Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.
Send GK Your Question »
"Tom and Sally"
April 6, 2011 |
I just finished listening to your song about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. I don't know what to call it other than offensive trash.
If this what you find entertaining and funny, you've clearly gone senile.
Maybe you've always been that way. I wouldn't know since I don't listen to your broadcast. After this taste of what you find entertaining, I'm glad you'll be off the air soon.
They should pull your show today if they had any sense. You make Rush Limbaugh look sensitive.
Not much is known about the relationship about Jefferson and his housemaid, Sally Hemings. There's been conjecture, starting back in their time, and for many years Hemings descendants claimed to be blood relatives of Jefferson, a claim that was given some credibility by DNA tests. Jefferson himself wrote nothing about the relationship, and Miss Hemings, who was freed after his death, did not divulge anything either, so far as is known. The case for his paternity is further strengthened by the fact that he freed the five Hemings children who were thought to be his offspring. At any rate, the story is something of a blank, and I decided to make it a love story. In the lyrics, she sings:
I begged him to teach me to read and to write
But we only met in the dead of the night
I left his bed when the sky turned blue
What happened between us only we knew.
He feels that, though she is his by slavery and though it is wrong to lie with her, nonetheless she cares for him. Many listeners objected to the duet chorus:
It was love though no one could understand
It was love between a woman and man
In the dark, forbidden, condemned as wrong,
But love will sing its song.
And the song ends on a strained note:
TOM: I rode my horse around the plantation
SALLY: I bowed my head as he passed
TOM: I could see in her eyes a dark accusation
SALLY: When he died, I was freed at last.
A great many listeners agreed with you, Susan, that love was absolutely not possible between a slave and a master. There's much to be said for that. After thinking about Jefferson and about his wife Martha, who made him promise on her deathbed that he would not marry again, I took a different point of view.
"Tom and Sally"
"Tom and Sally" (lyrics)