Sunday, October 12, 2014

Johnny Horton and The Battle of New Orleans

In the late 1950s, folksy story-songs were becoming popular with country music listening audiences.  Johnny Horton’s success relied heavily on this with his rendition of Jimmie Driftwood’s “Battle of New Orleans,” the first of several strongly patriotic songs that Horton would release in 1959 and 1960.  With the accomplishment of “Battle of New Orleans,” (it was a Number One song on the Country Billboard Chart in 1959 and won a Grammy for Song of the Year that same year), Horton also recorded “Johnny Reb” and “Sink the Bismarck,” both Top Ten hits and both strongly patriotic folksy saga songs that promoted patriotism through success against great odds.   
Americans were not really thinking about involvement in Vietnam in the later 1950s, but were more engrossed in the Cold War, promoting Americanism and democracy over the Soviet Union and communism.  Horton’s songs about Americans defeating ruthless enemies even at the greatest of odds fit right into this idea of noble Americanism which would defeat the evils of communism.  Americans were primed to support all efforts at containing communism, including the eventual entrance into a war in Southeast Asia.  Not realizing Horton’s songs were, in actuality, propagandist offerings, the country and pop audiences sought out patriotic songs about the importance of America.  This is not to say that Horton purposefully created propaganda, but in the context of the Cold War, it is understandable that Horton would have found his success with these types of songs.  And it is also understandable that the eventual American involvement in Vietnam would be connected to the Cold War and America’s efforts to protect democracy from its evil enemy – communism.  Without realizing it, these songs were early pro-war and pro-government offerings that served to further America’s perceived protection of democracy at all costs, including the eventual entrance into a war in Vietnam.

          Johnny Horton’s performance on the Ed Sullivan Show took the patriotism to the hilt, with Horton costumed in a frontier-like buckskin suit while surrounded by dancers dressed as both British soldiers and American patriots acting out a “battle” through dance, with, of course, the Americans victorious.  The performance was greeted with thunderous applause, proving again the importance of American patriotism.  It has to be noted that Horton used the frontier theme to further the idea of Americanism, revealing again the roots of patriotism were found in the myth of the American West.

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