Category Archives: Traditional

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Another Man Done Gone

TITLE: Another Man Done Gone AUTHOR: Unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: prison, escape, homicide EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: John Avery Lomax met Vera Hall in the 1930s and recorded her for the Library of Congress. Lomax wrote that she had the” loveliest voice he had ever recorded”. The BBC played Hall’s recording of “Another Man read more »

Springfield Mountain

TITLE: Springfield Mountain AUTHOR: Unknown CATEGORY: Public Domain, Traditional KEYWORDS: death, animal, lover, injury, 19th Century, US History, Massachusetts EARLIEST DATE: 1836 HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Aug 7, 1761 – Death by snakebite of Timothy Myrick, often considered the inspiration for this song. There are many versions of this songs ranging from serious to comic. I first learned this read more »

John Brown’s Body

TITLE: John Brown’s Body AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: Civil War, Black(s), death, execution, memorial, burial, rebellion, slavery EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1861 (Huntington) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: The song, as we know it today, is about John Brown, the Baptist preacher and radical abolitionist who, with 20 others (fifteen of them, including Brown’s three sons, read more »

Mary Had a Baby

TITLE: Mary Had a Baby AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: Christmas, childbirth, Jesus, religious EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1953 (R. C. Seeger, American Folk Songs for Christmas) Mary Had a Baby appears in Ruth Crawford Seeger’s “American Folk Songs for Children” (Doubleday 1948) and she cites as her source “Saint Helena Island Spirituals” by N.G.J. read more »

John Henry (Pete Seeger Version)

TITLE: John Henry (Blankenship Version) AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: train, work, death, technology, railroading, worker EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1909 Journal of American Folklore HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Researchers are still trying to pin down the REAL John Henry, from Guy B. Johnson, , 1929 to Scott Nelson’s book 2006 book

Away in a Manger

TITLE: Away in a Manger AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: religious, Jesus, animal, Christmas EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1885 (“Little Children’s Book: for Schools and Families”) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Away in a Manger is a purely American creation, although rumored to be written by Martin Luther. Most current publications of Away in a Manger indicate that the read more »

The Cherry Tree Carol

TITLE: The Cherry Tree Carol AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: carol, Jesus, religious EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1768 (Gilbert MS) In 1823, William Hone wrote “The admiration of my earliest days, for some lines in the Cherry carol still remains, nor can I help thinking that the reader will see somewhat of the cause for read more »

Pick a Bale of Cotton

TITLE: Pick a Bale of Cotton AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS:  work, farming, bragging EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1933 (recording, James “Iron Head” Baker & group) SOME CONSIDER THIS SONG OFFENSIVE  First collected by Alan Lomax from prison farms in Texas, this is a boastful song about picking an impossibly large quantity of cotton (a read more »

Children Go Where I Send Thee

TITLE: Children Go Where I Send Thee AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: Bible, religious, Jesus, cumulative EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1936 (recording, Dennis Crampton & Robert Summers) Children, Go Where I Send Thee exemplifies [hope and redemption] beautifully because it was originally an African-American slave song – and no group in U.S. history read more »

John Gilbert is the Boat

TITLE: John Gilbert is the Boat AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: ship, travel, commerce EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1939 HISTORICAL REFERENCES: “The John Gilbert ran from Cincinnati to Florence, Alabama. She was built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1881, and was named for Captain John Gilbert, of Evansville, Indiana, president of the Ohio and Tennessee River Packet Company.” read more »

Billy Magee Magaw

TITLE: Billy Magee Magaw AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: death, bird, food EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1611 (Thomas Ravenscroft). Ravenscroft (c. 1588 – 1635) was an English musician, theorist and editor, notable as a composer of rounds and catches, and especially for compiling collections of British folk music. This is a minstrel show version of The read more »

The Twelve Days of Christmas

TITLE: The Twelve Days of Christmas AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: Christmas, cumulative EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1780 children’s book Mirth without Mischief The twelve days of Christmas in the song are the twelve days between the birth of Christ (Christmas, December 25) and the coming of the Magi (Epiphany, January 6). Although the read more »

I Will Give My Love an Apple (I Gave My Love a Cherry)

TITLE: I Will Give My Love an Apple  (I Gave My Love a Cherry) AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: riddle, love, gift EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: c. 1430 (British Library, Sloane MS. 2593, “I have a yong suster”) I Gave My Love an Apple, The Riddle Song, and I Gave My Love a Cherry is a read more »

Buddy Won’t You Roll Down the Line

TITLE: Buddy Won’t You Roll Down the Line AUTHOR: Uncle Dave Macon? CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: strike, labor-movement, mining, work, scab, prisoner EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1925 (collected by Robert W. Gordon; info in Archie Green’s Only a Miner: Studies in Recorded Coal-Mining Songs HISTORICAL REFERENCES: This strike apparently took place in Tennessee in the 1880s, according to read more »

Brennan on the Moor

TITLE: Brennan on the Moor AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: outlaw, rambling, execution EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: before 1862 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 11(3014)) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: 1804 – Hanging of William Brennan, a highwayman who worked in County Cork “…Willie Brennan was an Irish Robin Hood/Rob Roy figure in the late 1700s.  He was a Waterford read more »

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize (Keep Your Hand on the Plow)

TITLE: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize (Keep Your Hand on the Plow) AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: Bible, religious, prison EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1917 (Cecil Sharp collection) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Adapted for the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 1950’s. Based on the classic hymn “Hold On” (a.k.a. “Gospel Plow”), this song’s read more »

El-a-noy (The Plains of Illinois)

TITLE: El-a-noy (The Plains of Illinois) AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: Bible, talltale, emigration, farming EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1927 (Sandburg) As the United States grew and frontier moved westward, many hardworking individuals and families sought fertile land that was either free or at least cheap, and as Alan Lomax wrote, “Every American pioneer had read more »

At the Foot of Yonder Mountain (Pretty Saro)

TITLE: At the Foot of Yonder Mountain (Pretty Saro) AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: love, poverty, river EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1911 (Lomax, North Carolina Booklet, according to Randolph) Pretty Saro was first recorded in the early 20th century when a few academic heroes travelled through the mountains capturing songs that had been handed read more »

Railroad Bill

TITLE: Railroad Bill AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: rambling, robbery, crime, death, train EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1911 (Odum, according to Cohen) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: There is a legend in south Alabama, associated with the spirit of a man known as, “Railroad Bill”. This story, from slave cultures, during the post-Civil War era, during the read more »

Old Blue

TITLE: Old Blue AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: dog, death, burial, hunting EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1913 Alan Lomax states in his Folk Songs of North America that “the backwoods folk of the south lived off game, and they thought more of a good hunting dog than they did of most people.In the read more »

Mrs. McGrath

TITLE: Mrs. McGrath AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: war, injury, separation, soldier EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1916 (Colm Ó Lochlainn) HISTORICAL REFERENCES: “This song of the Peninsular War dates, according to one source, to 1815. The earliest account of it in Ireland seems to be 1876 when Sam Henry’s informant learned it in Belfast. (The read more »

Mighty Day (Wasn’t That a Mighty Storm)

TITLE: Mighty Day (Wasn’t That a Mighty Storm) AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: storm, disaster, death EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1934 HISTORICAL REFERENCES: Sep 8, 1900 – Galveston, Texas hurricane and flood. Some 6,000 people die. In the booklet for Joe Hickerson’s Folk-Legacy recording, ‘Five Days Singing’ he wrote Galveston, Texas, was devastated by a hurricane in 1900, and an read more »

Wraggle Taggle Gypsies (Gypsy Laddie, The)

TITLE: Wraggle Taggle Gypsies (Gypsy Laddie, The) AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: elopement, Gypsy, marriage, abandonment, husband, wife EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1720, not before, as stated in The Roxburghe Ballads SOME CONSIDER THIS SONG OFFENSIVE: In Europe the term “gypsy” is used for the Roma people and is considered offensive. It does not seem to be read more »

Sail Away Ladies

TITLE: Sail Away Ladies AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: dancing, drink, humorous EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1926 (recording, Uncle Bunt Stephens) Sail Away Ladies originated sometime in the 19th century although possibly has origins as far back as the 18th century. It is one of the quintessential American fiddle tunes – like many, it clearly has read more »

Quaker Courtship, The

TITLE: The Quaker’s Courtship AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: courting, discrimination, ring EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1856 (Thompson-Pioneer) “The lively girls of New England enjoyed this seventeenth century satire of the solemn Quakerish swain who behaved as if courtship was a religious duty instead of a pleasurable pastime.” (from Folksongs of North America (Alan read more »

Ezekiel Saw a Wheel

TITLE: Ezekiel Saw the Wheel AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: religious, Bible EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1920 (recording, Biddle University Quartet) Ezekiel Saw the Wheel began its life as an African American spiritual. This song is based on a passage from Old Testament in which Ezekiel, a prophet living in exile in Babylon during the 500s read more »

Foggy, Foggy Dew, The

TITLE: The Foggy, Foggy Dew AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: courting, seduction, weaving, pregnancy, bastard EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1689 (broadside, EngBdsdBA Pepys 5.250) The foggy dew exists in two main versions, The Foggy Dew about the aftermath of the Easter Rebellion, an armed insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week 1916. The second version, the read more »

Careless Love

TITLE: Careless Love AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: sex, seduction, pregnancy, lament EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1911 (Journal of American Folklore) Robert V. Wells in says, “Until 1880, when divorce became more acceptable, marriage ended primarily through death, or occasionally abandonment, so the choice of a spouse required special care. Careless Love could lead read more »

Strawberry Lane (The Elfin Knight)

TITLE: Strawberry Lane (The Elfin Knight) AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: courting, magic, bargaining, dialog, paradox, tasks EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1673 (broadside) Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is, of course, well known because of Simon and Garfunkel’s hit from 1966. Simon’s source is a song of many variations, The Elfin Knight, dating back read more »

Reuben and Rachel (Parodies)

TITLE: Reuben and Rachel (Parodies) AUTHOR: original, Harry Birch / Music: William Gooch CATEGORY: Author Known, Public Domain KEYWORDS: dialog, transportation, courting, love, humorous, marriage EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: original, 1871 (sheet music published by White, Smith & Perry of Boston) Silly parodies of Reuben and Rachel. 

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 »

Reuben and Rachel

TITLE: Reuben and Rachel AUTHOR: Harry Birch / Music: William Gooch CATEGORY: Author Known, Public Domain KEYWORDS: dialog, transportation, courting, love, humorous, marriage EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1871 (sheet music published by White, Smith & Perry of Boston) A silly song made sillier in Reuben and Rachel parodies.

Molly Malone

TITLE: Molly Malone AUTHOR: unknown CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain KEYWORDS: death, food, worker, ghost, disease, commerce EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: The famous cockles and mussels version was first published in the United States in 1883, attributed to James Yorkston. The Dublin wits who dubbed the statue of Molly Malone, “the tart with the cart”, as soon as read more »