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Letter Edged in Black
(Roud 3116)
Tom Lenihan
Knockbrack, Miltown Malbay
Recorded in singer's home, August 1987

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

 

Tom Lenihan

I was standing by my window yesterday morning,
Without a worry or a care,
When I see the postman coming up the pathway
With such a happy face and jolly air.

He rang the bell and whistled while he waited,
Then he said: ‘Good morning to you, Jack.’
But he little knew the sorrow that he brought me,
When he handed me that letter edged in black.

With trembling hands I took that from him,
I broke the seal and this is what it said:
'Come home my boy, your dear old mother wants you,
Come home my boy, your dear old father is dead.'

I can see the postman yesterday morning,
Coming up the pathway with his bag.
But he little knew the sorrow that he brought me,
When he handed me that letter edged in black.

I bowed my head with silence and in sorrow.
The sunshine of my life it all has fled.
Since the postman brought that letter yesterday morning
Saying, 'Come home my boy your dear old father is dead.'

I can see the postman yesterday morning
Coming up the pathway with his bag.
But he little knew the sorrow that he brought me
When he handed me that letter edged in black.

The very last words your father wrote her
Was, ‘Tell my boy I want him to come back.
My eyes are blurred and my old heart is breaking
While I’m writing you this letter edged in black.’

I can see the postman yesterday morning
Coming up the pathway with his bag.
But he little knew the sorrow that he brought me
When he handed me that letter edged in black.

Conversation after the song between Tom Lenihan, Pat Mackenzie and Jim Carroll:
Jim: How long is it since you sung that, Tom?
Tom: That’s a long time since I sung that song Jim, and a long time. As I say, it comes on now in the mind. There is years since I sung it.

“All references to this song, with one exception - England 2003 - are American or Canadian; there is no indication that it appeared in a songster or on a broadside. It was released on 78s in the U.S. in the 1920s and 30s, so it was possibly from one of these that Tom learned it; he often referred to having received a number of records from family members in America. Hattie Nevada composed the song in 1897; and it was widely recorded in the late 1890s and was revived by Vernon Dalhart in the 1920s and Bradley Kincaid in the 1930s. Nevada was among a small crop of Kansas City women to publish music successfully. Her first published work was ‘The Letter Edged in Black’, which sold 300,000 copies at 50 cents each after its initial release in 1897 by the Kansas City Talking Machine Company. Owned and operated by Nevada and her husband, Frank Woodbury, this unique music company began as one of Kansas City's first recording studios, issuing sound recordings on wax cylinder.”
Jim Carroll


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