Sharp's Appalachian Harvest
July 28, 2016 10:07 PM   Subscribe

On July 28, 1916, Cecil Sharp and Maude Karpeles collected their first folk songs from residents of the southern Appalachians, along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. These songs, along with songs collected by Olive Dame Campbell (who had given Sharp the idea the previous year), were published in 1917 in English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, now one of the major reference works of American folk music.

Mike Yates' article Cecil Sharp in America covers Sharp's collecting in America in detail, with excerpts from his journals. And last year as part of the Library of Congress' Homegrown concert series, Brian Peters and Jeff Davis gave a concert/lecture about the collecting sessions, performing a number of the songs collected: Sharp's Appalachian Harvest

(Unrelated bonus video: A 1912 film of English folk dances performed by Karpeles, Sharp, and others.)
posted by hades (4 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
If you're in London, you can - and being as you're here, should - visit Cecil Sharp House, the major centre of folk music in the UK. They have constantly rotating exhibitions, put on regular concerts of all sorts, run dances, and have what is, so far as I am aware, far and away the best library on the subject of folk music in the UK.

I played my first professional folk gig at Cecil Sharp House. Imagine how scared I was.
posted by motty at 10:24 PM on July 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

These are my people and somewhere, unfortunately lost at the moment in my parents' home, is a recording of my grandfather's father singing a song. I asked my great-uncle if his father ever sang, and he said only when he was in the field working. He could not remember the song.

It's a wonderful time capsule, but the Appalachians are definitely painted with that romantic image of the turn of the 20th Century. The introduction to them in the book is replete with 'primitive people' but who have gracious manners and speak British English, not American English. There's also the conflation of laziness (only work hard enough to get by) versus poverty (It's well worth a read, just click on the link above and start flipping through the pages!)

Incidentally, Sharp note's Charlottesville, Virginia, as one of the communities they setup shop to collect songs. That completely baffles me, as Charlottesville was a small, bustling place in that time period, and definitely not some town out of contact with the wider world. My only guess is that he was speaking with folks who came in from the surrounding country, still not living in isolation, either.
posted by Atreides at 8:16 AM on July 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sharp's journals (scanned pages and transcriptions linked above) are interesting reading, and don't always paint him in the best light (casual references to "n----r chanteys" may be just a reflection of the times, but there are some more unpleasant attitudes in there). From what I'm seeing in them about Charlottesville, he used it as a base for making day trips out into nearby areas such as Woodridge and Browns Cove. Relatives of some of the people he'd collected tunes from were living in Charlottesville, as did Alphonso Smith, the head of the Virginia Folklore Society who had been collecting ballads in the area for some time, so he was also doing some secondhand collecting there.

The romanticization of "simpler times" is not without its problems, for sure. And the dismissal of African influences and sources is weird, even for someone who's there to collect English songs that made it to America -- surely acknowledging the filters they've passed through in their new home is relevant to that.
posted by hades at 11:24 AM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

For what its worth, my grandma from the same era wouldn't allow the n-word in her house, except when compounded with town or mammie. Even mammie would get you side eyed, but I think chantey would have passed muster with her.

I'm glad to see Esley Riddle finally getting credit for his influence on country music via working for A. P. Carter collecting the melodies from up in the hollers and with Maybelle on how to play them.
posted by ridgerunner at 4:13 PM on July 29, 2016

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