The McCann Time Capsule: Singing Hamilton’s Praise . . . 70 Years Ago
Accompanying the extraordinary success of “Hamilton” has been the widespread view that Alexander Hamilton himself has not been much celebrated in American popular culture prior to the Broadway musical. But McCann’s records of the radio shows it produced tell a different story of this founding father’s fame 70 years ago.
After McCann began working with Con Edison in 1932, it originated and produced for this client the “Echoes of New York” radio program, a half-hour broadcast combining “music with up-to-the-minute interviews, dramatizations and items of particular interest to New Yorkers.” The show, which was suspended during World War II, resumed airing on Oct. 1, 1946. In early January 1947, the program “was devoted to the subject of Alexander Hamilton in commemoration of his birth date,” according to McCann’s newsletters from the era. One of the tunes used was “The Liberty Song,” which was sung by Con Ed’s employee chorus, called the Edisoneers.
The song itself was introduced as follows: “This is the first American patriotic song ever published, and so far as can be discovered, the first printed piece of music in the Colonies. Written in 1768 by John Dickenson, set to the music of the old English song, ‘Hearts of Oak,’ it was sung throughout New York in Alexander Hamilton’s day.” The next day, a State Department representative called to ask for a recording, which was then used by the U.S. Army in overseas play.
The Dickinson song is famous for including the first modern reference to the line “United we stand, divided we fall,” which appeared in the song’s sixth verse and, of course, has been repeated many times throughout our history.
It doesn’t quite have the lightness of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics, but for those eager to sing along, here’s that verse along with the chorus.
Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;
In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,
For heaven approves of each generous deed.
In Freedom we're born and in Freedom we'll live.
Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady;
Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we'll give.