David Guion's vision for a musical Americana
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American composer David Guion (1892-1981) created and expressed in much of his music a unique and unmistakably American voice. Though he is remembered today mostly for piano pieces, especially Turkey in the Straw and Arkansas Traveler, he was famous for championing cowboy songs, African-American spirituals and folk songs as the truly authentic representations of the American experience. He also wrote many original works, including a substantial number of songs in Black dialect. In 1930 Guion starred in a cowboy show at the Roxy Theatre in New York, drawing upon his western-themed music. The next year he had a weekly radio show, broadcast around the country and featuring his music exclusively, with the title Hearing America with Guion. He played a substantial role in transforming Home on the Range into the best-known of all cowboy songs. His magnum opus, the ballet Shingandi, was highly regarded but has yet to be recorded. This dissertation examines those genres among Guion’s compositions that reveal his vision for a musical Americana. Much of his music is based on songs that circulated first in oral tradition before he adapted them for the concert stage. This dissertation surveys the breadth of the oral tradition of these songs, identifies his direct sources, and examines his treatment of melody, rhythm and harmony as he infused his music with such characteristic national flavor that his audiences were, in effect, “Hearing America.” A complete list of Guion compositions is attempted, and to the extent possible, probable dates of composition are established from recital programs and publication agreements. The scripts of his radio shows are reconstructed from papers in his archives and presented here.