“Hard Times Come Again No More” was written by Stephen Foster.
Firth, Pond & Co., Foster’s publishing company at that time, registered the title page for copyright on December 16, 1854. They deposited the music for the complete song on January 17, 1855.
Firth, Pond & Co. advertised the song as being “Just the song for the times!”
Stephen Foster was living in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania in 1854. (The municipality of Allegheny City was founded in 1788 and annexed by the City of Pittsburg in 1907.)
Ken Emerson described “the times” in Allegheny City at that time in his book, Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture:
Distress was widespread in Allegheny City and Pittsburg in 1854. Unemployment had reached unprecedented levels that spring, and in the summer cholera struck once again, killing four hundred people in just two weeks.
Hard times, indeed.
The 1855 sheet music presents “Hard Times Come Again No More” in the Key of E-flat major; four verses and a chorus with an elegant, but relatively simple piano accompaniment.
Thanks to the Library of Congress, we can all take a look.
“Hard Times Come Again No More” was recorded for the first time by the Edison Manufacturing Company in 1905. Edison Gold Moulded Cylinder #9120 captured a performance of the song by the Edison Male Quartette with “orchestra accompaniment.”
The recording has a spoken introduction followed by the orchestra. The Edison Male Quartette sings the first verse and then goes two times through the chorus. (Check out those changes on the second chorus!) The orchestra provides the instrumental coda.
Thanks to the Audio Archive of the University of California Santa Barbara Library, we can all give a listen!
I have two favorite contemporary covers of this exquisite song.
James Taylor, Mark O’Conner, Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer collaborated on a wonderfully re-harmonized rendition of “Hard Times Come Again No More” for their 2000 album Appalachian Journey.
That performance features:
- James Taylor – Acoustic Guitar & Vocals
- Mark O’Conner – Violin
- Yo-Yo Ma – Cello
- Edgar Meyer – Bass
Mavis Staples contributed a deeply heartfelt rendering of the song for the 2004 compilation Beautiful Dreamer – The Songs of Stephen Foster. (That collection won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2005.)
The musicians on that recording are:
- Mavis Staples – Vocals
- Matt Rollings – Piano & Organ
- Buddy Miller – Electric Guitar
- Steve Fishell – Dobro
“Hard Times Come Again No More” has been recorded by a wide array of artists, including Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Check them out!
“Music is the best medicine.”
That line is from “Best Medicine” – a 2014 song by Maya de Vitry when she was with the wonderful acoustic trio known as The Stray Birds.
My thought behind this series is to offer up some songs that I’ve been thinking about, listening to and singing quite a bit these days.
It is my hope that these small doses of musical medicine will be a source of comfort, joy, hope and sanity for you as they have been for me.
Stay safe, take good care and now, more than ever, add some music to your day.