A LOOK AT HOW THE ICONIC MELODY FROM THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY BECAME A BAND ARRANGEMENT
Goin’ Home Navy Chief Petty Officer Graham Jackson plays “Goin’ Home” on the accordion as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s body is carried from Warm Springs, Georgia, where he suddenly died from a stroke on April 12, 1945. Jackson, a celebrated musician who played in numerous command performances in Washington, was a personal friend of the President Franklin and First Lady.
“Goin’ Home,”based on the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak’s famous “Largo” theme from his Symphony No. 5 (From the New World), Op. 95. His symphony was composed while he was in America and was first performed by the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall on December 16, 1893. It has been said that Dvorak’s themes in his symphony were inspired by American folk melodies, especially Afro-American or American Indian. But his themes are just as similar to Bohemian folk music and most likely from that music.
The words associated with “Goin’ Home” were written by one of Dvorak’s pupils, William Arms Fisher, who adapted and arranged the Largo theme and added his own words.
Goin’ home, goin’ home, I’m a goin’ home;
Quiet-like, some still day, I’m jes’ goin’ home.
It’s not far, jes’ close by, Through an open door;
Work all done, care laid by, Goin’ to fear no more.
Mother’s there ‘spectin’ me, Father’s waitin’ too;
Lots o’ folks gather’d there, All the friends I knew,
All the friends I knew.
Home, I’m goin’ home!”
The Largo, with its haunting English horn solo, is the outpouring of Dvorak’s own home-longing, with something of the loneliness of far-off prairie horizons, the faint memory of the red-man’s bygone days, and a sense of the tragedy of the black-man as it sings in his “spirituals.” Deeper still it is a moving expression of that nostalgia of the soul all human beings feel. That the lyric opening theme of the Largo should spontaneously suggest the words ‘Goin’ home, goin’ home’ is natural enough, and that the lines that follow the melody should take the form of a negro spiritual accords with the genesis of the symphony.– William Arms Fisher, Boston, July 21, 1922.
It especially became known as a spiritual after the death of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s and popularized when performed by Paul Robeson. The melody was used as a recurring theme in “Eleanor and Franklin”, a 1976 television movie about FDR and the First Lady. It provides the background music as the train bears the body of the president from Warm Springs GA back to Washington.
In the 1980s the tune was arranged by USAF Band member Jari Villanueva for use at funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The arrangement was used regularly by service bands and was featured in the movie Clear and Present Danger in 1994. The arrangement was played by the US Army Band (Pershing’s Own) at the service at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in May, 1998 when the Vietnam Unknown was exhumed for testing. (The remains were later identified as USAF 1st Lt Michael Joseph Blassie) It was used because there was no religion attached to the Unknown and they wanted a secular piece of music. In 2004 the family of President Ronald Reagan asked for it to be played at the departure ceremony for President Reagan’s remains at Andrews Air Force. It was again used at President Ford’s funeral.
The arrangement has been played throughout the nation and world.
“That “Going Home” is still played at Arlington at funerals means so much to me and I am honored to have this little bit of a musical legacy. Of all the music I’ve been associated with, this one arrangement is the one I’m most proud. Being associated and working with the USAF Band, the USAF Honor Guard and the USAF Chaplaincy at ANC is a proud thing in my life.”-Jari Villanueva