Huzza Old Ironsides! Her Life and Times in Song

Huzza Old Ironsides

Recorded in 1997 at Lake West Recording Studio, West Greenwich, RI

USS Constitution. One might think no ship was ever built or named with greater hopes and aspirations. But she was just one of six frigates provided for in an act of Congress signed by President George Washington on March 27, 1794, and the creation of even this small fleet had been fought vigorously by anti-Federalists. Only the economic factors of our ships being seized by Barbary corsairs in the Mediterranean and British prohibitions of neutral trade in the West Indies swayed the opposition.

The other ships carried names of equal majesty—United States, President, Congress, Constellation, Chesapeake—and two of them were launched before Constitution. Then came her launching day, September 20, 1797, and when the blocks were knocked away, she wouldn't move! It took three tries, when finally, at noon on October 21, 1797, Constitution was christened as she slid into the waters of Boston Harbor.

Despite the political wrangling and her inauspicious launch, Constitution went on to prove herself a superb defender of this new political entity, the United States, through the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. Then as technology advanced beyond her capabilities, her name and her accomplishments combined to forge a unique place for her in the history of naval vessels, not only at home, but around the world.

I have attempted to provide a sense of Constitution's remarkable career through the sixteen pieces of music and one poem I offer here. There were many other pieces that could have been included. Such events as the battle between Constitution and HMS Guerriere spawned numerous broadsides (texts sold on the street for a penny) as did her fight with HMS Java. Indeed, I have included two selections of the battle with Guerriere because of its importance. Otherwise, I have chosen individual pieces that follow Constitution from her launch in 1797 through the significant historical events in which she participated and into her post-battle career as a flagship and symbol of our nation. My latest selection dates from 1926 when Constitution was refit yet again for this final duty, which she so nobly carries on today.

I fully expect that before long we will have some new songs to celebrate her most recent restoration, her sailing under her own power for the first time in over a century on July 21, 1997, and to mark her bicentennial!

  1. "To Arms" or "Beat to Quarters" 0:24
  2. On The Launching of the Frigate Constitution 2:29
  3. Arise, Arise, Columbia's Sons Arise 4:40
  4. High Barbaree 3:43 [Free MP3]
  5. When the Warrior Returns (Francis Scott Key) 4:29
  6. The American Constitution Frigate's Engagement with the British Frigate Guerriere 3:06
  7. The Constitution and the Guerriere 2:48
  8. Yankee Tars 3:25
  9. Hull's Victory/Constitution Hornpipe 3:05
  10. The Constitution and Java 4:17
  11. The Constitution's Last Fight 4:27
  12. Old Ironsides (Oliver Wendell Holmes) 2:32
  13. The Ballad of Mad Jack (Steve Romanoff) 3:26
  14. Old Ironsides at Anchor Lay 3:33
  15. The Old Constitution: The Gem of the Ocean 3:42
  16. Old Ironsides (We're Mighty Proud of You) 2:42
  17. The "Retreat" 1:34

Total time: 54:51

Purchase price of this CD is $15

Geoff is the best musician I've come across in 'lo these many years... Super songs, super stories, super use of instruments...

Elderhostler at Mystic Seaport program