Thursday, July 03, 2008

Crawford O. "Bob" Swartz, Composer of "Home on the Range" (1855-1932)

It's a piece of American music that brings back memories of a nostalgic time and a simpler life. It was President FDR's favorite song. You may know this timeless tune as Home on the Range, but the original title was "Colorado Home" (Prospectors' Song)--and the composer was Scranton native Crawford O. "Bob" Swartz.

Crawford O. "Bob" Swartz was born in Scranton on March 26, 1855 and lived with his family (his parents and his sister Laura) on Grandview Street. In his late teens/early twenties, Swartz set out for Leadville, Colorado to seek his fortune as a gold prospector.

During a stormy winter in 1885, Swartz would gather with a group of friends and musically-inclined fellow prospectors at a local shanty he nicknamed the Junk Lane Hotel. It was there where Swartz composed the music and lyrics for a song he titled Colorado Home, or Prospector's Song. The song began with the lyrics "Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play."

In a letter to his folks back home in Scranton, Swartz wrote how excited he was of his composition; he also admitted that "everyone helped make it up. If it keeps on going, it will become a popular western song." This letter, which included the lyrics to the first verse of the new song, would become a significant piece of evidence years later when the song's authorship came into question.

Swartz returned east a few years later and resided on Grandview Street in Scranton; he also worked for several years at the Lackawanna Round House. and sang Prospectors' Song to his parents and sister. Though all loved the song, nothing more was thought of it--that is until a few years later when a new and very familiar-sounding melody titled Home on the Range began to become a fixture on a brand new invention called radio. Though the melody and the lyrics of the first verse was exactly the same as Shwartz's Colorado Home, the remaining lyrics of the song were completely changed from the perspective of a gold prospector to a cowboy's point-of-view.

Crawford O. Swartz died in Scranton on March 12, 1932.

Though he never enjoyed any success or credit for Colorado Home during his lifetime, his sister Laura published the song in 1934 as Swartz originally penned it. After an Arizona couple, William and Mary Goodwin, filed lawsuit against use of what they considered their composition of Home on the Range, Laura (with the letters Swartz send in the late 1800s as proof), won the lawsuit, thus giving Swartz credit for the music of the song, as well as for co-writing the lyrics to what we now know as Home on the Range (with Swartz sharing lyric credit with Bill McCabe, Bingham Graves, et. al. for the additional and/or verses not originally included in Colorado Home).

However, controversy over the authorship of Home on the Range is still disputed today. The song, which is the state song of Kansas, is often solely credited to Dr. Brewster M. Higley.

The Mineral Information Institute also includes information about Swartz and Home on the Range on their website. To read more, click here.

Click on any of the following links to reserve CDs by a variety of artists that have recorded Home on the Range: Frank Sinatra; Peter, Paul & Mary; Roy Rogers; Mannheim Steamroller; and local recording artists The Lyric Consort.

A GREAT BIG THANKS to B.R. Francis from Broomfield, Colorado. B.R. is a relative of the late Crawford O. Shwartz, and she visited Scranton a few months back to do research on him.

In addition, much information for this blog entry is credited to an article titled "Scranton Man Wrote Familiar Melody," which appeared on the front page of Section II of the Wednesday, March 18, 1936 edition of The Scranton Republican. A copy of the article is in the "Music" Local History Vertical File in the Reference Department.

No comments: