This mournful American folk ballad is similar in content to "The Ash Grove
," herein a mocking bird is singing over the dead sweetheart's grave. The song was equally popular as an instrumental, and was said to have been a personal favourite of President Abraham Lincoln.
When it was first published in 1855 by Winner & Shuster, it was described as an Ethiopian Ballad after Richard Milburn, a Negro alluded to by musicologist Eileen Southern as "a street whistler-guitarist." The song was said to have been written (i.e. lyrics by) and arranged by Alice Hawthorne.
According to Southern in The Music Of Black Americans
, Milburn received only 20 copies of the song as payment - which does seem extraordinarily mean in view of its subsequent popularity, but the publisher could hardly have anticipated this.
Alice Hawthorne was actually the pseudonym of songwriter Septimus Winner who owned a music store, and gave Milburn a job on the strength of his whistling talent. (Hawthorne was Winner's mother's maiden name).
"Listen To The Mocking Bird" became a massive hit throughout the USA and Europe, so much so that it has been estimated that by 1905, three years after Winner's death, it had sold twenty million copies, fifteen million in the States alone.
After Winner sold the song, Richard Milburn's name was omitted from the credits, but if he was shortchanged, so was Winner. The song was not immediately popular, and he is said to have received only five dollars for the rights!
Alexander Baron - London, England