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On this day in 1858, a man in New York City was granted a copyright on a song. While there was nothing unusual about a New York man writing a song, this case was a bit different. Most folks think this guy didn't write the song (it had probably been sung for ten years or more). Secondly, it seemed to refer to a non-existent flower. The name of the song was…."The Yellow Rose of Texas" and there was no yellow rose native to Texas. That's because the song was about a girl (er...a woman) not a flower.
The song was about a beautiful young slave named Emily Morgan. She was, in the words of those times, a mixed-race with rather fair complexion, a combination which in those pre-Civil War days was called a high yellow.
When General Santa Ana set out to crush Sam Houston and the Texas rebellion, he overran the plantation of James Morgan. He noticed Emily's stunning beauty and carried the young slave off with him to be his "companion" for the campaign. Santa Ana fancied himself a great lover and set up an opulent "love tent" each evening.
When Santa Ana was preparing for what he hoped would be the decisive battle, Emily sent another slave to warn Sam Houston. Then she kept Santa Ana busy through the evening and through much of the next morning. That gave Houston enough time to launch a surprise attack and decimate the Mexican Army in less than 20 minutes. Santa Ana was so surprised he ran from his tent wearing only his underwear.
For the next decade, the Yellow Rose of Texas became celebrated in song. The folk song swept across America. And, since there was this popular song with no known author, why not copyright it. We don't know how much the opportunist made on the song, but we hope he did better than the Hill sisters of Kentucky, who copyrighted the most frequently sung song in America. We'll bet you sang it recently and never sent them a dime. (It’s called “Happy Birthday to You”.)
Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.