Edward Hammond Boatner (November 13, 1898- June 16, 1981) was a well known African American musician and composer who wrote many popular concert arrangements of Negro spirituals.. Boatner was born in New Orleans, LA, on November 13, 1898. His father, Dr. Daniel Webster Boatner, was a former slave who became an itinerant minister. Edward was exposed at an early age to the music sung by African Americans in the churches where his father preached. Particularly fascinated by the spirituals of the former slaves, he began collecting them. Though he was educated in the public schools of St. Louis, MO, and Kansas City, KS, most of his early musical education came from self-training. He applied for admission to the University of Missouri, but the young man’s race proved to be an obstacle despite his acknowledged talent, so he entered Western University, Quindaro, KS, in 1916, where he studied voice and piano. Despite the strenuous objections of his father, who wanted Edward to become a minister, he gave recitals in the community. At one of these programs, he was heard by tenor Roland Hayes, who later performed many of Boatner’s works on his concert programs. Hayes encouraged Boatner to move to Boston and continue his studies there. Boatner’s father would not support the venture, so the young man had to work for two years to earn what little he could and make the journey on his own. Hayes helped him make contacts in the city, and Boatner was able to support himself by giving piano lessons. In 1918, Boatner recorded three of Harry T. Burleigh’s spiritual settings, including “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” for Broome Special Phonograph Records, a small African American-owned label based in Medford, MS. He continued his studies with faculty at the New England Conservatory, and he published the first of his spirituals setting, “Give Me Jesus,” in 1920.
The following year, Boatner received a one-year scholarship to attend the Boston Conservatory of Music, studying German, French and Italian vocal literature. He performed in concert at Hampton University, where he garnered the attention of choral director R. Nathaniel Dett, who invited Boatner to tour with him across New England. Dett became a mentor to the younger man. Boatner relocated to Chicago in 1925. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the Chicago College of Music (now the College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University) seven years later. During this time, he served as a church choir director, continued to concertize, and also sang leading roles with the National Negro Opera Company. In addition, he became director of music for the National Baptist Convention from 1925 to 1931 and published his Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New in Nashville, TN with Willa A. Townsend in 1927. The modern arrangement of the spiritual “When the Saints Go Marching In” is attributed to Boatner who included it in his Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New. Most authorities conclude that “When the Saints Go Marching In,” often referred to as “The Saints,” is an American gospel hymn that has taken on certain aspects of folk music. Though it appears to have originated as an African-American spiritual, today people are more likely to hear it played by a jazz band. Researchers believe that it had its origins in the Bahamas, but somehow migrated to the mainland. A traditional use of the song is as a funeral march. In the funeral music tradition of New Orleans, LA, often called the “jazz funeral,” a band would play the tune as a dirge while accompanying the coffin to the cemetery. On the way back from the interment, it would switch to the familiar upbeat “hot” or “Dixieland” style. Around the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth century, the tune began to be played by many New Orleans jazz bands in concert. While the tune is still heard as a slow spiritual number on rare occasions, from the mid-twentieth century it has been more commonly performed as a “hot” number. It remains particularly associated with the city of New Orleans, to the extent that New Orleans’ professional football team was named the New Orleans Saints.
The song is apocalyptic, taking much of its imagery from the Book of Revelation, but excluding its more horrific depictions of the Last Judgment. The stanza/choruses about the sun and moon refer to Biblical passages in which the heavenly bodies cease to shine at the end of the world; the trumpet (of the Archangel Gabriel) is the way in which the final judgment is announced. The fact that the hymn expresses the wish to go to Heaven, picturing the saints going in (through the Pearly Gates), is probably why it was deemed appropriate for funerals. As with many numbers with long traditional folk use, there is no one “official” version of the song or its lyrics. This extends so far as confusion as to its name, with it often being mistakenly called “When the Saints Come Marching In”. As for the lyrics themselves, their very simplicity makes it easy to generate new verses. Since the first, second, and fourth lines of a verse are exactly the same, and the third standard throughout, the creation of one suitable line in iambic tetrameter generates an entire verse. Sometimes, the song is attributed to Katharine E. Purvis for lyrics and James Milton Black for music. In 1896 they did produce a similarly titled composition “When the Saints Are Marching In” that was possibly influenced by the traditional spiritual but is markedly different from it. Both vocal and instrumental renditions of the folk song abound. Louis Armstrong was one of the first to make the tune into a nationally known pop-tune in the 1930s. The tune was brought into the early rock and roll repertory by Fats Domino and (as “The Saint’s Rock and Roll”) by Bill Haley and the Comets. A true jazz standard, it has been recorded by a great many other jazz and pop artists. Nicknamed “The Monster” by some jazz musicians, because it seems to be the only tune some people know to request when seeing a Dixieland band, it is often requested several times a night. The musicians at Preservation Hall in New Orleans got so tired of playing it that the sign announcing the fee schedule ran $1 for standard requests, $2 for unusual requests, and $5 for “The Saints.” (This was in early 1960s dollars. By 2004 the price had gone up to $10.) In the Southern gospel genre the song is often associated with Luther G. Presley and Virgil Oliver Stamps, whose version, with new words written by Presley and music arranged by Stamps, copyrighted by the Stamps-Baxter Music Company in their 1937 book Starlit Crown, popularized it as a gospel song. A similar version was made by Robert E. Winsett. Elvis Presley performed the song during the Million Dollar Quartet jam session and also recorded a version for his film, Frankie and Johnny. It can be found as a gospel hymn by Elvis Presley in his compilation “Peace in the Valley: The Complete Gospel Recordings.” Judy Garland sang it in her own pop style. Other early rock artists to follow Domino’s lead included Jerry Lee Lewis and Tony Sheridan (featuring then-unknown band The Beatles as a backing group). It makes a current resurgence on the Bruce Springsteen with The Seeger Sessions Band Tour, as an encore for some shows. Dolly Parton has also included the song in a gospel medley.
In the early 1930s, Boatner joined the faculty of two Texas historically Black colleges, Samuel Houston in Austin (now Huston-Tillotson University), and Wiley College in Marshall, where he was appointed their Dean of Music. He returned to New York in the latter half of the decade where he opened his own vocal studio and conducted community and church choirs. This allowed him to concentrate more on composing. Over his teaching career, Boatner’s students included opera singer George Shirley, entertainers Josephine Baker and Robert Guillaume, Blues songstress Libby Holman, and actor Clifton Webb. He was a prolific writer of textbooks on music theory and pedagogy, non-fiction–especially on racial issues, short stories, and a novel, One Drop of Blood. Boatner continued to publish settings of Negro spirituals for choir and vocal soloist. Of approximately 300 works credited to him, some of the best-known are “I Shall Not Be Moved” beginning “Glory hallelujah, I shall not be moved,” “On Ma Journey” (1928), “Trampin'” (1931), “O What a Beautiful City” (1940), and “City Called Heaven” (1952). A number of these settings were published by his own company, Hammond Music. He published 30 Afro-American Choral Spirituals, a collection for mixed chorus in 1971 and The Story of the Spirituals: 30 Spirituals and Their Origins for voice and piano in 1973. Also Boatner composed an unpublished opera, Troubled in Mind, musicals The Origin of the Spirituals and The Life of Jesus–a work composed of spirituals, text, and dance that was later renamed The Man from Nazareth, and a musical comedy, Julius Sees Her in Rome, Georgia. The Arlington Symphony premiered his Freedom Suite in 1967. He spent over three years researching and composing this work for orchestra, solo voices, mixed chorus and narrator. Of his four children, the eldest, Edward Boatner, Jr., grew up to develop his own musical career as jazz saxophonist Sonny Stitt. Clifford became a classical pianist, and Adelaide a classically trained contralto. His fourth child, Sarah, was also musically talented. Continuing to teach into his eighties. Edward Boatner died on June 16, 1981, in New York City, NY.
The following work by Edward H. Boatner is contained in my CD collection:
When the Saints Go Marching In