Disaster Songs — Readers Recommend

"Flood Disaster (Homecoming - Kaw Valley)," 1951, by Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)

“Flood Disaster (Homecoming – Kaw Valley),” 1951, by Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)

We invited our readers via Facebook last week to submit some of the disaster songs they find most moving. Through those, and through some suggestions we got from others directly, we received some great suggestions. In an unusual turn for us, therefore, we’ll turn it over to the readers, and keep our musings to a minimum. Thanks to everybody who made a suggestion.

“Here Comes the Water”

Our first suggestion comes from our benevolent host, Mark Moss, Editor and Executive Director at Sing Out!“Here Comes the Water,” by late Colorado singer-songwriter, Chuck Pyle, tells a story from the 1976 Big Thompson River Flood. A rain storm settled over the area of Rocky Mountain National Park, dumping 12 inches of rain in a short time in the high country. The flood that rushed eastward down the Big Thompson canyon on the Front Range killed over 140 people. “Here Comes the Water” tells the story of the heroism of Sergeant Willis Hugh Purdy of the Colorado State Patrol, who elected not to turn out of the flash flood’s path, but instead raced the flood down the canyon to warn people to get out of its course.(Lyrics)

“The Cyclone of Rye Cove”

Kathie Hollandsworth mentioned this classic Carter Family song, telling the devastating tale of a Virginia schoolhouse destroyed by a cyclone, killing 12 children and a teacher, and injuring many more. Pat covered this song for us back in 2013. (Lyrics)

“Baltimore Fire”

Matt Sohn offered a trio of suggestions, and we’ll go with two of them here. The first was “Baltimore Fire,” by Charlie Poole. The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 was the third largest urban fire in U.S. history, behind the Great Chicago Fire (1871) and the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906. It burned over 140 acres of Charm City, destroying over 1500 buildings and leaving thousands homeless and unemployed. Firefighters came in by railcar from surrounding states to help fight the fire. It’s believed that the fire killed nobody directly, although several fire fighters died of lung ailments and other issues after battling the blaze.(Lyrics)

“Tupelo Blues”

Matt Sohn also recommended “Tupelo Blues,” by John Lee Hooker, inspired by the storm that brought tornadoes and flooding to Tupelo, Mississippi region in 1936. The main tornado that hit Tupelo leveled 48 blocks and killed at least 200 people. One of the survivors of the storm was a one year old Elvis Presley.(Lyrics)

I was talking with my friend, Jason, last week about this post. He mentioned the Nick Cave song, “Tupelo,” which was inspired by the same storm and the John Lee Hooker song. (Lyrics)

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