Singing the Maine: The Popular Image of Cuba in Sheet Music of the Spanish-American War

By Detemple, Jill | The Historian, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Singing the Maine: The Popular Image of Cuba in Sheet Music of the Spanish-American War


Detemple, Jill, The Historian


Thirty-three years after the last battle of the Civil War, a call to arms again rang out across the United States when the battleship Maine exploded and sank under mysterious circumstances in Havana harbor. Called to Cuba in early 1898 by U.S. consul Fitzhugh Lee after Spanish troops mutinied and joined Cuban rebels in their three-year bid for independence from colonial Spain, the Maine quickly became a focal point of American policy and popular sentiment. Politically, the ship sailed to Cuba as the material delegate of longstanding American interest in the island, a reminder of the United States' "no transfer" policy that Cuba must be either a Spanish or an American possession. Ideologically, the Maine dropped anchor as an ambassador of freedom and American-style democracy as American popular media portrayed its journey to Havana as the first step in freeing long-oppressed citizens from their colonial shackles.

An impressive implement of war and of the growing influence of the United States as a world power, the Maine was also tangible evidence of peace to American citizens, as it was commissioned and manned under the flag representing a North and South working together to build a unified nation and a better world. The loss of the Maine and the majority of its crew struck a heavy blow to this newly forming national identity, and popular reaction was one of outrage as well as nostalgia for the glory and heroism associated with war.

The quality and extent of this widespread sentiment are uniquely reflected in the lyrics and style of the sheet music spread on pianos in the parlors of Victorian America in 1898. In the published words, well-known tunes, and detailed covers of the stylish music, the Maine was fashioned as a symbol of a newly developing national identity that emphasized military might, national sovereignty, and the moral authority of the United States in opposing traditional colonial powers. The sinking of the Maine, the lyrics state, was a blow to national pride and place, a direct assault on the sovereignty and fledgling ascendancy of the United States. To avenge the Maine, they suggest, would be the restoration and furthering of national power as the country proved both its right and might in challenging Spain. In its construction in the playing field of widespread popular sentiment, the Maine became not only a symbol of national identity and destiny for the United States, but also a de facto substitute for the Cuban people themselves, as avenging the Maine became conflated with "Cuba libre" in popular thought.

Sheet music, unlike the usually silent and personal activity of reading, is a medium meant to be shared. It is communicative and communal, an immediate performance of ideas and ideals. The content and opinions written in the sheet music of 1898 were in the public domain in a way that newspaper editorials and headlines were not: hummed on the street and in the home, often stuck in the back of the brain, remembered at odd moments, heard and performed in the company of friends.

Certainly, sheet music was a widespread, commercial, and interactive medium. Publishing records from the 1890s indicate that sheet music made up the majority of musical literature available at the time, and while Americans had to make do with relatively expensive (and decidedly unpatriotic) British exports until after the Revolutionary War, by 1860 90 publishers were in business throughout the nation. An expanded mail system gave access via post to all but the most remote customers, and many families received sheet music through a subscription system in which the publishers would "select the best" of their fashionable stock and send it on a regular basis throughout the United States and abroad, even to such remote places as Australia.(1) Thus, a song popular in New York would make its way quickly to rural towns in Ohio and North Dakota, creating a shared cultural dialogue of rhythm and poetic language.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Singing the Maine: The Popular Image of Cuba in Sheet Music of the Spanish-American War
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.