Norman Corwin's The Lonesome Train (Live Broadcast) CBS 1944

Crook, Tim. 2014. Norman Corwin's The Lonesome Train (Live Broadcast) CBS 1944. RadioDoc Review, 1(1), [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The Lonesome Train was a commercial half-hour ‘ballad opera’ or folk cantata, transmitted in 1944, about the
funeral train bearing President Abraham Lincoln’s body home after his assassination in the Ford Theatre of
Washington D.C. in 1865. This became culturally resonant in 1945 on the death of President Franklin D.
Roosevelt, when the Decca recording of the show became a sort of ‘media requiem’, played over and over again
on US radio stations. The live production, directed by Norman Corwin, is a hybrid between drama and
documentary, but goes further with its use of music and poetry… perhaps a musical modernist montage of
traditions as varied as George Gershwin, Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson. Corwin has been characterised
as the American Shakespeare of radio, his We Hold These Truths (1941) possibly attracting the highest
audience for any radio play in human history.
The central narrative character in The Lonesome Train is a reporter, a 20th century chronicler, a journalistic
oracle representing the role of the freedom and significance of the US media under the First Amendment. And
he narrates with style, dignity, sensitivity, subtlety and deploys the art of a storytelling aesthetic with a
knowing understated language when describing Abraham Lincoln’s assassination: ‘and along about the middle
of the evening something happened that wasn’t in the program. I guess you all know what that was. The news
spread pretty fast…’ When the radio medium engages in any form of grieving and memorialising, with the full
commitment of musical expression, poetic exposition and the rallying of an ethical belief system against threat
and danger in the context of war, emotiveness, empathy and sympathy will be engendered with full force.
Here, its cultural power and significance travels vertically and horizontally through the sociological vectors of
state and federal power and people power. It can be argued that The Lonesome Train is the American equivalent
of Handel’s Messiah.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


February 2014Published

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Date Deposited:

23 Feb 2015 08:22

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:07

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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