‘Willie We Have Missed You’

House Music at Your House

Australian domestic culture has been impacted by American popular music for longer than many people realise. During the 1850s a wave of performers arrived here with new repertoire that dominated Australian music halls and homes for the remainder of the century.

‘Willie We Have Missed You’, by Stephen Foster (1826-1864), was published in the United States in 1854 and is first mentioned by the Australian press in 1857. Within a year the family at Rouse Hill Estate had purchased a locally printed copy of the sheet music. The song’s theme of longing for the return home of the absent ‘Willie’ named in the title is often associated with the American Civil War but predates this conflict by a number of years.

One of the best-known popular songwriters from 19th-century America, Foster’s extensive output included blackface minstrelsy repertoire (where white musicians performed in black makeup caricaturing African Americans). This music genre reflected the mix of European and African music found in America at the time as well as the racial prejudices that persist in contemporary United States and Australia. While ‘Willie We Have Missed You’ was not written as a minstrel song, it was advertised here as one of several ‘new American songs’ of which many were popularised by visiting blackface minstrel groups.

To consider the early popularity of songs by American composers like Stephen Foster enables us to better understand the impact of imported cultural forces and their long-term effect. American musician Rhiannon Giddens contributed to SLM’s Songs of Home exhibition in 2019 and speaks eloquently of the 19th-century history of popular music in the United States and its complexities. For more information watch Rhiannon’s interview in David Holt's State of Music.

Watch the performance

Listen to Dan Walker introduce and then perform ‘Willie We Have Missed You’ with a more contemporary approach. We have also added many other versions to inspire you further.

You can meet the musicians, find links to the music and lyrics below, listen to some more examples and perform and share your own version.

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Meet the performers

Dan Walker

Composer, conductor and performer Dan Walker is one of Australia’s most in-demand choral specialists. He has had works commissioned by the Sydney Symphony, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Gondwana Choirs and Halcyon.

More about Dan


‘Willie We Have Missed You’

Oh! Willie, is it you, dear, safe, safe at home?
They did not tell me true, dear, they said you would not come;
I heard you at the gate, and it made my heart rejoice,
For I knew that welcome footstep and that dear familiar voice.
Making music in my ear in the lonely midnight gloom.
Oh, Willie, we have missed you–welcome, welcome home.

We’ve longed to see you nightly, but this night of all,
The fire was blazing brightly, and lights were in the hall.
The little ones were up till ’twas ten o’clock and past,
Then their eyes began to twinkle, and they’re gone to sleep at last;
But they listened for your voice till they thought you’d never come,
Oh, Willie, we have missed you–welcome, welcome home.

The days were sad without you, the nights long and drear,
The dreams have been about you, oh, welcome, Willie, dear.
Last night I wept and watched, by the moonlight’s cheerless ray,
Till I thought I heard your footstep, when I wiped my tears away;
But my heart grew sad again, when I found you had not come;
Oh, Willie, we have missed you–welcome, welcome home.

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