John Hill Hewitt

john-hill-hewittJohn Hill Hewitt (July 11, 1801 – October 7, 1890)

John Hill Hewitt was an American songwriter born in July 1801 in New York City. Along with music he is also known for his plays and poetry.

Hewitt was born into an extremely musical family and was exposed to music from a very young age. His sister was Sophia Hewitt Ostinelli, the famous pianist and he was the son of John Hewitt, the famous New York musician who conducted the orchestra of King George III in England before moving to the United States.

Despite the musicality of each of his family members, Hewitt’s father didn’t want him to pursue a career in music. In fact, he actively tried to keep John away from a career in music during his younger years, but to no avail. In 1823, Hewitt relocated to Georgia and joined his father’s newly opened theatre group. Following an unfortunate fire that left the business in ruins, Hewitt opened his own music store, and gave lessons on piano and flute.

In the following years Hewitt would become the manager of Richmond Theatre, co-found and open the ‘Baltimore Academy of Music,’ and would start his career in songwriting of American Patriotic songs.

Musical Style and Influences

Hewitt composed mainly songs, cantatas and operas, with him being most well known for his War time songs detailing the tragedy that many families felt during this time. He became known for pro-Southern and pro-Confederate songs, and Parlor pieces.

Hewitt was considered one of the most significant composers of Parlor songs at the time. Parlor songs were very popular for guitarists during the nineteenth century in America. They were based on a simple piano part with limited vocal range, typically suited to amateur singers.

What was John Hill Hewitt Known For?

The Music of John Hill Hewitt

Many of Hewitt’s songs dealt with life in the American South during the American civil war. His most famous war song was ‘The Minstrel’s return from the war,’ in 1825, earning him the title of ‘Father of the American ballad.’ Again, this was a parlor song, and discusses issues such as the lives of family during the war, emigration and separation, and the military.

John Hill Hewitt Most Famous Works

During 1863 and 1864, Hewitt travelled with ‘The Queen Sisters,’ an infamous singing and acting group at the time. Writing operas and songs for the group, Hewitt was quickly propelled into stardom during this period. He gained international fame for his song ‘All Quiet along the Potomac tonight,’ through the help of The Queen Sisters.

Hewitt wrote many popular songs during his long career. He started publishing music in 1825 and was still publishing into the 1890s. Some came from his poetry and others were originally written for music. Here are a few of his most popular songs during his career.

  • Minstrel’s Return From the War
  • Hark, Brothers, Hark
  • Aunt Harriet Betcha Stowe
  • The Young Volunteer
  • All Quiet on the Potomac To-night
  • You Are Going to the Wars, Willie Boy!
  • Somebody’s Darling
  • Dreaming Forever of Thee

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