National Quickstep is one of our favorite opening numbers. Today, most people know it by the name “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.” During the Civil War many called the song “Red, White & Blue” because of the lyrics in the last line of the chorus. By adding a flashy introduction Civil War bands turned the piece into a quickstep.
Here’s a recording of the National Quickstep from a recent rehearsal:
“Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” is a United States patriotic song that was popular during the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, especially during the Civil War era. It may have functioned as an unofficial national anthem in competition with “Hail, Columbia” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” until the latter’s formal adoption as the national anthem of the United States in 1931.
“Columbia” was a common poetic nickname for the United States of America in the 19th century. Graphically, in illustrations and cartoons, the United States was often represented by a heroic female figure named Columbia, dressed in flag-like bunting. Other nations used similar figures, notably the French Marianne, and the British Britannia.
Historical sources generally agree that in the autumn of 1843 an actor named David T. Shaw wanted a new patriotic song to sing at a benefit performance. He gained the assistance of a fellow performer, Thomas á Becket, Sr. (1808-1890), who wrote the lyrics and melody for him. Evidently, Shaw published the song under his own name, but Becket was able to prove his authorship by means of his original handwritten composition.