"The Yellow Rose of Texas" is a traditional American folk song. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time. Several versions of the song have been recorded, including by Elvis Presley and Mitch Miller.
The earliest known version is found in Christy's Plantation Melodies. No. 2, a songbook published under the authority of Edwin Pearce Christy in Philadelphia in 1853. Christy was the founder of the blackface minstrel show known as the Christy's Minstrels. Like most minstrel songs, the lyrics are written in a cross between the dialect historically spoken by African-Americans and standard American English. Written in the first person from the perspective of an African-American singer who refers to himself as a "darkey," longing to return to "a yellow girl," a term used to describe a bi-racial woman born of African-American and white progenitors.
The soundtrack to the TV miniseries James A. Michener's Texas dates a version of the song to June 2, 1933 and co-credits both the authorship and performance to Gene Autry and Jimmy Long. Don George reworked the original version of the song, which Mitch Miller made into a popular recording in 1955 that knocked Bill Haley's "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock" from the top of the Best Sellers chart in the U.S. Miller's version was featured in the motion picture Giant, and interestingly hit #1 on the U.S. pop chart the same week Giant star James Dean died. Stan Freberg had a simultaneous hit of a parody version in which the bandleader warred with the snare drummer, Alvin Stoller, who also featured prominently in Miller's arrangement. Billboard ranked Miller's version as the No. 3 song of 1955.
Earliest known version, from Christy's Plantation Melodies. No. 2
There's a yellow girl in Texas
That I'm going down to see;
No other darkies know her
No darkey, only me;
She cried so when I left her
That it like to broke my heart,
And if I only find her,
we never more will part.
She's the sweetest girl of colour
That this darkey ever knew;
Her eyes are bright as diamonds,
And sparkle like the dew.
You may talk about your Dearest Mae,
And sing of Rosa Lee,
But the yellow Rose of Texas
Beats the belles of Tennessee .
Where the Rio Grande is flowing,
And the starry skies are bright,
Oh, she walks along the river
In the quiet summer night;
And she thinks if I remember
When we parted long ago,
I promised to come back again,
And not to leave her so.
Oh, I'm going now to find her,
For my heart is full of woe,
And we'll sing the songs together
That we sang so long ago.
We'll play the banjo gaily,
And we'll sing our sorrows o'er,
And the yellow Rose of Texas
shall be mine forever more.
The "Dearest Mae" and "Rosa Lee" referenced in the song are the titles of two other songs also appearing in Christy's Minstrels songbooks.
25 years later, the lyrics were changed to eliminate the more racially specific lyrics, with "Soldier" replacing "darkey;" and the first line of the chorus, "She's the sweetest rose of color," (a reference to the African-European free people of color) changed to "She's the sweetest little rosebud ..."
"Dearest Mae" is replaced with "Clementine" in some variant versions of the song.
Civil War song:
This song became popular among Confederate soldiers in the Texas Brigade during the American Civil War; upon taking command of the Army of Tennessee in July 1864, General John Bell Hood introduced it as a marching song. The final verse and chorus were slightly altered by the remains of Hood's force after their crushing defeat at the Battle of Nashville that December:
And now I'm going southward, for my heart is full of woe,
I'm going back to Georgia, to find my Uncle Joe,
You may talk about your Beauregard, and sing of Bobby Lee,
But the gallant Hood of Texas played hell in Tennessee.
The modified lyrics reference famous Confederate military commanders Joseph Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee. Texan veterans sang it openly to mock Hood's mishandling of their Nashville campaign.
In this version of the chorus, "soldier" replaced "darky." The same substitution is made throughout the song.
In September 1955, for six weeks, Mitch Miller, had a Billboard number one hit, with the Yellow Rose of Texas. His lyrics were the sanitized version using "rosebud" and no words to indicate either Rose nor the singer were non-white.
Miller's version is the one played during the diner fight scene in the film Giant. Interestingly, the song was at number one when one of the film's stars, James Dean was killed in an automobile accident on September 30.
There is also a children's text, following the same tune, with different lyrics:
The Yellow Rose of Texas
And (the) Man of Laramie
Invited Davy Crockett
(oh) to have a cup of tea.
(oh) The tea was so delicious
They had another cup
And left to Davy Crockett
To do the washing up.
"The Yellow Rose":
In 1984, country music artists Johnny Lee and Lane Brody recorded a song called "The Yellow Rose," which retained the original melody of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" but with new lyrics, for the title theme to a TV series also entitled The Yellow Rose. It was a Number One country hit that year.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license