Rare first printing of this collection of American and Americanized mountain ballads, love songs, and spirituals, transcribed and arranged with piano accompaniment.
AMERICAN MOUNTAIN SONGS
"Peter Degraph did really shoot and kill Ellen Smith...He was executed for the crime, and while he waited for them to take him to the chair he called for a guitar and this song was composed and sung by him."
The original 1927 edition of the collaboration between musicologist Sigmund Spaeth and folklorist, folksinger, educator, and Tennessee native Ethel Park Richardson, whose first field research project this was. Born into a family of amateur musicians and herself a singer and player of the zither, dulcimer, and melodeon, Richardson was a poet and schoolteacher when a chance meeting with guest lecturer Spaeth led him to negotiate a contract with publisher Jae Greenberg, allowing Richardson to roam through Appalachia for a few months gathering material: first by automobile, then "on mule-back from one mountain settlement to the next...Ethel Park Richardson was bouncing along in hay wagons and on swaybacked horses in search of strange beauty" (Smith). Upon the book's release, Richardson gave a lecture tour in mountain-woman costume, singing the songs she had gathered, and appeared on numerous Tennessee radio broadcasts; her local success led to a position as host of her own weekly music history series, starting in 1933: "Hillbilly Heart-throbs," whose theme music she composed herself.
The introduction to AMERICAN MOUNTAIN SONGS includes an extended quotation from James Watt Raine's study of Appalachian speech, LAND OF THE SADDLE-BAGS, which defends its subjects from the misunderstandings propagated by the stylized hillbilly caricature-dialect of popular culture while still valorizing the mythic simplicity of the mountain folk and their alleged freedom from influence: influence of slang, of passing fashions, of time itself. A fascination with what Greil Marcus called the "Old, Weird America" traditionally goes hand in hand with a certain distanced sense of superiority in the academics so fascinated; Spaeth himself makes the following excuse for Richardson's evident affection for the folk tradition she was born into: "[A]ctually, it requires a sentimentalist to appreciate the full import of such primitive folk-lore...Under the circumstances, the warmth of her sympathy is more than excusable." Formal study of Appalachian folk culture, repeatedly revived during times of rapid cultural change, has always carried a certain tension borne of the competing impulses toward scholarship and romanticism, complicated further by the anxious historical wish to locate an aspect of "white" (so identified herein) music possessing an antique virtue not borrowed or outright stolen from African Americans, yet not copied wholesale from the British Isles either. Here, as in most serious American musicology, honesty undercuts the racialized purity myth: Richardson footnotes her account of the legendarily isolated development of mountain music with acknowledgments of similarities and connections to outside sources, particularly in the realm of spirituals common to both Black and white churches.
AMERICAN MOUNTAIN SONGS includes four main genre groupings: Ballads—Americanized and American; Lonesome and Love Tunes; Spirituals; and Nonsense Songs, all with endnotes discussing sources, performance tradition, and (for the murder ballads) historical sources, if any. A rare copy of an essential text from the golden age of folk song collecting.
Read more: Jon G. Smith, "She Kept On A-Goin": Ethel Park Richardson.
[New York]: Greenberg, (1927). 10.75'' x 7.25''. Original brown cloth with red and gilt lettering to spine and front board. Designed by Franklin Speir, decorations by Helene Carter. 120 pages. Moderate soil to boards and endpapers; light rippling to lower edges of pages.
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