Yellow Rose of Texas

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Texas, United States on 2012-01-25 23:50Z by Steven

Yellow Rose of Texas

The Handbook of Texas Online
Texas State Historical Association

Jeffrey D. Dunn

James Lutzweiler

“The Yellow Rose of Texas,” one of the iconic songs of modern Texas and a popular traditional American tune, has experienced several transformations of its lyrics and periodic revivals in popularity since its appearance in the 1850s. The earliest published lyrics to surface to date are found in Christy’s Plantation Melodies. No. 2, a songbook published under the authority of Edwin P. Christy in Philadelphia in 1853. Christy was the founder of the blackface minstrel group known as the Christy’s Minstrels. Their shows were a popular form of American entertainment featuring white performers with burnt cork makeup portraying caricatures of blacks in comic acts, dances, and songs. The plaintive courtship-themed 1853 lyrics of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” fit the minstrel genre by depicting an African-American singer, who refers to himself as a “darkey,” longing to return to “a yellow girl,” a term used to describe a mulatto, or mixed-race female born of African-American and white progenitors. The songbook does not identify the author or include a musical score to accompany the lyrics:

There’s a yellow girl in Texas
That I’m going down to see;
No other darkies know her,
No darkey, only me;
She cried so when I left her
That it like to broke my heart,
And if I only find her,
We never more will part.

Chorus: She’s the sweetest girl of colour
That this darkey ever knew;
Her eyes are bright as diamonds,
And sparkle like the dew.
You may talk about your Dearest Mae,
And sing of Rosa Lee,
But the yellow Rose of Texas
Beats the belles of Tennessee.

Where the Rio Grande is flowing,
And the starry skies are bright,
Oh, she walks along the river
In the quiet summer night;
And she thinks if I remember
When we parted long ago,
I promised to come back again,
And not to leave her so.

Chorus: She’s the sweetest girl of colour, &c

Oh, I’m going now to find her,
For my heart is full of woe,
And we’ll sing the songs together
That we sang so long ago.
We’ll play the banjo gaily,
And we’ll sing our sorrows o’er,
And the yellow Rose of Texas
Shall be mine forever more.

Chorus: She’s the sweetest girl of colour, &c.

“Dearest Mae” and “Rosa Lee,” the only named females in the song, are the titles of two songs also appearing in Christy’s Minstrels songbooks. These songs were published earlier (1847–48) and are similar in style. Both are sung by a black man in a courtship setting with lyrics similar to those found in “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Dearest Mae, who was from “old Carolina state,” was described as follows: “Her eyes dey sparkle like de stars, Her lips are red as beet,” and “She cried when boff [both] we parted.” Rosa Lee lived in Tennessee and had “Eyes as dark as winter night, Lips as red as berry bright.”

…In 2011 Yale Divinity School Library archivist Joan Duffy uncovered material indicating that the song’s composer might have been John Kelly, a famous minstrel banjoist, comedian, and composer who took the stage name “J. K. Campbell” in 1851 at the request of a fellow minstrel performer. According to Edward Le Roy Rice (1911), in 1859 and 1860 Campbell was working with George Christy’s Minstrels at Niblo’s Saloon in New York City under name of J. K. Edwards before changing his stage name back to J. K. Campbell. A minstrel “comic song” composed circa 1861 by “J. K. Campbell,” entitled “Ham Fat,” is similar in style to “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” One of the lines reads: “You may talk about your comfort, But Massa is the man…”…

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