The Old-Time Herald Volume 14, Number 8

The Hutchinsons: America’s First Family of Harmony, Disharmony, and Protest
By Andrew Madigan
Little Greenbrier School & Church House, Wear Valley, Sevier County, TN
Edouard E. Exline, Historic American Buildings Survey / Library of Congress

I n the 1840s the Hutchinsons, a “singing family,” were the most popular live attraction in America. In fact, they were among the most celebrated and beloved performers of that century, though today they’re largely forgotten. The Hutchinsons are important for many reasons. As the Jacksonian Era came to an end, they emerged as, arguably, the first genuinely American popular music act—influenced, but not artistically constrained, by their European predecessors. The Hutchinsons pioneered close-harmony singing of a kind that would influence thousands of family (and non-family) groups in the coming years. They also established a template for how singers and musicians, from the 1960s onward, would live their lives and manage their careers. They eventually became devoted to social and political activism, embracing causes such as abolition, temperance, and women’s rights. The Hutchinsons, America’s first protest singers, are especially relevant today when so many musicians are speaking out against injustice.

The Hutchinsons appealed to people throughout the country and abroad. They even got rave reviews from the hardened New York press. This is their story—seminal, intriguing, and complex.

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