Sallie Chisum Remembers Billy the Kid

By Carman, Judith | Journal of Singing, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

Sallie Chisum Remembers Billy the Kid


Carman, Judith, Journal of Singing


PREVIN, ANDRÉ (b. 1929). SALLIE CHISUM REMEMBERS BILLY THE KID. For Voice and Piano. Chester Music, 1996 (Music Sales Corporation). Tonal; B3-A5; Tess: mH; 4/4, 3/4, 3/8, 5/4, 9/8, 6/8, 7/4, etc., Reflectively-Jaunty; V/mD-D, P/mD-D; 14 pages (9 minutes).

Sallie Chisum (1858-1934) was born near Denton, Texas, and lived there until moving to New Mexico in 1877 to live with her uncle, John Chisum, on the famous Chisum Ranch. Sallie soon met Billy the Kid, and they became close friends. Billy and "The Regulators" (the gang to which Billy belonged) often stopped at the Chisum ranch, which they used as a fort. It was during these visits that Sallie and Billy got to know each other well.

Soprano Barbara Bonney, for whom this song was composed, is a distant relative of William H. Bonney (Billy the Kid), and requested a composition about Billy from composer André Previn. The text was taken from The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, a novel by Michael Ondaatje, in which the writer improvises on the historical character, making Billy much more human and multifaceted than the legendary outlaw handed down through history. His relationship with Sallie Chisum, however, is historical fact, and it is this relationship that is central to the song.

The song opens with a sustained chord under the lyric vocal line "Billy the Kid would come in often and sometimes stayed for a week or two," then changes to eighth-note movement to reflect the agitation of Sallie at "I remember how frightened I was the first time he came. …

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