April 10

“They Call the Wind Maria” From Paint Your Wagon

Composer and conductor Lehman Engel wrote that the song “has a cowboy flavor”, and commented that “In the lyric, its folk quality is accentuated.”

They Call the Wind Maria” is an American popular song. Alan J. Lerner wrote the lyrics and Frederick Loewe arranged the music for their 1951 Broadway musical, Paint Your Wagon. The musical is 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. It quickly became a runaway hit. During the Korean War, the song was a “popular music listened to by the troops”. Vaughan Monroe and his Orchestra recorded the song in 1951 and became a “popular hit single at the record stores” that year. 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 is a driving, staccato rhythm, played on the string instruments, that evokes a sense of restless motion.

"They Call the Wind Maria" From Paint Your Wagon 1

Paint Your Wagon Synopsis

In this musical based on the Broadway show, Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) happens upon a wrecked wagon containing a dead man and his surviving brother, Pardner (Clint Eastwood), in the wilds of California during the Gold Rush. At the burial, they discover gold dust and stake a claim. Soon a mining camp dubbed “No Name City” emerges, rife with lonely men starved for female companionship. When a polygamist Mormon arrives looking to sell off a wife (Jean Seberg), a bidding war commences.

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. In 1947, Stewart wrote a new introduction for a reprint of the book. He 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'”.

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. 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. The novel and its impact later inspired Lerner and Lowe to write a song for their play.  And like Stewart, they too gave a wind storm the name Maria. The lines throughout the song end in feminine rhymes. Mostly using the “long i” sound, echoing the stress pattern and vowel sound of the name Maria.

For another information, the song inspired the screen name, Mariah Carey.


Lee Marvin, Paint Your Wagon, They Call the Wind Maria

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