Category Archives: Debated

Considered traditional by many, but authorship claimed or assigned by others

Say Brothers Will You Meet Us?

TITLE:  Say Brothers Will You Meet Us? AUTHOR: The composer of the melody is unknown, later claimed by William Steffe. CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: religious EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1852 HISTORICAL REFERENCES: This is the origin for one of America’s best loved tunes of the 1800’s. Probably the best known tune of the century. John Brown’s read more »

Worried Man Blues

TITLE: Worried Man Blues AUTHOR: unknown, although copyrighted by AP Carter CATEGORY: Traditional, Debated KEYWORDS: work, prison, train, abandonment, punishment EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1929 (recording, Carter Family) It was great to hear Pete Seeger sing “Worried Man Blues” just months before his death. It will be a performance I won’t soon forget. (sgg) “Worried Man Blues,” read more »

Erie Canal

This one is for my friend John Marshall TITLE: Erie Canal AUTHOR: Thomas S. Allen CATEGORY: Public Domain, Debated KEYWORDS: canal, animal, work EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1905 HISTORICAL REFERENCES: 1825 – Erie Canal opens (construction began in 1817) The Erie Canal Song, as it is commonly known, was written in 1905 under the title Low Bridge, Everybody read more »

Young Charlotte

TITLE: Young Charlotte AUTHOR: unknown, (poem by Seba Smith) CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain, Author Debated KEYWORDS: courting, death, beauty EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: The poem “A Corpse Going to a Ball” was published by Seba Smith in “The Rover” in 1843. HISTORICAL REFERENCES: From a story in the New York Observer….”A young woman…was frozen to death read more »

It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More

TITLE: It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: nonsense EARLIEST DATE: 1919 (Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore (1952), Volume 3: Folk Songs from North Carolina) Wikipedia says guitarist and vocalist Wendell Woods Hall (1896–1969 wrote “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More”, then recorded it in 1923. Hall’s read more »

Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean

TITLE: Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean AUTHOR: David T. Shaw/Thomas a’Beckett/Stephen Joseph Meany CATEGORY: Disputed, Public Domain KEYWORDS: patriotic EARLIEST DATE: Written in 1843, sheet music published in 1844 HISTORICAL REFERENCES: First Recording:  Columbia, the gem of the ocean, Harry Macdonough 1905-06-01 “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” received an American copyright in 1843 and is credited to read more »

Streets of Laredo, The

TITLE: The Streets of Laredo AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Debated, Public Domain KEYWORDS: cowboy, death, lament, burial, dying, funeral, disease, violence, homicide EARLIEST DATE: 1886 One of the large group of ballads (“The Bard of Armagh,” “Saint James Hospital,” “The Streets of Laredo”) ultimately derived from “The Unfortunate Rake.” All use the same tune and metre, and read more »

Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill

TITLE: Drill Ye Tarriers, Drill AUTHOR: words: Thomas Casey/music: Charles Connolly CATEGORY: author known, public domain KEYWORDS: work, railroading, hardtimes, talltale, comic EARLIEST DATE: 1888 (play, “A Brass Monkey”; sheet music published by Frank Harding of New York, seemingly without attribution) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Refers to the construction of the American railroads in the mid-19th century. “Drill, read more »

Bring Me Little Water Sylvie

TITLE: Bring Me Little Water Sylvie AUTHOR: unknown, primarily credited to Leadbelly, although the Traditional Ballad Index lists the author as unknown. CATEGORY: traditional, public domain KEYWORDS: work, worksong, nonballad EARLIEST DATE: 1936 Leadbelly’s Uncle Bob Ledbetter had a wife named Silvy. When he was out plowing with his mules he would often holler for read more »

We Shall Not Be Moved (Civil Rights Version)

TITLE: We Shall Not Be Moved AUTHOR: Alfred H. Ackley, modified by the civil rights movement in the 1960s. CATEGORY: Public Domain, Debated EARLIEST DATE: 1906 (Ackley, “Hymns for His Praise No. 2”) KEYWORDS: freedom, protest, floatingverses, nonballad HISTORICAL REFERENCE: Civil Rights Movement in the United States 1950s and 1960s. “We Shall Not Be Moved” read more »

We Shall Not Be Moved (Labor Version)

TITLE: We Shall Not Be Moved AUTHOR: Hymn by Alfred H. Ackley, modified by the labor movement in the 1930s. CATEGORY: Public Domain, Debated KEYWORDS: labor-movement, nonballad, protest EARLIEST DATE: 1955 (recording, Pete Seeger) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Union Coal Mine Strike in West Virginia, 1931. “One of the most popular union songs, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” read more »

Swing Low Sweet Chariot

TITLE: Swing Low Sweet Chariot AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: traditional, public domain but perhaps authored by former slave Wallace Wallis KEYWORDS: religious, nonballad, slavery, floatingverses EARLIEST DATE: 1872 (publ. in Theodore B. Seward, “Jubilee Songs, as Sung by the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University”) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Slavery in the United States The Fisk Jubilee Singers are read more »

Cotton Mill Girls

TITLE: Cotton Mill Girls (Hard Times in the Mill) AUTHOR: Debated, Traditional but sometimes credited to Hedy West CATEGORY: Public Domain, Debated KEYWORDS: work, hardtimes, factory, technology, boss, miller EARLIEST DATE: 1956 (recording, Pete Seeger) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Hard Times in the Mill chronicles the movement of farm families as the United States became industrialized in the early read more »

Buffalo Gals

TITLE: Buffalo Gals AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: traditional, public domain EARLIEST DATE: A Christy Minstrels version was copyright in 1848 KEYWORDS: bawdy, playparty, dancing, comic “Buffalo Gals” is a traditional American song, written and published as “Lubly Fan” in 1844 by the blackface minstrel John Hodges, who performed as “Cool White.” The song was widely popular throughout read more »

Home on the Range

TITLE: Home on the Range AUTHOR: Debated EARLIEST DATE: 1873 (lyrics published in Smith County [KS] Pioneer) CATEGORY: Public Domain, Authorship Debated KEYWORDS: cowboy, home John Lomax, who collected the song at the turn of the century (1900s) was never convinced of the authorship of Dr. Brewster Higley (words) and Daniel Kelley (music).  The song traveled read more »

When the Saints Go Marching In

TITLE: When the Saints Go Marching In AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: traditional, public domain KEYWORDS: religious nonballad EARLIEST DATE: 1896 (copyright) Originally a spiritual, When the Saints Go Marching In is now a jazz standard. The hymn expresses the singers desire to go to heaven, picturing the saints (or believers) walking in after death. James M. read more »


TITLE: Abilene AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: unknown, debated KEYWORDS: home, train, nonballad EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1973 John D. Loudermilk, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, is ofter credited with writing “Abilene.”  John D. Loudermilk, born March 31, 1934, wrote many famous songs but the read more »