July 19, 2017

20,000 Vinyl LPs 98: Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train

Earl Robinson was born and died in July, so this is his month and I had to honor him with this recording of his significant work which seems to have been lost to history, The Lonesome Train

Earl Robinson ~ 
The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP,
front album cover
photo by Styrous®

In 1942, Robinson wrote the music for a cantata (or "ballad opera") on the life and death of Abraham Lincoln entitled The Lonesome Train (text by Millard Lampell). It was recorded in 1944 by Burl Ives, and performed live in 2009 for the first time since the spring of 1974, when it was performed publicly at Mesabi Community College in Virginia, Minnesota, as the headliner for the Mesabi Creative Arts Festival. The 2009 performance was in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.  

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP, front album cover detail
photo by Styrous®

Earl Hawley Robinson was born on July 2, 1910, and died on July 20, 1991. He was a folk music singer-songwriter and composer from Seattle, Washington. Robinson is remembered for the songs Joe Hill, Black and White, and the cantata Ballad for Americans, which expressed his left-leaning political views. He was a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s and was the musical director at the Communist-run Camp Unity in upstate New York; perhaps his Communist affiliations are reasons Train disappeared.     

In 1934 he moved to New York City where he studied with Hanns Eisler and Aaron Copland. He was also involved with the depression-era WPA Federal Theater Project, and was actively involved in the anti-fascist movement. In addition, he wrote many popular songs and music for Hollywood films.   

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP, front album cover detail
photo by Styrous®

Robinson's musical influences included Paul Robeson, Lead Belly, and American folk music. He composed Ballad for Americans (lyrics by John La Touche) which became a signature song for Robeson. It was also recorded by Bing Crosby. He wrote the music for and sang in the short documentary film Muscle Beach (1948), directed by Joseph Strick and Irving Lerner.    

Other songs written by Robinson include The House I Live In (a 1945 hit recorded by Frank Sinatra), Joe Hill (a setting of a poem by Alfred Hayes, which was later recorded by Joan Baez and used in the film of the same name), the ongoing ballad that accompanied the film A Walk in the Sun that was sung by Kenneth Spencer. Robinson co-wrote the folk musical Sandhog with blacklisted screenwriter Waldo Salt. It is based on "St. Columbia and the River," a story by Theodore Dreiser about the tunnel workers, known as "sandhogs," who built the first tunnel under the Hudson River. The musical debuted at the Phoenix Theater in New York City on November 23, 1954. Robinson also wrote Black and White with David I. Arkin, the father of actor Alan Arkin, which is a celebration of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, that has been recorded by Pete Seeger, Three Dog Night, the Jamaican reggae bands The Maytones and UK band Greyhound and Sammy Davis Jr.     

His late works included a concerto for banjo, as well as a piano concerto entitled The New Human. His cantata based on the preamble to the constitution of the United Nations was premiered in New York with the Elisabeth Irwin High School Chorus and the Greenwich Village Orchestra in 1962 or 1963.   

Robinson had a sense of humor, however, as demonstrated in songs and photos. In 1963 Folkways Records released the album, Earl Robinson Sings. A collection of folk music that highlights Robinson’s quirky personality with songs such as the science-fiction love tune, My True Love, Red Toupee and 42 Kids which is actually the music of 16 Tons written by Merle Travis and  made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford (YouTube links below).        

photo by Werner Pawlok

Earl Robinson was killed in a car accident in his hometown of Seattle, Washington in 1991; he was 81 years old.  

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP, front album cover detail
photo by Styrous®

Millard Lampell wrote the lyrics for The Lonesome Train. He was born on January 23, 1919, and was an American movie and television screenwriter who first became publicly known as a member of the Almanac Singers, an American New York City-based folk music group, active between 1940 and 1943, founded by Lampell, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie.

Lampell wrote songs with both Seeger and Guthrie, and adapted traditional songs into labor anthems and pro-union messages. During the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact from 1939 to 1941, the group also sang songs attacking Franklin D. Roosevelt as a warmonger and opposing Britain's war against Nazi Germany.      

He went on to a career as a scriptwriter for movies and, later, television. In the 1950s, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted. He wrote the screenplay for the marriage guidance film This Charming Couple (1950) using the pseudonym H. Partnow (link below). Some other of his screenplays were Blind Date (1959) and The Idol (1962) which starred and .

Notable television plays included The Adams Chronicles and the mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man (both 1976). In 1966, he was awarded an Emmy for his teleplay for the Hallmark Hall of Fame drama Eagle in a Cage. He also wrote novels, and the play The Wall, based on the novel by John Hersey, which was produced on Broadway. It was adapted for the 1983 film of the same name, directed by Robert Markowitz and starring Tom Conti, Rachel Roberts, Eli Wallach, James Cromwell, and Rosanna Arquette.     

Lampell died of lung cancer on October 3, 1997. He was 78 years old.        

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP, front album cover detail
photo by Styrous®

Lon Clark, Sr., the opening narrator for Lonesome Train, was a New York City actor of stage and radio. He was born in Frost, Minnesota in 1912.     

He had the title role in Nick Carter, Master Detective on the Mutual Broadcasting System from 1943 to 1955 (link below).

Charlotte Manson as Patsy Bowen and 
Lon Clark as Nick Carter, 1946
 Mutual Broadcasting System 

In 1986, through the small San Francisco publishing company, North Beach Press, his son, Lon Clark, Jr. (link below), produced a book of Jazz photographs by French photographer, Michelle Vignes (link below).    

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP, back album cover
photo by Styrous®

Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives (June 14, 1909 – April 14, 1995) was an American singer and actor of stage, screen, radio and television.    

He began as an itinerant singer and banjoist, and launched his own radio show, The Wayfaring Stranger, which popularized traditional folk songs. In 1942, he appeared in This Is the Army by Irving Berlin and then became a major star of CBS radio.     

In the 1960s, he successfully crossed over into country music, recording hits such as A Little Bitty Tear and Funny Way of Laughing. He was a film actor through the late 1940s and 1950s; his best-known roles included parts in So Dear to My Heart and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as well as Rufus Hannassey in The Big Country, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In the summer of 1994, he was diagnosed with oral cancer. After several unsuccessful operations, he decided against further surgery. He fell into a coma and died from the disease on April 14, 1995, at the age of 85, at his home in Anacortes, Washington. He was buried in Mound Cemetery in Hunt City Township, Jasper County, Illinois.

Music critic John Rockwell said, "Ives' voice ... had the sheen and finesse of opera without its latter-day Puccinian vulgarities and without the pretensions of operatic ritual. It was genteel in expressive impact without being genteel in social conformity. And it moved people."       

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train
10" vinyl LP, back album cover details
photo by Styrous®

Norman Corwin who produced the album is widely regarded as a guru of radio producers, a poet-laureate of radio. He was an American writer, screenwriter, producer, essayist and teacher of journalism and writing. His earliest and biggest successes were in the writing and directing of radio drama during the 1930s and 1940s. He was a major figure during the Golden Age of Radio. He was a writer and producer of many radio programs in many genres: history, biography, fantasy, fiction, poetry and drama. In 1936 he helped create WQXR-FM in New York City (later, voice of the New York Times).     

Corwin was among the first producers to regularly use entertainment, even light entertainment, to tackle serious social issues. In this area he was a peer of Orson Welles and William N. Robson, and an inspiration to other later radio/TV writers such as Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, Norman Lear, J. Michael Straczynski and Yuri Rasovsky.        

He won many awards, two Peabody Medals, an Emmy, a Golden Globe, a duPont-Columbia Award; he was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay for Lust for Life (1956). Corwin was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1993.          

Corwin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 3, 1910. He was 101 years old when he died on October 18, 2011. His father, Sam Corwin, attended holiday services until his death at 110. Amazing!   

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train
10" vinyl LP, back album cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Raymond Edward Johnson (Abraham Lincoln) was an American radio and stage actor best remembered for his work on Inner Sanctum Mysteries. While in Chicago, Johnson began working with writer/director Arch Oboler, with roles on his Lights Out series.  

While in New York, Johnson landed his most famous role when Himan Brown hired him for Inner Sanctum. From the first broadcast in 1941, Johnson was heard as the series host/narrator, introducing himself as "Your host, Raymond." The "Raymond" character became known for his chilling introductions and morbid puns, and his typical closing, an elongated and ironic "Pleasant dreaaaams, hmmmmmmm?" Johnson departed the series in 1945. Johnson later hosted the radio version of the science fiction series Tales of Tomorrow. I loved this series! It used the Sergei Prokofiev very short intro to Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet for it's opening. It was perfect as the theme is one of the most chilling works of music EVER written (link below).      

Johnson was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on July 24, 1911. Johnson started out as a bank teller, and later studied acting at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago. He was stricken with multiple sclerosis from his forties onward which limited his activities in later years when Johnson was a presence at old time radio conventions, performing in recreations and reprising "Raymond", often from a portable bed or wheelchair. He died on August 15, 2001, not long after his 90th birthday.    

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP, back album cover detail
photo by Styrous®

Review by David K. Dunaway:

The Lonesome Train is an amazing large-scale audio cast album consisting of a drama/legend in folk music form dealing with Abraham Lincoln. It is a creation that could only have been brought off properly and successfully in the LP era, and one that makes a curious period piece today, especially as narrator Robinson was a blacklistee in subsequent years.     

The cantata for radio probably originated in a dilapidated brownstone on lower Sixth Avenue in Manhattan: The Almanac House, a radical commune for music organizers in Greenwich Village, including Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie.

The musical mix of orchestra and chorus (and banjo picker) did not overwhelm readings, interview actuality, and dramatizations; in this, Robinson and Corwin were original and innovative. The story is strong and dramatically simple; A man, a train, and his spirit moving across the land. The work engages the audience by its multiple voices, dialoguing with the narrator and one another, and its themes and music. Instead of being a linear, complex account of Lincoln’s funeral train, this program uses the historical record as a springboard for a fantastic voyage.      

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP, back album cover
photo by Styrous®

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP, side 1
photo by Styrous®

Earl Robinson ~ The Lonesome Train 
10" vinyl LP, side 2
photo by Styrous®


Side 1:

A - The Lonesome Train - Part 1    

Side 2:

B - The Lonesome Train - Concluded    

Companies, etc.

    Manufactured By – Decca Records, Inc.


    Chorus – Jeff Alexander Chorus*
    Directed By – Norman Corwin
    Music By – Earl Robinson
    Narrator – Earl Robinson
    Narrator [Opening] – Lon Clark (2)
    Orchestra – Lyn Murray And His Orchestra*
    Vocals [Ballad Singer] – Burl Ives
    Voice Actor [Abraham Lincoln] – Raymond Edward Johnson
    Voice Actor [Preacher] – Richard Huey
    Words By – Millard Lampell

Earl Robinson, Millard Lampell ‎– The Lonesome Train (A Musical Legend)
Label: Decca ‎– DL 5054
Format: Vinyl, LP, 10"
Country: US
Released: 1949
Genre: Pop, Folk, World, & Country, Stage & Screen
Style: Vocal, Folk

Viewfinder links:      
Lon Clark, Sr. aka Nick Carter          
The art of Lon Clark, Jr.      
Michelle Vignes      
Net links:      
Painting the Culture Red ~ Robinson and other musical radicals  
New York Times Earl Robinson obit
People's World ~ Earl Robinson born   
Lon Clark ~ New York Times obit        
Radio Doc ~ Norman Corwin's The Lonesome Train (Decca Recording) 1944           
YouTube links:      
The Lonesome Train          
Earl Robinson ~        My True Love       
      Red Toupee                
      Joe Hill           
Millard Lampell ~ This Charming Couple (1950)
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev ~ Dance Of The Knights      
Styrous® ~ Wednesday, July 19, 2017         

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