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Emily Gale

Emily Gale is a Lecturer at UC Merced, where she teaches courses on popular music. Her work explores intersections between American popular song and sentimentalism, specifically in 19th century sentimental ballads; the National Barn Dance radio show; the 1960s TV show Sing Along with Mitch; and 1970s soft rock. She has performed with new music ensembles, her rock band, and as a solo pianist, and has curated arts events.

“Septimus Winner’s Sentimental Songs”
Sentimental songs—songs that put emotional performance on display, often with didactic aims—have long been understood as part of a feminized musical world. Contrary to their commonly feminized image, however, many early sentimental songs were written and circulated by men. This paper illustrates that sentimental songs have a longer and more complicated history than has previously been suggested; sentimental songs underwent a process of feminization across the 19th century and male songwriters played a significant role in this development.

This paper looks specifically at the sentimental songs of Philadelphia songwriter and savvy businessman Septimus Winner (1827-1902). In the early 1850s, Winner explicitly aligned sentimental songs with female expression when he published his sentimental ballads under the pseudonym Alice Hawthorne. Between 1853 and 1888, Winner published over 100 sentimental songs under Alice Hawthorne’s name. Winner’s piano transcriptions of instrumental music, on the other hand, appeared under his own name. By borrowing a female pseudonym, Winner participated in the gendering of sentimental songs as feminized—a process that disenfranchised women from constructing their own musical cultures and simultaneously alienated men from the emotional outlet of sentimentality. Moreover, Winner’s immense contribution to popular song and more specifically his production of “home songs” as Hawthorne would enshrine the alliance between sentimental ballads and domestic settings. Winner appropriated and capitalized on a woman’s name to perform a kind of compositional ventriloquism, one that would firmly align the domestic sphere with sentimental songs in the U.S.

This paper also pushes on the historical boundaries of the popular in popular song, which is so often limited to the age of recording. Winner’s songs circulated as sheet music, selling tens of millions of copies. Sentimental songs like Winner’s were heard as significant, and significantly emotional, by vast numbers of Americans.

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