Guest Linda Carroll-Bradd on Popular Music in the 1880s

In my latest release, Dulcina, book 5 in “The Widows of Wildcat Ridge” series, I feature a heroine who has a natural singing talent and, with her husband, owned a saloon in a gold mining town in Utah Territory. Her contribution was being the “talent” at the various saloons she and her husband owned over the eight years they were together. They ran a respectable establishment with no fancy ladies, relying on Dulcina’s singing talent to draw in the customers. Although she wasn’t well accepted by the women in the town, Dulcina looked on her talent as providing the right type of atmosphere to keep the atmosphere calm.

I’m an author who believes in including lots of historical facts in my stories. If you read about a certain product or tool or company, you can be sure that product existed at the time the story is set. Often, I’m lucky enough to find a resource that provides me with an image so I can describe what the products looked like to create an authentic visual. Researching what the popular music she would have performed proved enlightening, at least to me. I had no idea some of the songs that I’ve learned from various settings (elementary school choir, Girl Scouts, camps, music tapes for my children) were as old as they are.

Consider that many people who settled the western part of the United States after the Civil War were a vast mix of people. Some came from well-established homes in the East where too many sons existed and a third or fourth son wouldn’t inherit much. These individuals would have an upbringing that included music and many could play piano, including the women. Other settlers came from foreign countries and brought their own music and songs. For many, a piano, or a banjo, or a violin—or all three—and sheet music provided an entire evening’s entertainment with people of all ages joining in.


Photo credit: DeviantArt

In the 1870s and 1880s, the plays by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan provided lots of songs. H.M.S. Pinafore was their first huge success and provided “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore”, “Things Are Seldom What They Seem” and “Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well.” From Pirates of Penzance came “Away, Away, My Heart’s on Fire”, “A Rollickin’ Band of Pirates, We” and “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” and from Iolanthe “When Britain Really Ruled the Waves”, “None Shall Part Us” and “Welcome to our Hearts Again.” Or other familiar tunes were “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”, “Farmer in the Dell”, “Oh, My Darling Clementine”, “Polly Wolly Doodle”, “The Fountain in the Park” (better known as “I Was Strolling in the Park One Day”), “There is a Tavern in the Town”, “Blow the Man Down” and “Sailing, Sailing.”


Photo credit: Picryl

Not only would the singing be a unifying activity for the family, or residents of a boarding house, or citizens traveling through a small town in a sparsely populated area, but it also put the people in touch with what was happening in other places in the world. What fun to perform songs that were also being sung in theater performances across the continent in New York or halfway around the world in London. Oftentimes, people living on the frontier had a limited scope of life, meaning they didn’t travel far from the place where they were raised, but music made them feel like they belonged to a larger society.


Left widowed following a Utah mining disaster, Dulcina Crass faces running a saloon on her own when her previous contribution was solely as the singer. She struggles to learn the necessary tasks but her heart isn’t in being a saloon keeper. All she ever wanted was to be a famous singer. Will asking Gabriel Magnus, a neighbor from her New Mexico hometown, bring the help she needs or a new kind of trouble?

Gabriel Magnus isn’t fulfilled by his role as ranch hand on the family’s New Mexico sheep ranch. What he wants is the chance to prove his boot making skills are good enough to start his own business. When he receives a letter from recent widow Dulcina offering a partnership in the Last Chance Saloon, he recognizes the chance to come to the rescue of the vivacious girl he wanted to court a decade earlier. Upon his arrival, he presents her with a demand–her answer could decide both of their fates.

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I’m giving away a print copy of A Year in Romance, Books 1-4 of “Dorado, Texas” series (US only, ecopy to international winner).

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39 thoughts on “Guest Linda Carroll-Bradd on Popular Music in the 1880s”

  1. Thank you for sharing your great post. I love to sing. Growing up in a small town, we were blessed to have a wonderful voice teacher. I took voice lessons for several years and we would sing selections from all the great musicals. What fun!

  2. I am so thankful you take the time to research the details for your books. I enjoy reading books for the story, but also for information on the place and time in which it is set. Especially when dealing with the early American West, there can be a timeline disconnect with what is going on in the East and Europe. I hadn’t really thought about the Gilbert and Sullivan plays being out at this time and the influence they would have on the saloon and theater performances in such a different place.
    Dulcina is left in a difficult position. She is not prepared for the position she has been left in. Calling on an old friend to help may have seemed like a good idea, but he doesn’t have the background for running the business either. I am curious to see how their two plans mesh and things turn out.

  3. Wow, I really admire your passion for research–I love research and history too–and your post was so very exciting and interesting to me. Thank you!

    It’s also on a topic I really love because I come from a family of musicians. My grandfather Andy was born in Indian Territory and was a fiddler (1896-1972) like his father before him, Jim (1860-1904). “Because of its size and portability, the fiddle was the core of early Oklahoma Anglo music, but other instruments such as the guitar, mandolin, banjo, and steel guitar were added later. Various Oklahoma music traditions trace their roots to the British Isles, including cowboy ballads, western swing, and contemporary country and western.” (Wikipedia) My dad and I were guitarists. So believe it or not I started guitar lessons young and went to all the big music gatherings we had that featured my dad and grandpa Andy, as well as others. So, I know what you mean about music gatherings and the sense of community they created because that was my heritage.

    I grew up singing songs early on like you mentioned, such as “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”, “Farmer in the Dell”, “Oh, My Darling Clementine”, and “Polly Wolly Doodle”, as well as “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and country-western type oriented songs. After that I played in bands from ages 15 to 35, when having a family took my time as well as my bass-playing husband’s.

    Two last coincidences: My great grandmother’s name was like the song–Clementine (married to Jim); and his mother’s maiden name was Carroll (my great-great grandmother) like yours. It’s a small world, no?

    • Eliza, you certainly do have music in your life. I’ve used a Russian Balalaika in Dance Toward the Light and a South African mbira (thumb piano) in Libbie: Bride of Arizona and an Irish bodhran in Perfectly Mismatched.
      Thanks for sharing and part of my father’s family was located in the Midwest but mostly in Illinois and Kansas.

  4. Welcome to P & P, Linda! Your blog was fascinating and well-done. I think many women can relate to Dulcina in having a dream, only to have it taken away from them, and then have to fight to find a way to get it back again. Good stuff!

    Congratulations on the new release!!

  5. I enjoy books that are historically correct about the ‘props’ that are written about.
    Thank you for doing that.

  6. Finally, an author that speaks my language. I love how well researched your books are and detail, yes please. Give me tons of details in your writing . I want to know all the facts and details and would love to read your books!

  7. Good morning, Linda! Congratulations on Dulcina. I love that she’s a singer who wants to “make it big” and is willing to fight to keep her dream alive. And the research–that’s part of why I write historicals, too. I love finding the authentic details.

    Best of luck with Dulcina & with The Widows of Wildcat Ridge series!

  8. Welcome to P&P. What an informative and interesting blog. I love history and finding out where some of the oh so familiar pieces originated was so much fun. Again thanks for blogging with us and I look forward to getting a copy of your book. Hugs from Texas.

    • Phyllis, I appreciate the P&P welcome. I, too, lived in Texas for a dozen years and visited San Antonio again in September. Still don’t like the humidity. Thanks for commenting.

  9. This sounds like the most interesting book. I love strong female characters. especially ones with such talents as singing and playing piano.

  10. Linda,
    I’m fascinated by the way you are able to research and write books in the era as close as you can. It makes reading so much more enjoyable and I am able to visualize exactly what is happening. Thank you for sharing your insight in this article. I look forward to reading your book. And thank you for a chance to win your book.’

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