Thanks to Chris Richardson and his fantastic blog zeroto180 (“Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic: Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist”) for his recent piece “90+ Years of Baltimore in Song” – a comprehensive listing of tunes that reference ‘Baltimore’ in the song title, from Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake in the early 1900s to more recent homages by local musicians Caleb Stine (“Doin Time in Baltimore“), Milkshake (“Christmas in Baltimore“), and Howard Markman (“Welcome To Smalltimore“). (Of course, we’re partial to Jules Verdone’s “Baltimore Or Less” because, well, we took our name from it!) We could only think of two ditties missing from Richardson’s well-researched list, which appears later in this post, plus one remix mashup.
- One is the early Tori Amos’ rarity “Baltimore,” which she recorded as a 16-year-old in 1980 under the name Ellen Amos. Tori’s song was a family affair: she co-wrote it with her brother Michael and her dad pressed 500 copies on MEA Records (the initials of her full name, Myra Ellen Amos). Tori’s promotional anthem even earned her a citation from the then-mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer! (Read more about it at “Tori Amos’ ‘Baltimore.'”)
- The other was local group BLAMMO’s “Sweet Home Balt-amore,” a humorous tribute to “the home of Schmoke and beer, the Ori-oles and Ripkin the “Sacred Cal,” where “it’s the same old shit, the city that reads the obits.”
- Then there’s the brilliant mashup “Baltimore What?,” in which VJ Jon Corun (AV Club) remixes DJ Yummy‘s music with scenes and dialogue from Brian DePalma’s film “Scarface.” (Don’t forget, Michelle Pfeiffer’s gangster moll character in “Scarface” – Elvira Hancock – is, as in the Fleshtones song, “The Girl from Baltimore“!) – Tom Warner (BoL)
By Chris Richardson (www.zeroto180.org, 1/23/2015)
Myla Goldberg, a self-identified and staunch “Yankee,” contributed an essay in State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America that relates, in amusing fashion, how her “incipient sense of state pride” as a grade-school student “was dependent upon Maryland’s Northern-ness.” Maryland’s decision, for instance, to fight for the Union cause, Goldberg reasoned, validated her unquestioned assumption that the Free State had, indeed, “chosen the correct side of history” — in spite of the fact that Maryland, after all, was a slave-holding border state located below the Mason-Dixon line.
Goldberg was forced to confront a much more complicated truth, however, when she tried to get fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Henley, to lead the class in a sing-along of Maryland’s state song. This Confederate marching song and plea for secession (sample lyric: “Maryland! She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb. Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum”), was written, Goldberg would later learn, in violent response to the sight of Federal troops disembarking in Baltimore en route to protect the nation’s capital, i.e., The Baltimore Riot of 1861. Myla would eventually figure out why Mrs. Henley had failed to honor her request.
I, too, went through a similar psychological journey and process of “civil re-education” after my move to Maryland in 1992, as I tried to make sense of the state’s history. Baltimore’s mayor (I was late to learn) – along with the city’s council, police chief & entire police board – were all imprisoned in Fort McHenry during the Civil War due to their Confederate sympathies. The plot to kill newly-elected President Lincoln on his railway journey from Springfield to Washington in 1861, I discovered thanks to Smithsonian Magazine’s special report in 2013, would be foiled by detective Allan Pinkerton in Baltimore, a hotbed of anti-Northern sentiment at the time.
But Baltimore’s big-city charm and strong industrial past obscure its Southern heritage — at least to relative newcomers such as myself, who commuted there for a number of years. Charm City also has a vital arts scene, as evidenced by its annual Artscape festival, quirky Visionary Arts Museum, prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art, renowned music conservatory, the Peabody Institute – and John Waters.
Most interestingly, Baltimore – like Cincinnati – would inspire a surprisingly vast number of songs that bear the city’s name in their song titles — thousands of thanks to the esteemed music writer Geoffrey Himes for his invaluable assistance with the research:
- “Baltimore Buzz” Noble Sissle & Eubie Blake 1915 -or- 1921
- “Baltimore Blues” Eubie Blake 1919
- “The Baltimore” Bix Beiderbecke 1927
- “Baltimore” Katherine Henderson 1927
- “Baltimore Fire” Charlie Poole 1929
Continue reading “90+ Years Baltimore in Song” at www.zeroto180.org.