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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When Johnny Comes Marching Home - first performed in Boston on September 26, 1863

The classic war anthem, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, was first performed at Tremont Temple in Boston on Saturday, September 26, 1863 by Patrick S. Gilmore and his Orchestra.

Gilmore originally published the song - also known as the Soldiers Return March - under the pseudonym Louis Lambert for reasons unknown, but later acknowledged that he authored the piece.  The song appeared during the height of the American Civil War, and was meant as an optimistic tribute "dedicated to the Army and Navy of the Union." 

Henry Tolman & Company of Boston was the publisher.

Gilmore expert Michael Cummings surmises that Gilmore took the song for an earlier Irish marching song called Johnie I Hardly Knew Ye, which was apparently sung by Irish regiments fighting for the British in Ceylon in the early 19th century.

Cummings, who founded the Patrick S. Gilmore Society  to preserve Gilmore's memory, notes that the song wasn't a hit during the Civil War, but emerged decades later during the Spanish American War of 1898.

It has remained popular ever since and has been recorded by hundreds of musicians, ranging from jazz organist Jimmy Smith to Boston's own Dropkick Murphys.