I was inspired to write my song “The Underground Railroad” after discovering that one of the railroad’s most famous conductors Harriet Tubman remarkably managed to escape the bonds of slavery by herself, and then spend more than 10 years returning to Maryland to lead her family and friends safely to freedom. She did this despite suffering from the rare sleep disorder now known to be “secondary narcolepsy” or “posttraumatic hypersomnia”. I too have lived with narcolepsy since childhood, and despite having had symptoms for most of my life I didn’t receive a diagnosis until I was 49. So I decided to release this song on the 22nd of September, 2022 to coincide with World Narcolepsy Day to help raise awareness of this often debilitating sleep disorder.
About Harriet Tubman;
For more than 25 years, Harriet Tubman was trapped in the bonds of slavery before escaping, traveling alone mostly under the cover of night all the way to Philadelphia in 1849. Once free, she became an operator of the Underground Railroad — a secret network of people, places and routes that provided shelter and assistance to escaping slaves. She then spent more than 10 years making secret return trips to Maryland, risking her life to lead her family and friends safely to freedom. Tubman sang two songs while operating her rescue missions, changing the tempo of the songs to indicate whether it was safe to come out or not.
She suffered a traumatic head injury as a young girl, probably in the 1830s. The injury resulted in her developing “secondary narcolepsy” or “posttraumatic hypersomnia”, after which, she had a lifetime of seizures, headaches, visions, and involuntary sleep attacks.
Tubman had earned the nickname “Moses” for liberating so many enslaved people at great risk to her own life. Her last rescue mission was in 1860.
Lyric references: I used a combination of Harriet’s quotes and factual references in the songs lyrics;
“The Underground Railroad” was a secret network of people, places and routes that provided shelter and assistance to escaping slaves.
“This great tale began with a dreamer” (narcoleptics spend a large proportion in REM sleep)
“If you hear the dogs – keep going, see torches in the woods – keep going, if there’s shouting after you – keep going, don’t you ever stop” Harriet would warn them that these things may very well happen and that they must keep going. This famous conductor of “the Underground Railroad” never lost a passenger!
“Follow Moses and be free” Tubman had earned the nickname “Moses” for liberating so many enslaved people at great risk to her own life.
“When she calls you through the trees” Tubman sang two songs whilst hiding in the trees, changing the tempo of the songs to indicate whether it was safe to come out or not.
“The North Star will light the path, all the way to the Promised Land” Harriet would guide the slaves to safety during the night, using the North Star to navigate.
The remainder of the lyrics are self explanatory “courage and strength” “choose not to be a slave” “you will be welcome when you land, albeit as a stranger in a strange land” “cross the line and be free, fight for your liberty” “hands of strength will lead you there”.
I would like to acknowledge the following people who helped me to make my dream of releasing this song a reality: Gail Page – backing vocals and harmonies, Rick Melick – piano, Edward Pollard – drums, Denis Surmon – bass guitar, Brett Sody for recording, mixing, and mastering at his studio Sody – Pop Recording Studios and Services, Norwood, South Australia. My dear friend Peter Nikolic for helping me with the songs original format, and my partner Nick Martin for encouraging me to believe and to follow my dream of releasing my music to the world. Dianne Spillane (Di Spillane) singer-songwriter.