The Ballad Collectors of North America

How Gathering Folksongs Transformed Academic Thought and American Identity

Edited by Scott B. Spencer

Hardback - £74.00

Publication date:

16 December 2011

Length of book:

246 pages


Scarecrow Press

ISBN-13: 9780810881556

Much has been written about the songs gathered in North America in the first half of the 20th century. However, there is scant information on those individuals responsible for gathering these songs. The Ballad Collectors of North America: How Gathering Folksongs Transformed Academic Thought and American Identity fills this gap, documenting the efforts of those who transcribed and recorded North American folk songs.

Both biographical and topical, this book chronicles not only the most influential of these “song catchers” but also examines the main schools of thought on the collection process, the leading proponents of those schools, and the projects that they shaped. Contributors also consider the role of technology—especially the phonograph—in the collection efforts.

Chapters organized by region cover such areas as Appalachia, the West, and Canada, while others devoted to specialized topics from the cowboy tune and occupational song to the commercialization of folk music through song collections and anthologies.
Ballad Collectors investigates the larger role of the ballad in the development of American identity, from the national appreciation of cowboy songs in popular culture to the use of Appalachian song forms in radio broadcasts to the role of dustbowl ballads in the urban folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. Finally, this collection assesses the changing role of songs and song texts in the academic fields of folklore, anthropology, musicology, and ethnomusicology.

Scholars and students of American cultural and social history, as well as fans of North American folk and popular music, will find
The Ballad Collectors of North America a fascinating story of how the American folk tradition gained greater visibility, fueling the revolutions that would follow in the writing and performance of American music.
Part of the American Folk Music and Musicians series, the subtitle of this latest release indicates the tilt taken toward the serious scholarly study of traditional music. With chapter contributions by musicologists, ethnologists, and professors of folklore and anthropology, the book focuses on both the individuals who gathered folk songs as well as the regions and cultures from which the music originated. Chronologically, the time period covered is the first half of the twentieth century. Topically, musical traditions such as cowboy and other occupational songs are presented, but most of the classification is by region—the Ozarks, the Midwest, and Eastern Canada, among others. A number of chapters focus on individual song collectors, such as the well-known anthropologist Franz Boas and the father-son folklorist team of John and Alan Lomax. The opening chapter of the volume provides context by discussing what motivated collectors to begin accumulating folk songs and other traditional forms of music and what impact these individuals and their collections had and continue to have on the scholarly study of this music. Each chapter is about 20 pages in length and written in an accessible style that does not require any prior familiarity with the subject area. This volume is heavily referenced, with around 50 endnotes per chapter. This scholarly approach is of great value to the user who wishes to pursue further study, but, it should also be noted, is atypical of traditional reference sources....Ballad Collectors is not a “quick and dirty” resource but, rather, one that requires some investment of time on the part of the user. But the depth and breadth of coverage, coupled with its scholarly yet accessible approach, make this a great addition to both academic and public libraries.