HARPERS FERRY – John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry will mark its 159th anniversary next week and while for some, it’s a story relegated to the history books, others say what unfolded here continues to stir passions.
The raid and Brown’s subsequent capture and execution in Charles Town have inspired a new musical tribute called “Glory, Glory” by the R.J. Phillips Band.
Joe DeFilippo, who wrote the tune, called the anthem long overdue. “I’ve visited Harpers Ferry dozens of times and continue to sense the sacred nature of the historical site,” he said. “When members of the Niagara Movement, which included W.E.B. DuBois, visited Harpers Ferry in 1906, they described the site as ‘holy ground.’ I can understand why.”
He notes that during the Civil War, “John Brown’s Body” became a popular anthem sung by Union troops.
DeFilippo added that it was the hope of the band to bring a historical awareness to the public through music. “The combination of an inspiring story with a moving melody has a way of reaching people,” he said. “Who knows, our songs might encourage the listener to give thought to the events and people that have shaped our nation.”
Alice Keesey Mecoy, a descendant of Brown, said that “Glory, Glory” “expresses the importance of John Brown’s fight against slavery and the value of his death to that cause. The tribute to my great-great-great grandfather is a favorite of mine.”
Although Brown had his critics, DeFilippo points out that he also had ardent supporters.
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery in 1838 and opted not to join Brown at Harpers Ferry, famously said: “His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine … I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.”
“I guess that quote by Douglass pretty much says it all,” DeFilippo said. “Over 150 years later, John Brown’s soul is still marching on.”
The modern song dedicated to Brown is not the first tune with a historical theme written and recorded by the R.J. Phillips Band.
The band also has created songs paying homage to Abe and Mary Lincoln, Olympic great Jesse Owens, the Native American occupation of Alcatraz and other figures in history.