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The Ballad of Franklin Pierce

also known as:

The Franklin Pierce Waltz

Words and music by Hudbetty

(Younger music lovers will find the melody similar to Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz")


Franklin, oh Franklin

Oh Frank-a-lin Pierce

From the high granite mountains

The fighting was fierce

For a fourteenth president

We coulda done worse

Than Franklin, oh Franklin

Oh Frank-a-lin Pierce

Into Baltimore town

Like a dark horse you rode

Where the Democrat boys

Were fit to explode

Neither Cass nor Buchanan

Could hold sway for long

And on the 49th ballot

They were singing your song

(repeat chorus)

The '52 vote

Was a landslide for you

It gave you a mandate

And Rufus King, too

But he was coughing up blood

And died before long

So he never took office

And you were singing alone

(repeat chorus)

The good times were brief

Like a thin slice of pie

And now you're a stranger

In history's eye

They call you obscure

And you always laugh

For fearlessness of obscurity

Makes you braver by half

(repeat chorus)

( Copyright renewed 1980 by the Hudbetty Estate)

Liner Notes: A Man and His Song

In 1936, ethnologist Yankel Schwartz traveled to the remote hollows of New Hampshire to record the music and stories of the local people that were fast dying out. Among his discoveries was a 60-year-old blind plumber, Letty Hudbetter Pogrebin, known to all in Hillsboro, New Hampshire, and eventually to the world, as Hudbetty.

Schwartz made 24 recordings of Hudbetty, who accompanied himself on the banjo and, occasionally, on the float ball. One of them was "The Ballad of Franklin Pierce," which the singer described as "a song as old as these granite hills," but which Schwartz believed Hudbetty made up just before the recording session. "Hudbetty had a habit of embellishing things," Schwartz wrote later. "He was a cagey old coot. He said he wrote songs when he didn't—and denied writing the songs he did write. He was a master showman, and could unstop your commode."

Six of Hudbetty's recordings, including "The Ballad of Franklin Pierce," were issued by Troubador Records. The singer died in 1947, never having stepped foot outside his native New Hampshire. The entire Schwartz-recorded collection resides in the Library of Congress.

Sing Out! magazine published the song in November 1959 as part of its "Singing Plumbers of New England" issue. For some reason, the song's title was recast as "The Franklin Pierce Waltz." The song Troubador Records released was indeed in three-quarter time, but alternate takes from the Schwartz sessions reveal Hudbetty performing it in several styles, including as a raga. ?

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