Long before the British Invasion of the Beatles, Milford, NH had its own Fab Four. Their names you ask? Members of the internationally known quartet were John, Judson, Asa and Abby Hutchinson. They lived in a farmhouse on North River Rd and were part of a family of 13 children, all gifted with remarkable voices. The famed Hutchinson Family Singers quartet sang for causes they believed in and traveled the country from 1842 through 1849. They were instrumental in bringing the message of abolitionism and many social reforms to the general population and are credited with creating a style of music for Americans to call their own.
During 1845 and 1846, they toured the British Isles and became as popular there as in the US.
In spite of the fame they acquired during their lifetime, and the reforms they supported and practiced, they are in dire danger of being totally forgotten by the citizens of the town they called home…Milford, NH.
A brief outline of their tremendous contribution to the history of this country is below.
Please join us at 7 pm on October 16 in the Town Hall Auditorium for a general discussion of how to create a permanent memorial to this influential family. The meeting will open with Steve Blunt and Deborah Goss performing a few of the Hutchinson songs for us.
Please RSVP by October 9 via the link below:
THE HUTCHINSON FAMILY SINGERS
In the period of 1843 through 1849, The Hutchinson Family singers from Milford were the most sought out and popular singing group in the United States. During a nearly year long tour of the United Kingdom in 1845 and 1846, their fame reached a very similar degree.
The group sang for the causes of the day, but only if they espoused the cause, never just for payment. During their career as a quartet and their singing lives after the quartet ended, they sang for temperance, equal rights, women’s rights, equality, prison reform, health reform and most important of all, abolitionism.
They practiced temperance, refused to sing anywhere that people of color were forbidden entrance, visited prisons and sang for the inmates. In later years, John at least, sang for the Women’s Suffrage movement.
Their involvement in the anti-slavery movement came about as a result of Nathaniel P. Rogers, publisher of “The Herald of Freedom” hearing them sing at a Concord, NH concert in 1842. He arranged for them to perform at the January 1843 annual anti-slavery meeting which was held for 3 days in Fanueil Hall. From the very first day, audiences increased daily as word of the wonderful singers spread.
The family’s involvement with the abolitionist movement is credited with bringing the message to more people in this country than even the most eloquent speakers could have. During Anti-Slavery meetings, if there was a disruption brewing, the family would rush up on stage and start singing. Many articles were written describing their ability to calm a tense situation and sway audiences to the cause of abolition. They bravely faced the wrath of citizens who did not espouse the cause of abolitionism and gave concerts even when threatened with severe bodily
As their fame increased, concert attendance was numbered in the thousands, with estimates as high as 10,000 at times. The Hutchinsons are credited with presenting between 10,000 to 11,000 concerts overall. It must be noted here that every member of the entire family had an extraordinary voice and there were many groupings of family members giving concerts. But none achieved the renown of the quartet.
Music scholars credit the Hutchinson family with the creation of the style of American concerts that is still in existence today. Prior to their entrance in the concert arena, Americans were entertained primarily by overdressed European singers who did not sing in English and performed in a stiff untouchable manner. The Hutchinson’s singing was extraordinary in its enunciation and harmony. They practiced hours on end to perfect both. They were the first to concentrate on bringing harmony to their performances. They advertised themselves as ”native” American singers and asked that they be given the same same consideration as foreign singers.
They introduced themselves to audiences by way of their brother Jesse, Jr.’s clever tune “The Old Granite State”. The song talked of their home life here in Milford, named all the family members and broadcast the fact then when they weren’t touring, they were home working at bringing in crops and doing what was needed to run the farm. This very fact was endearing to most Americans at the time. The song was sung at each concert and could be amended to add verses relating to the particular cause they were singing for.
Their concert programs included music that ranged from the emotional to the amusing. Music critics of the day were usually stumped to find adequate adjectives to describe their voices, but always commented on the fact that the quartet sang from the heart. Their sincerity to a cause was evident at all times.
They sang in English and were able to add appropriate drama that could electrify the audience. They had the ability to bring a crowd to it’s feet in one motion and respond to the message of the song being performed.
Their stage presence was such that anyone could relate to them. Their dress was simple, their singing was straightforward without vocal trickery. They sang of things that the American audience wanted and needed to hear. Because the lyrics were simple and the tunes catchy or well-known, they were easily remembered and performed in homes.
They also realized the value of marketing their songs and books. Book and music stores, and Anti-Slavery Societies would have the program’s sheet music available for sale, as would the family at the concert venue. Many members of the family created little books of poetry and family information to be sold at concerts, also.
It’s been 170 years since their heyday and it is appalling to me that Milford has all but forgotten this extraordinary, forward-thinking quartet and family. There are no statues or markers in the town honoring them. Their history is not taught in the Milford school system. I have questioned senior citizens who attended Milford schools, my own middle aged children, and most recently, the honors history class when they were in our museum in June. Only one student said she had heard of them. What she knew of them was one fact that had no relation to their immense contribution to this country during one of the most turbulent periods in its history.
We at the Milford Historical Society feel that it is worthwhile to pursue the possibility of a town wide effort to find a way to commemorate this remarkable family.
- To create interest in a project that will publicly and permanently commemorate the Hutchinson Family Singers in their hometown of Milford, NH.
- To learn how to even start such an undertaking.
- To be advised about organizations in town that might be potential resources and willing to join the planning process
- To involve individuals or groups in Milford or surrounding areas.
- To prevent a remarkable and unique Milford family from sliding any further into obscurity.
E-mails will be forwarded to me.