A little about the songs and themes:
I chose themes for the songs that reflect some of the most important aspects of Annie’s life. Her love of home and family, talent, work ethic, survival, and integrity are the attributes we tried to bring out in the songs. I once joked with Dave Torretta, that Annie needed an entire album of songs to cover the many facets of her life, but I settled for a ‘suite’ of 5 songs for now. I hope this music encourages people to read and learn about this great American icon. Her life is full, impressive, and inspirational. Hope you enjoy …
"Aim at a high mark and you'll hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally, you'll hit the bulls eye of success."
Annie is longing to come home from the ‘Great Hereafter’ to her hometown, Greenville Ohio. As the train makes a stop she is reunited with some of the famous people that she met throughout her life and career. She was noted as saying if she had a choice, she would trade fame and fortune to be back home in the “deep,quiet woods. “ She is quoted in Glenda Rileys’s book The Life and Times of Annie Oakley: “Oh how grand God’s beautiful earth seemed to me as I glided swiftly through the woods.” Annie’s childhood was truly difficult, but she chose to remember the idyllic times. Also, “I was homesick for the fairy places.” Trains played an important role in her life being the main transportation for the Wild West Show, as well as carrying her back home after running away at age 10 or 11 from an abusive family she worked for. It’s this amazing story of love of home, escape and redemption that inspired me to start the suite of songs.
I felt Annie’s husband, Frank Butler, deserved a song to honor him and his true love for Annie. They met at a shooting match and after Annie won, Frank fell in love then and there. He was quite a romantic and often wrote sweet poems to her. His role reversal of taking ‘the back seat’ and letting Annie be the ‘star’ was remarkable and unusual in the late 1800’s. He lovingly took on the role of manager and publicist while protecting and maintaining Annie’s reputation and fame. They were apart the last days of their lives and it’s not known if Frank knew Annie had died, but he followed her to the ‘Great Hereafter’ 18 days later. They are buried side by side outside of Greenville Ohio.
Although Annie was a Midwestern girl, she quickly became associated with the west because of her ‘super star’ status in the hugely popular live-action large tent show, ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.’
Her shooting, riding and performing skills were renowned across America and Europe. She really should be considered America’s first professional female athlete, as she had a practice and workout regimen that would impress modern athletes.
She gave out playing cards with bulls-eye holes she shot through them as free tickets for children and orphans, with whom she had a deep affinity. The term ‘Annie Oakleys’ is still used in the common vernacular to mean ‘free tickets.’ It’s just one example of the many kindnesses she displayed during her life and career. Also she was the most trusted of the entire cast and crew and often the cowboys and Native Americans in the troupe would give her their money to keep safe from others and their own gambling escapades. The ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West’ was extremely popular and represented the interest and intense sentimentality people had for the vanishing West as it once had been.
This song is about her unprecedented (at the time) libel lawsuit that involved 550 newspapers which took nearly 8 years to litigate from 1903-10. It started when a Chicago paper owned by Wm. Randolph Hearst printed a scandalous story about her stealing clothes from an African American man for drug money. Of course it was false, but it quickly spread to 550 newspapers across the country. As a Victorian lady with a Quaker upbringing and working in a man’s world, Annie was extremely conscientious and careful about her image and this libel was simply unacceptable. She was quoted as saying of the ordeal, “It nearly killed me”. She also said she did it (sued) to “purge her character”. A quote from one of the court cases is an example of her sharp wit, she was asked by one of the lawyers her definition of an education, Annie replied “My idea of an education, is that it is a very good thing when backed by common sense, and a very bad thing in the head of a cheap lawyer.” (From Shirl Kasper’s book, Annie Oakley.)
I believe that this suit is another perfect example of her essence. Her integrity, determination, pride and one could argue, stubbornness was all summoned and she was able to win all but two of the suits.
This is the name Chief Sitting Bull gave her. He was a great admirer of Annie’s skills and later they became close friends when Sitting Bull worked in the Wild West Show for a year. There is a story that Sitting Bull had lost a daughter a few years before he met Annie and after they did meet he adopted her giving her the name Watanya Cecilia’, Little Sure Shot. I’ve read that this is a rare honor and Annie may have been the only white woman to receive it. After hearing of Sitting Bull’s murder, Annie was quoted as saying was, “If he had been a white man, someone would have been hanged for his murder” and “Any one who knew him ,would feel pity for his fate… to die knowing the lands of his people had been invaded and their means of subsistence impaired and faith not kept with them.” (From the Glenda Riley book, The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley)
This song is my take on how we need persons of integrity these days. If you had to use one characteristic word to describe Annie Oakley, it would be integrity. As a kid, I loved wearing my Annie Oakley cowgirl costume for Halloween. But I had no clue to who she really was until a couple of years ago when I saw a biography on her life. I was deeply affected and began my research for the songs and for my own curiosity.
The bridge lyric is from “How Can I Keep from Singing” a famous Baptist hymn. It features the added verse by Doris Plenn. Sometime in the 1960’s she asked Pete Seeger, a family friend to record the song for posterity. The updated verse is commonly interpreted as a protest verse. I wanted to include it in the song as a plea for integrity and to rise above the “lamentation” of the world.
And finally and fortunately for me, my friend and colleague Dave Torretta agreed to help me write lyrics for the songs. They probably wouldn’t have ever been finished or nearly as good.