldier Boston Corbett (who was born in London).

    John Wilkes Booth was a distinguished actor who became notorious as the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. Born into a family of thespians, of English descent, he became part of a Confederate conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln, but the plot took a more sinister turn, and on April 14, 1865, he shot Lincoln in the back of the head at Ford's Theater as the President watched a performance of Our American Cousin. Then, obviously with one eye on history, he jumped from the Presidential box to the stage, raised a knife and cried "Sic semper tyrannis" which was attributed to Brutus on the assassination of Julius Caesar (i.e. "Thus always to tyrants"), a strange cry indeed from a man who opposed the abolition of slavery.

    That same night, Booth's fellow conspirator Lewis Powell tried to murder Secretary of State William Seward in his own home, but bungled it. He was captured, tried and executed on July 7, along with three of the other conspirators. Seward went on to achieve a more lasting kind of fame when in 1867 he effected the purchase of Alaska from Russia - for 2 cents an acre! - where now he has an official holiday named after him. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England

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