"They Call the Wind Maria" is an American popular song with lyrics written by Alan J. Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe for their 1951 Broadway musical, Paint Your Wagon, which is set in the California Gold Rush. Rufus Smith originally sang the song on Broadway, and Joseph Leader was the original singer in London's West End.[1] It quickly became a runaway hit,[2] and during the Korean War, the song was among the "popular music listened to by the troops".[3] Vaughn Monroe and his Orchestra recorded the song in 1951, and it was among the "popular hit singles at the record stores" that year.[4] It has since become a standard, performed by many notable singers across several genres of popular music. A striking feature of the song in the original orchestration (also used in many cover versions), is a driving, staccato rhythm, played on the string instruments, that evokes a sense of restless motion.

Critical reception

It has been called Paint Your Wagon's "best known song" and "rousing but plaintive."[5] Musicologist Stephen Citron wrote, "Perhaps the most unusual song in the score is a beautiful ballad of lonely prospectors hungering for their women, "They Call the Wind Maria" – not chauvinistic in this case, for each man is yearning for his own girl."[6] Composer and conductor Lehman Engel wrote that the song "has a cowboy flavor", and commented that "In the lyric, its folk quality is accentuated." Engel concluded that "Lerner has invented an interesting kind of narration".[7] Princeton University historian Robert V. Wells wrote that it is "a sad and wistful song about being far from home".[8] Theater historian Don B. Wilmeth called the song "haunting", and said that it evokes "emptiness".[9]

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[10]

Folk music revival

The song gained renewed popularity during the American folk music revival. In 1959, it was included on the Kingston Trio's first live album, ...From the Hungry i, which reached #2 on the Billboard Pop chart and won a RIAA gold record in 1960.[11][12] It was also included on the Smothers Brothers first album, The Songs and Comedy of the Smothers Brothers! Recorded at the Purple Onion, San Francisco, released in 1961.[13] Other folk singers who performed the song include Josh White[14] and Burl Ives. Musical historian John Bush Jones wrote that the song "so evokes the American West that during the folksinging craze of the later 1950s countless Americans thought 'They Call the Wind Maria' was a folksong, not a show tune!" [15]

1969 film version

The song was featured in the 1969 Hollywood film Paint Your Wagon, starring Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood and Jean Seberg. In the film, the song was performed by Harve Presnell. The New York Times said that Presnell's role in the film "delivered the golden opportunity to sing the unforgettable ballad."[16] Theater writer Thomas Hischak said that "in one of the film's few pleasing moments, Harve Presnell gave full voice to 'They Call the Wind Maria' and it was lovely to hear".[2] Referring to Eastwood and Marvin, film reviewer Brian W. Fairbanks wrote that "Harve Presnell steals both stars' thunder with a knockout version of the best song."[17]

In a promotional tie-in with release of the film, recorded versions of the song were issued by seven singers and groups, including Presnell, Ed Ames, Burl Ives, Jim Nabors and the Baja Marimba Band. Several record labels participated.[18]

This version appeared in 50 First Dates where it was played at the conclusion of the first half of the end credits during the dedication message to Stanley Sandler who was the real-life father of the film's star Adam Sandler.

Background and pronunciation of "Maria"

In George Rippey Stewart's 1941 novel Storm, he names the storm that is the protagonist of his story Maria.[19] In 1947, Stewart wrote a new introduction for a reprint of the book, and discussed the pronunciation of "Maria": "The soft Spanish pronunciation is fine for some heroines, but our Maria here is too big for any man to embrace and much too boisterous." He went on to say, "So put the accent on the second syllable, and pronounce it 'rye'".[20]

The success of Stewart's novel was one factor that motivated U.S. military meteorologists to start the informal practice of giving women's names to storms in the Pacific during World War II. The practice became official in 1945.[20][21] In 1953, a similar system of using women's names was adopted for North Atlantic storms. This continued until 1979, when men's names were incorporated into the system.[22] Although Stewart's novel is set in 1935, the novel and its effect on meteorology later inspired Lerner and Lowe to write a song for their play about the California gold rush, and like Stewart, they too gave a wind storm the name Maria, which is pronounced /məˈr.ə/.[20] The lines throughout the song end in feminine rhymes mostly using the long 'i' sound /aɪ/, echoing the stress pattern and vowel sound of the name Maria.

Cultural influence

The American singer, songwriter and producer Mariah Carey was named after this song.[23][24]

Maria Creek, a glacial meltwater stream in Antarctica, was given its name on account of the strong winds in the area.

An episode of the TV series M*A*S*H is called “They Call the Wind Korea” (S7,E8 - originally aired 10/30/78).

Robin the Frog twice breaks into the song on The Muppet Show (S2,E12 - originally aired 11/4/77)

Other versions

Broadway and recording star Robert Goulet considered it "a personal favorite",[25] and a version by Jack Barlow charted at number 58 on Hot Country Songs.[26] Other notable acts who have performed the song include:


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