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Keith Sanford and his black box:

Original Songs

A sample of Keith Sanford's original music performed with his black box.

Hope and Tears

A song about the Trail of Tears in the winter of 1838

The people of the Cherokee Nation made many concessions to keep peace with the United States, and they were viewed as one of the Five Civilized Tribes. But, a previous treaty had placed them on land in present day Georgia that turned out to be valuable farmland. So, the old treaty was nullified, and the Cherokee were moved to detention camps and then forced to march to Oklahoma. Due to harsh conditions, several thousand people died along the way.

We Bought It

A song about the history of the Panama Canal

When talking about the Panama Canal, a famous politician said many years ago: “We bought it, we paid for it, we built it, and we intend to keep it.” Because this statement is packed with poetic punch, and because it seems to epitomize a kind of sanctimonious, self-serving claim about what defines fairness and justice, I decided that it needed to be used in a song. So, I wrote this song about the history of the Panama Canal.

Who Will Weep?

A lament for refugees aboard the St. Louis fleeing Germany in 1939

In 1939, the ocean liner St. Louis sailed a few miles off the coast of Florida with more than 900 Jewish refugees on board fleeing from Germany. Due to a recently enacted quota system, the United states strictly limited the number of refugees it would accept, and eventually, the ship was forced to return to Europe. Many passengers later perished in the Holocaust. (“We sang a dirge and you did not weep.”)

Can't be Named

In the early fifties, the New York Board of Regents issued a statement on “Moral and Spiritual Training in the Schools,” and they composed a short prayer for children to recite at the beginning of each school day. People within religious communities had a range of different responses to this. Some believed that the regents acted on a kind of divine inspiration and that they had correctly discerned the ways in which children should pray. Others saw the prescribed prayer as a biased and authoritative claim to truth that ignored the beauty, diversity, and mystery of religious experience. In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of this prayer in the public-school system was unconstitutional, and subsequently, there have been many decades of political debate regarding prayers in schools. This song is one that I wrote drawing several images from this story.