The Story Behind The Song – The Spirit of St. Louis

Charles Lindbergh and Spirit of St LouisThe Spirit of St. Louis was written by Joe Ross, a songwriter, band leader and journalist living in Roseburg, Oregon.

Ross recorded the song, in which he relates the story of a very important event in aeronautical history, for his bluegrass CD of the same title, a 12 track collection released in 2007 (Zephyr 0430), currently on sale through January at A sound clip is available there, as well as at Amazon.

Besides relating the story with his folksy baritone voice, Ross plays mandolin and guitar. The track also features Ronnie Stewart (banjo, fiddle), Jason Heald (bass), Al Brinkerhoff (resophonic guitar) and Randy Kohrs (harmony vocals).

The Spirit of St Louis“The seed was planted for The Spirit of St. Louis when I read a newspaper article in 1987 (upon the 60th anniversary of Lindy’s flight). To accurately write such an historical account involves considerable research to get the facts right. One DJ told me that airplay of the song resulted in considerable calls from listeners who both enjoyed and learned from the song. One caller mentioned that he was very impressed by the accuracy of the account.

After drafting an initial version of the song, I also rented the 1957 movie with Jimmy Stewart called The Spirit of St. Louis. It ran for over two hours. It had been directed by Billy Wilder but wasn’t particularly thought of as a hit because of too many dull and trite scenes, and too many sequences showing Lindy flying solo on his 3600-mile, 33.5-hour journey.

That’s one reason I wanted my song to be up-tempo and move right along, as well as being in a minor key to create a certain feel of tension, adventure and discovery.”

The Spirit of St Louis is the name of the aeroplane that Charles Lindbergh Jr. used to fly his heroic journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  It was named in honour of Lindbergh’s supporters in St. Louis, Missouri, who paid for the aircraft.

The epic flight began on 20 May, 1927, when, at 7:52 a.m., the pioneering aviator took off from Roosevelt Field, near New York City. He landed at Le Bourget Field, near Paris, on 21 May at 10:21 p.m. Paris time (5:21 p.m. New York time). Thousands of cheering people had gathered to meet him.

Lindbergh’s flight thrilled people throughout the world and he was honoured with awards, celebrations and parades. President Calvin Coolidge gave Lindbergh the Congressional Medal of Honour and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts in the field of aviation.

Charles Augustus Lindbergh was born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 4, 1902, but spent most of his childhood in Little Falls, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C.

From a young age, Lindbergh exhibited an interest in the mechanics of motorized transportation; including the family automobile and, later, a motorbike. His interest in airplanes originated during his college years.

He flew solo for the first time in May 1923, flying a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny,” a World War I surplus biplane that he acquired for $500.

Kristina Lindbergh, a grand-daughter of Charles Lindbergh, listened to the song and called it “fun.” She added, “Mr. Ross is one of those talented and versatile bluegrass musicians who lays down his own polished guitar and the mandolin tracks behind quite fetching melodies and lyrics… I’m honored that a fine musician thinks my grandfather a worthy subject for it, even this long after his New York-to-Paris Flight.”


The Spirit of St. Louis 

© (Joe Ross / Hop High Music, BMI)

Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Atlantic in 1927 is put to music here. What an evocative story of hard work and determination that was!

In the year of twenty-seven, they said it could be done,
To fly across the ocean, headin’ for the sun,
So a group of men and women, worked for sixty days,
On a plane that would make history on the 20th of May.

They called upon a young man who called Detroit his home,
To fly the mighty Spirit that shone like polished chrome,
The man was tall and slender, Lindy was his name,
And he would fly the mighty plane as if it were a game.

Oh the Spirit of St. Louis, it was a mighty plane,
It could do loops in the air or ride a hurricane,
On that day in twenty-seven, the plane made history,
By crossing the Atlantic from New York to Par-ee.

When the time came for their takeoff, he boarded with a prayer,
As the sun reflected off the prop and cast a shiny glare,
He wondered what would lay ahead and why he’d took the dare,
To cross the wide Atlantic, in sleepless solitaire.

One man wished him luck, he answered with a swear,
“I hope my plane will make it, for I haven’t got a spare,
I only hope this plane will fly and that I won’t get wet,
For if I do then I’ll have seen my very last sunset.”

From that muddy, sodden airfield in the state of New York,
The plane began to climb, the propeller with its torque,
Pulled the Spirit of St. Louis into the breezy air,
For over thirty hours they would ride a wild mare.

It was ten o’clock at night when he landed in Par-ee,
The French were very happy for he’d cross the mighty sea,
He climbed out of the cockpit, so brave and debonaire,
Thanked the Spirit of St. Louis for getting’ him safely there.


Today, Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis is housed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It is one of the museum’s most popular attractions.

For those who are interested in furthering their knowledge of Charles Lindbergh, there are a few books about him that are available from various sources. I can recommend Lindbergh Flight’s Enigmatic Hero by Von Hardesty, the Curator, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Foreword by Lindbergh’s grandson and commercial pilot, Erik Lindbergh, A Tehabi Book.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.