This article appeared in The Navigator on November 18, 2016. Chris Vallillo is a Speaker in our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau. You can find the original article here.
This November night featured a song from a most contentious presidential campaign—and the changing of the guard.
The White County Historical Society’s annual fall luncheon was the forum; the event was held at the First Christian Church Fellowship Hall in Carmi.
The evening’s entertainment was provided by Chris Vallillo, a Road Scholar with the Illinois Humanities Council. Vallillo, who has performed several times over the years in Carmi, presented his nationally acclaimed program, “Abraham Lincoln in Song”.
He called old songs “a tremendous window into the past” and noted that he researched Abraham Lincoln’s life and the music of his times in great depth before putting together the presentation. The performer sang and played instruments ranging from the juice harp to the guitar and dulcimer.
Vallillo opened with a bottleneck slide version of the famous Civil War song, “The Battle Cry of Freedom.” But most of his program included songs that Lincoln would have known earlier in life, from his infancy in Kentucky and his Indiana boyhood to his days as a young man and mature adult in Illinois.
Those songs included “Way Down Upon the Wabash” and a favorite of Lincoln’s mother, the English folk song “Barbara Allen.” Vallillo performed a tune Lincoln may very well have sung during an 1828 trip he took aboard a flatboat to New Orleans, “Way Down to Shawneetown on the Ohio.”
He invited the audience to help him sing a tune Lincoln must have known and sung as he traveled Illinois’ 8thJudicial Circuit in company with fellow lawyers, “Hoosen Johnny.” That was followed by a typical waltz of the period, “Westphalia Waltz,” which Vallillo performed on a dulcimer built in Vermont, Ill. about 1880.
Then came “Darlin’ Nellie Gray,” the lament of an escaped slave for his wife, still held in slavery, followed by a song of Lincoln’s first campaign for the Presidency, in 1860, “Lincoln and Liberty (Too).”
The program continued with the haunting “We Are Coming, Father Abra’am” and, of course, one of the 16thPresident’s favorites, “Dixie’s Land” (despite it becoming a song symbolic of the Southern rebellion).
And Vallillo brought the evening to a close with a tune actually written by singer Bob Gibson in Illinois in the 1960s, “Let the Band Play Dixie.”
A traditional element of the fall dinner is the election and installation of the officers and directors who will lead the group for the next year. Gene Jordan, who has served as president for the past two years, was succeeded by David Brown.
Officers re-elected were Paula Pierson, vice president; Ranelle Hubele, secretary; and Jeff Bohleber, treasurer.
Judy Cutchin and past president Suellen Smith stepped down from the board of directors. Kathy Fridley succeeded Cutchin and Jordan will serve as past president in place of Smith.
Directors re-elected were Valerie Berekashvili, Marjorie Brown, Cindy Birk Conley, Lecta Hortin, Barbara Kearney and Mary McRoy. Kent F. P. Boeger will continue to serve as an honorary board member.
The meal was catered by Yesterday’s of Carmi and was preceded and followed by prayer offered by the Rev. Randy Douglass, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Carmi.