Nelson Kneass (1823-1868) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He made his stage debut in a performance of Richard III at age five, performed in New York at age 11, and worked as a music teacher in New York before becoming a traveling musician with the Sable Harmonists. With the group, he wrote and arranged music and performed as a singer, banjo player and pianist. After the group disbanded, he formed the Kneass Opera Troupe with some members along with musicians from New York. The group was based at the Eagle Ice Cream Parlor in Pittsburgh. The group popularized the music of Stephen Foster and made the first performance of “Oh Susanna”. He wrote music for the 1848 production “The Battle of Buena Vista.” For one song, he used the poem “Ben Bolt” by Thomas Dunn English, but as given him by A.M. Hunt who wrote it down from memory and rewriting parts he did not remember. Kneass adapted a German tune for the song and it became an international success. The song was recorded in the 1920s and has been featured in several movies including “Gone with the Wind.” A stream boat and a steamer were named after the song. He died in Chillicothe, Missouri, while travelling with one of his troupes.

All are mixed chorus unless noted; some contain divisi.







Ben Bolt

Thomas Dunn English/ A.M. Hunt LISTEN

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