The Music Behind Violet: Songs from the South

Posted on: May 20th, 2014 by Roundabout


The diverse musical landscape of the southern United States is a major influence on the score of Violet. Country, bluegrass, blues, and gospel music are all evident throughout the production. Violet’s Appalachian upbringing is heard in her bluegrass twang; Monty has more of a country western influence; Flick has traces of both gospel and blues threaded through his songs. All four varieties are seamlessly woven into an undeniably theatrical score. But the history of these musical forms is reflective of the worlds the characters are coming from, divided by race and class, to get to September 1964.

Bluegrass music is often referred to as a truly American art form, and like most American inventions, bluegrass has roots from all over the world. As settlers came across the ocean and settled in the Appalachian Mountains, their many cultures melded in this remote land. Rural dance songs and traditional fiddle playing of poor Irish and English immigrants had a heavy influence on the music being passed from generation to generation. However, the signature bluegrass instrument, the banjo, actually has roots in western Africa, having been brought over by slaves in the early 1600s.

As these many styles and instruments converged over the years, a unique sound was born by combining the guitar with rapid banjo and fiddle playing, tight harmonies, and a lilt that derives from the yodeling tradition. This music was created by the community, for the community. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th Century, with the invention of the phonograph and radio, that bluegrass was heard beyond its mountain home. The sense of the folk community in bluegrass music continues today with musicians picking away on the porch with friends and neighbors and at the incredibly popular bluegrass festivals all over the southeastern states.


Man playing the banjo in 1960s Mississippi.


The country sound of western Americans was born as an escape from the harsh realities of the Great Depression and the devastation of the Dust Bowl. With its loping guitar lines and slow mosey of a tempo, country western music came East with the help of the popular live radio show “The Grand Ole Opry,” broadcast from Nashville. At first a platform for amateur musicians to promote their local tours, “The Grand Ole Opry” soon became a national launchpad for musicians like Gene Autry, Patsy Cline, and Dolly Parton, all the way to Carrie Underwood. This fixture has helped to establish Nashville as the country music capital of the world.

Southern Gospel is music directly derived from the spirituals sung by slaves in the south. Slaves could sing about freedom, hope, and faith in songs masked by stories and characters from the Bible. After slavery was abolished, educators at Fisk University, the first African-American college in the U.S., put together a group of men to sing the spiritual songs they grew up with, touring all over world and raising money and awareness. In church, together with their community, these spirituals incorporated more of the African culture that had been banned during slavery, including stamping, clapping, and jubilant shouting.


Southern church service, celebrating in song.


The Blues also originated in the fields of southern plantations. Slaves sang these songs to commiserate and to empower their community when religion wasn’t enough to raise their spirits. Technically, the blues has a strict form with endless possible variances. There is even a specific scale of notes used in the blues, and these are referred to as “blue notes.” As the blues spread from its southern home in the Mississippi Delta, many different forms developed, including Boogie-woogie, Jump Blues, Chicago Blues, Memphis Blues, and many more. Beale Street was the center of the Memphis Blues movement, with predominantly African-American clubs pouring music into the street. The tradition of Beale Street lives on in modern-day Memphis.

Violet incorporates these and other musical styles to create the world that the character of Violet sets off into in search of a miracle. These musical styles are woven into the history of the communities they come from and add a layer of recognition and authenticity. Perhaps the effect is subliminal, but when you hear the twang of a guitar or a harmonica play, the sense of where you are is immediately clear. This is just another theatrical tool of the trade, and it is ingeniously incorporated in Violet.


This article features in our Upstage playgoers guide for VioletExplore and listen to playlists of songs from the cast and creative team that were influential in creating this production.

Violet plays at the American Airlines Theatre through August 10. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2013-2014 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage, Violet

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Violet’s America: A Journey Through the South in 1964

Posted on: May 16th, 2014 by Roundabout


In Violet, it’s September 4, 1964 when Violet Karl boards a bus in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, bound for Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her journey will take her across the American South during the cultural revolution of the 1960s. By 1970, civil rights, Vietnam, women’s liberation, and rock and roll youth culture will have reshaped society.



President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 dominated the start of 1964. Lyndon Baines Johnson, sworn into office at Kennedy’s death, was committed to pushing Kennedy’s civil rights legislation and social welfare policies forward. President Kennedy had called for a new civil rights act in June of 1963, and behind-the-scenes efforts to obtain the congressional votes for its passage began soon after.

In August 1963, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom drew enormous crowds who rallied for civil rights and economic justice for African-Americans, and during which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, putting civil rights in the national spotlight. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed the House of Representatives in February of that year. The legislation prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in employment and housing. It outlawed segregation in places of public accommodation (such as buses) and businesses. This attempted to protect voting rights and encouraged school desegregation through changes to federal funding. It was deeply unpopular with southerners, including Alabama Governor George Wallace, who ran a pro-segregation presidential campaign against Johnson, despite being in the same party.


Martin Luther King, Jr. at the March in Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.


When the act reached the Senate, southern senators, primarily Democrats, held a 54-day filibuster in an attempt to kill the act. Finally, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a modified version of the legislation. This gathered enough support to pass the Senate and was signed into law by Johnson on July 2. The Civil Rights Act was law on September 4, 1964, but challenges to its enforcement, and to entrenched segregation and racism, remained.



While the Civil Rights Act was filibustered in the Senate, a group of 1,000 volunteers, mostly white college students, poured into Mississippi in a highly-publicized attempt to register voters and end disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Known as Freedom Summer, it was run by a group of local civil rights organizations known as the Council of Federated Organizations. Volunteers were regularly harassed, threatened, arrested, and beaten—often by members of the Mississippi law enforcement community. Just days after the work began, three volunteers, two white and one black, went missing. They were found murdered weeks later.


Mug shot of Freedom Riders who were arrested after going into a whites-only waiting room and refusing to move after being asked to do so by the police.



The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protected women from discrimination based on gender in employment. Prior to this, women were effectively shut out of many professions and sometimes prevented from certain courses of study in universities. In 1960, 37% of women worked outside the home, and they earned about 60% of what men earned. With just a high school diploma, Violet’s options for work in Spruce Pine, a mining town, would have been limited. Women were marrying very young in 1964, at an average of 20.5 years old. Birth control pills, which allowed women, not men, to control their fertility, became available in 1960. By 1963, 2.3 million American women were taking birth control pills. Despite this advance, laws against contraception remained in eight states.

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan’s landmark book on women’s identity in postwar America, was published in 1963. In it, Friedan argued that the image of women as happy, fulfilled housewives was created by men and was detrimental to women’s selfactualization. Written by and aimed at the educated, upper-middle class suburban homemaker, the book probably would seem irrelevant to the poor, rural, and single Violet Karl.



During the Cold War, the United States attempted to prevent Soviet communism from spreading further, particularly into Southeast Asia. The United States had engaged in the Korean War in the 1950s to prevent Soviet-backed North Korean forces from taking over pro-Western South Korea. The Korean War ended in stalemate (the region remains divided into North and South Korea). It did, however, give African-American soldiers in the newly-integrated military the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. After the Korean War, the United States maintained a military presence in the waters off the Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese coasts. On August 2, 1964, the Destroyer USS Maddox exchanged fire with three North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. President Johnson responded by authorizing an air attack on North

Vietnamese gunboats and support facilities. On August 7, Congress authorized a joint resolution, known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, that gave Johnson the power to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” without having to seek the approval of Congress. This began a new stage in the Vietnam War. In 1964 it was possible to be drafted into military service, though large numbers of men were not being called up regularly. The first draft card burning actually took place in May of 1964, before the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. In subsequent years, as more young men were drafted into an increasingly unpopular war, draft protests would become common.


Image of a man burning his draft card in protest of the Vietnam War.



The British Invasion
1964 marked the start of the “British Invasion,” which refers to the extreme popularity of British rock and pop music in America. The Beatles performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February, kicking off Beatlemania. In June, The Rolling Stones performed their first concert in the U.S. at a high school in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Race Riots
In Harlem, the police shooting of a 15-year-old African-American boy with a knife led to massive protests that quickly turned into riots. Similar riots, driven by anger about discrimination, poverty, and police brutality, happened in Rochester and North Philadelphia in the summer of 1964.

Sidney Poitier
On April 13, 1964 Sidney Poitier became the first Bahamian-American man to win the Best Actor Oscar, for his role in Lilies of the Field.

Anti-miscegenation Laws
In 1964, it was illegal for a black person to marry a white person in all of the states Violet travels through. It would take the landmark Loving Case, in which Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial married couple with three children, sued for the right to live as a married couple in their home state of Virginia, to begin to turn over these laws.

In 1964 the United States Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health linked smoking to lung cancer for the first time.


This article features in our Upstage playgoers guide for Violet

Violet plays at the American Airlines Theatre through August 10. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2013-2014 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage, Violet

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Violet Music Station

Posted on: May 2nd, 2014 by Roundabout


The musical Violet features a score of show-stopping anthems ranging from American-roots to folk to gospel.

Explore playlists from the cast and creative team that were influential in creating this production below.

Brian Crawley - Book and Lyrics


Alexander Gemignani - Father

Roundabout Staff


Related Categories:
2013-2014 Season, Violet

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