Friday, March 1, 2002

100 years ago: “Arkansaw Traveler” hit #1

The Arkansaw Traveler

Len Spencer

Writer(s): Sandford C. Faulkner, Joe Tasso (see lyrics here)

First Charted: March 1, 1902

Peak: 111 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, -- video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

The origins of “The Arkansas Traveler” (aka “The Arkansaw Traveler”) are unclear. It was an anonymous folk song played by minstrel performers with some of its famous dialogue elements dating back to the planation era in the 1820s and ‘30s. It was first published in 1847 by W.C. Peters under the title “The Arkansas Traveller and Rackinsac Waltz.” WK

Mose Case, an albino African-American singer, guitarist, and stage musician TA has been credited with popularizing the song; WK his version from 1958 TY2 “has been called the gold standard.” TA Early versions of the tune feature comic dialogue “between the ‘Traveler’ and the backwoods fiddler” TA but no actual lyrics. SH The sheet music for Case’s version says “this piece is intended to represent an Easter man’s experience among the inhabitants of Arkansas, showing their hospitality and the mode of obtaining it.” TY2

Standford Faulkner is often cited as the composer, although it is more likely that he simply arranged the song. An 1887 newspaper article said Faulkner heard the tune in 1837 while working on a steamship on the Arkansas River. Waller Wright, a passenger, was playing the tune and Faulkner persuaded him to teach it to him. SH

Marie de los Angelos Jose Tosso (also known as Joe Tasso) TA has also been cited as the composer. He was a concert violinist, teacher and composer born in Mexico to Italian parents. TA In the sixty years that he lived in Cincinnati, the press often attributed “The Akansaw Traveler” to him. He was “renowned for his inimitable rendition of the comic dialogue between the Traveler and the squatter.” OH

Len Spencer recorded the first charted version of the song in 1900. It reached #2. He recorded it again in 1902 and that version spent 11 weeks on top of the charts. A 1922 version by native-Arkansan “Eck” Robertson was named to the National Recording Registry. Fiddlin’ John Carson & the Virginia Reelers charted with the song (#14) in 1924.

It has undergone several revisions with different sets of lyrics. In 1947, “official” lyrics were written by a committee in preparation for naming it as the official state song of Arkansas. The tune has also been used for the children’s novelty song “I’m Bringin’ Home a Baby Bumblebee.”


First posted 12/10/2022.

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