American popular songs have described, defined and illuminated our history from the very beginning. And what more epic chapter of our history exists than the settling of the West, the daring move out into the great unknown by the brave adventurers of yore, the fulfillment of our great land’s Manifest Destiny.
“Oh give me land, lots of land under starry skies above;/
Don’t Fence Me In!”
DON´T FENCE ME IN! fittingly titles this Lecture-in-Song, a panorama of the American pioneering spirit in song, the ongoing expression of her most essential value in words and music. That value? Freedom.
The excitement of exploration, the high hopes for a prosperous future out there, somewhere:
“Where am I going? I don’t know!/Where am I heading? I ain’t certain!
All I know is/I am on my way!”
“Did you ever hear tell of Sweet Betsy from Pike/
Who crossed the wide prairies with her lover Ike?”
“Oh give me a home/Where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play!”
Finding that place, and putting down roots:
“Brand new state/Gonna treat you great!/
Oklahoma/Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…”
It was a perilous undertaking, often brutal, invariably dangerous, often deadly, but for the stern and persistent, well worth the risk:
“I spied a young cowboy/All wrapped in white linen,/
All wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay.”
“O bury me not on the lone prairie/Where wild coyotes howl over me.”
“My heart is filled with days of yore/And oft I do repine/
For the days of old, the days of gold/And the days of Forty Nine.”
Beloved, genial, mythical movie cowboys, lost without their horses and their guitars: Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter…
“Green grow the lilacs all sparkling with dew;/
I’m lonely, my darling, since parting with you.”
“Back in the saddle again/Out where a friend is a friend…”
“Happy Trails to you/Until we meet again.”
No single image of The Old West surpasses that of The Cowboy, forever preserved in the paintings and sculpture of Remington and Russell, glorified yet movingly humanized in the films of John Ford and Raoul Walsh; the rough, principled men-John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea who rode tall in the saddle-and their equally durable women who contained and civilized them, and, in so doing, literally settled the lawless West.
“Around her neck, she wore a yellow ribbon…”
“But remember the Red River Valley/And the sweetheart who loved you so true.”
“I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
And I must face a man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave.”
“Whatever happened to Randolph Scott/Is what’s happened to the best in me.”
Here is a musical chronicle of our heritage, the forces and spirit that shaped the country, the Land Of The Free, Home Of The Brave. America.
“Can’t look at hobbles/And I can’t stand fences;/Don’t Fence Me In!
If you would like to engage Fred Miller for one of his Lectures-in-Song, please contact him directly at any time. For a full listing of all Lectures, click here.
Fred Miller’s Lectures-In-Song comprise a series of solo programs, each an historical, anecdotal and musical profile of some great personality or important aspect of American Popular Song. These Lectures are delivered by singer/pianist/narrator Miller at the piano, and each reflects his lifetime passion and appreciation for great music. He studied classical piano in his hometown of Albuquerque from ages 7-15 but early on gave up any notion of music as a profession. At that time, Fred assumed a musical career was either one devoted to the rigid discipline of classical music or being a freewheeling rock star, and he accurately decided he had no aptitude for either. However, at age 22, upon hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing Cole Porter, he found his calling and life’s mission.
Through the Seventies and Eighties, Miller studied and absorbed in minute detail the life and times and songs of nearly all the great American composers and lyricists who thrived during Broadway & Hollywood’s Golden Age between the two World Wars. In 1987, he founded Silver Dollar Productions in order to produce operettas, dramas, musicals and small cabarets. Silver Dollar Productions required ensemble casts, props, costumes and, most significantly, the challenges of publicity and selling tickets, and for a dozen busy years, the company presented an unbroken string of varied and highly lauded performances.
In 1999, Miller was simultaneously underwritten by both his local Hunterdon County Library and the Art Alliance of Philadelphia to present a series of six solo Lectures-In-Song, each devoted to one of the premiere Broadway/Hollywood songwriters: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.
In presenting history, biography and psychology while sitting at a piano singing the superlative songs of his heroes, Miller has found a single performing medium that utilizes most of his intellectual and musical passions.The list of Lectures-In-Song that began with six in 1999 is now more than seventy(and growing!), a joyful tribute to the boundlessly rich field of American Popular Song.