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Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair

DigiTrad:
BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR (1)
BLACK IS THE COLOUR (2)


Related threads:
Black is the Color of My True Love's Eye (34)
Lyr Req: Black is the Colour (8)
Chords: Black is the colour (8)
Tune Req: Irish Black is the Colour (38)
Tune Req: Black Is the Colour of My True Love's... (21)
Lyr Req: Black is the Colour as Gaeilge? (8)
Help: Copyright: Black is the Colour (11)
Tune Req:Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair (5)
Lyr Add: Parody-Black Is The Colour (7)
Help: 'Black is the color' verse question... (16)


GUEST,kilshannig 21 Mar 01 - 03:38 PM
dick greenhaus 21 Mar 01 - 03:49 PM
MMario 21 Mar 01 - 03:53 PM
Grab 22 Mar 01 - 06:20 AM
GUEST,Dita (at work) 22 Mar 01 - 09:53 AM
alison 22 Mar 01 - 09:55 AM
Mary in Kentucky 22 Mar 01 - 10:06 AM
Mary in Kentucky 22 Mar 01 - 10:08 AM
Noreen 22 Mar 01 - 01:07 PM
dick greenhaus 22 Mar 01 - 02:58 PM
wes.w 23 Mar 01 - 10:25 AM
catspaw49 23 Mar 01 - 10:37 AM
GUEST,Karen in California 23 Mar 01 - 02:01 PM
Malcolm Douglas 23 Mar 01 - 03:33 PM
Noreen 23 Mar 01 - 04:23 PM
catspaw49 23 Mar 01 - 05:06 PM
wes.w 26 Mar 01 - 06:58 AM
Malcolm Douglas 26 Mar 01 - 07:16 AM
catspaw49 26 Mar 01 - 08:15 AM
kytrad 26 Mar 01 - 08:32 PM
Malcolm Douglas 26 Mar 01 - 10:56 PM
Noreen 06 Nov 01 - 08:54 AM
Allan C. 06 Nov 01 - 08:57 AM
GUEST,noreen 06 Nov 01 - 09:02 AM
Noreen 16 Nov 01 - 07:46 PM
Malcolm Douglas 16 Nov 01 - 08:30 PM
Noreen 16 Nov 01 - 08:39 PM
Dicho 02 Aug 02 - 06:54 PM
Noreen 02 Aug 02 - 07:03 PM
Dicho 02 Aug 02 - 08:50 PM
Malcolm Douglas 02 Aug 02 - 11:14 PM
John Minear 03 Aug 02 - 06:39 AM
Paddy Plastique 03 Aug 02 - 06:49 AM
John Minear 05 Aug 02 - 08:02 AM
John Minear 06 Aug 02 - 05:40 PM
Joe Offer 07 Aug 02 - 12:23 AM
John Minear 17 Aug 02 - 10:30 AM
GUEST,Crazy Little Woman 18 Aug 02 - 12:29 AM
John Minear 26 Oct 02 - 10:09 AM
GUEST,catherine m 13 Nov 05 - 01:36 AM
Q 13 Nov 05 - 02:10 AM
GUEST 13 Nov 05 - 02:28 AM
Q 13 Nov 05 - 02:59 PM
Kaleea 13 Nov 05 - 04:16 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 13 Nov 05 - 06:10 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 13 Nov 05 - 06:18 PM
GUEST,george_mcarthur@hotmail.com 22 Nov 05 - 10:59 AM
GUEST,robinia@eskimo.com 22 Nov 05 - 11:35 AM
Cluin 22 Nov 05 - 11:43 AM
GUEST,robinia 22 Nov 05 - 12:19 PM
Q 22 Nov 05 - 02:26 PM
Malcolm Douglas 22 Nov 05 - 09:44 PM
The Fooles Troupe 22 Nov 05 - 10:07 PM
Malcolm Douglas 22 Nov 05 - 10:23 PM
Q 23 Nov 05 - 03:29 PM
Q 23 Nov 05 - 04:40 PM
Lighter 23 Nov 05 - 06:26 PM
Q 23 Nov 05 - 08:23 PM
Stephen R. 23 Nov 05 - 10:44 PM
Q 23 Nov 05 - 11:42 PM
The Fooles Troupe 24 Nov 05 - 12:17 AM
John Minear 24 Apr 06 - 08:07 PM
GUEST,Bobby McMillon 25 Apr 06 - 05:01 PM
John Minear 26 Apr 06 - 07:36 AM
Declan 26 Apr 06 - 02:31 PM
John Minear 08 May 06 - 05:24 PM
John Minear 08 May 06 - 05:52 PM
GUEST,Jordi 17 Feb 07 - 11:11 PM
GUEST,Jordi 17 Feb 07 - 11:18 PM
Malcolm Douglas 17 Feb 07 - 11:20 PM
GUEST,Jordi 18 Feb 07 - 12:04 AM
GUEST,Nellie Clatt 18 Feb 07 - 04:39 AM
Kevin L Rietmann 12 Mar 07 - 07:49 PM
Kevin L Rietmann 13 Mar 07 - 12:24 AM
Stringsinger 13 Mar 07 - 11:50 AM
Fiddlin' Jim 30 Dec 07 - 04:37 PM
Jim Carroll 31 Dec 07 - 05:47 AM
Q 31 Dec 07 - 12:26 PM
GUEST,Listener 08 Oct 08 - 07:26 AM
Brian Peters 06 Jan 12 - 10:21 AM
Brian Peters 06 Jan 12 - 01:11 PM
MtheGM 07 Jan 12 - 12:19 AM
Lighter 07 Jan 12 - 10:23 AM
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Subject: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,kilshannig
Date: 21 Mar 01 - 03:38 PM

ofcourse, Christy Moore did a fine job by singing this song (as did Luka Bloom, Nina Simone, Jo Stafford e.o.)
But where does it come from? I know (or suspect) it is old english and the came to the states...?
Please help me out on this one.

Black Is the Color of my True Love's Hair in the Digital Tradition

Black Is the Colour (2) in the Digital Tradition


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 21 Mar 01 - 03:49 PM

The version usually sung is that written by John Jacob Niles. There are antecedents collected in Appalachia by Cecil Sharp (1918)


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: MMario
Date: 21 Mar 01 - 03:53 PM

click me

Black Is the Color

DESCRIPTION: "(Black, black,) black is the color of my true love's hair...." The singer describes the beautiful girl he is in love with. (He regretfully concedes that they will never be married)
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1916 (Cecil Sharp collection)
KEYWORDS: love courting hair beauty separation nonballad
FOUND IN: US(Ap,SE,So)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Lomax-FSUSA 16, "Black Is the Color" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax- FSNA 100, "Black Is the Color" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ritchie-Southern, p. 88, "Black is the Color" (1 text, 1 tune, with several floating lines including some that appear to be from "Lady Mary Anne" or something related)
SharpAp 85, "Black is the Colour" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 41, "Black is the Color" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 267-268, "Black is the Color" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 145, "Black Is The Color" (1 text)
DT, BLACKCOL* BLACKCO2*

Roud #3103
RECORDINGS:
Pete Seeger, "Black is the Color" (on PeteSeeger18)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair
Notes: John Jacob Niles, who is largely responsible for popularizing this song, also claims to have written it. For a recently composed song, however, it exists in unusually diverse and widespread forms. Randolph notes connections with English pieces, and Lomax correctly observes that the tune resembles "Fair and Tender Ladies." - RBW
File: LxU016

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Bibiography
Go to the Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2007 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Grab
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 06:20 AM

Is there a "Clyde" river in the Appallacians?

Grab.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Dita (at work)
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 09:53 AM

Chirsty learned the song from Hamish Imlach, who recorded it on his first Xtra album (mid 60s, same album as "cod liver oil & the orange juice"), and I understand, that was Hamish's reworking of the J.J. Niles version, (i.e. Hamish could not remember the words or tune precicely - the folk process at work.
Hamish carried on performing it regularly right up to his death. (I sang it at the post funeral tribute).
love, john.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: alison
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 09:55 AM

Isn't it Scottish? just always assumed it wsa because of the reference to the Clyde (which runs through Glasgow).....

slainte

alison


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 10:06 AM

I just found this link last night: The Appalachian Center (at the University of Kentucky, Go Big Blue!)

I think this gives more info along the lines that Dick was explaining.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 10:08 AM

Sorry, that's the John Jacob Niles Center, part of the music department, and it's separate from the Appalachian Center.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 01:07 PM

Thanks, Mary- there is also a link on that page to an audio clip of JJ Niles singing this song- very interesting.

For what it's worth, it seems likely to me that Mr Niles wrote his song based on a song he had collected.

Evidence: I have a recording of Sean 'ac Donncha from Connemara singing Dark is the colour of my True Love's Hair, the words of which are very similar to 'Black is the Colour…' in the DT. It always sounded to me to be a translation from the Irish, but I have no direct evidence for that.

The mention of the Clyde would also likely put the origin of the song back on these islands.

Noreen


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 02:58 PM

Or the Irish or Scottish singer added the Clyde to bring it closer to home.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: wes.w
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 10:25 AM

Peter Bellamy told a story about the air for this on one of his LPs, where he plays it on whistle:

It seems that it was an old English air that went over to Ireland, where Jean Ritchie (he thought) recorded it from Willie Clancy in the 1950s, and took it back to the US. There Folkways released it on an LP. In due course the LP was exported to England and Peter bought it and learned the air.

Is KYTrad still on her cruise? Pethaps she might be able to shed a bit more light.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: catspaw49
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 10:37 AM

Whether Niles based it on a song he had actually collected is open to conjecture I'm sure. He had an interesting habit of writing songs that sounded as if they may have been trad but were in fact his own creation. No problem there except for some reason he also attributed them as traditional! It certainly makes researching some of the stuff real intersesting too.

I hope Jean posts here with her observations/comments.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Karen in California
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 02:01 PM

Since a large portion of the Appalachian area was settled by Scots it's possible they brought the song with them and tweaked it over the years.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 03:33 PM

Niles himself said, à propos his 1958 recording of the song:

"Black is The Color of My True Love's Hair as sung here was composed between 1916 and 1921.  I had come home from eastern Kentucky, singing this song to an entirely different tune--a tune not unlike the public-domain material employed even today.  My father liked the lyrics, but thought the tune was downright terrible.  So I wrote myself a new tune, ending it in a nice modal manner.  My composition has since been "discovered" by many an aspiring folk-singer".

Between 1916 and 1918, Cecil Sharp got a variant from Mrs. Lizzie Roberts of Hot Springs, N.C ., which is in the DT:  BLACK IS THE COLOUR (2)  He himself considered it to be of English origin; the verses are all "floaters" which appear in other songs, too, in Britain and Ireland as well as America, so I doubt if it's a translation from any other language.   The melody is undoubtedly a very close relative of the one which Niles said that he composed a few years later.  Clearly, Niles' "new" tune was no more than a modification of an existing, traditional one; the same is of course true of his text.

The DT text at  BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR  is described as "From Sharp", but no useful details are given.  "Clyde" appears in both; I don't have Niles' text, and most references on the net are confused and unattributed, but those from Sharp, at least, pre-date his.  I believe I've seen "Troublesome" (glossed as "the name of a town") substituted for Clyde somewhere.

You might like to have a look at these two at the  Max Hunter Collection:

Black, Black, Was The Color Of My True Loves Hair  As sung by May Kennedy-McCord in Springfield, Missouri on September, 23, 1958.  This is a variant of A Sailor's Life, but compare:

Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair  As sung by Mrs. "Bobbie" Barnes, Eureka Springs, Arkansas on June 21, 1958.  The editors categorise this one-verse fragment as belonging to the same group, possibly on the strength of the correspondence of some lines in the foregoing.  The tune, however, shows a distinct resemblance to the Niles one.  Of course, Mrs. Barnes may have learnt it from him, but that still wouldn't explain Mrs. Roberts.  It might be worth comparing some more Sailor's Life tunes.

Willie Clancy is supposed to have picked up Dark is the Colour from an American singer in Warsaw in the late 1950's, and started playing it himself; that may be as Irish as it ever was.

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 04:23 PM

Thanks, Malcolm. I'll have a good look/listen to those links.

Noreen


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: catspaw49
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 05:06 PM

Good stuff Malcolm.......The tune is quite close on the one to the Niles tune. Really not enough to make it a variant, more perhaps an interpretation. I really found the Barnes recording pretty poor, not for quality of recording, but it is a bit, shall we say, out of tune?? In any case, it makes a case for being a virtual match with JJN (who I also have always found hard to listen to). You're probably right on "Sailor's Life" which may have provided the original in some form, also lending credence to English origins of course....and does the tune and the Clyde refersnce make it more likely Scots?

Thanks,

Spaw


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: wes.w
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 06:58 AM

I've found a reference to this in James F. Leisy, Folk Song Fest, 1964: (my italics)

John Jacob Niles wrote a melody for the traditional words to 'Black is the Color' and came up with a version that has given the song great popularity amoung folk song revivalists. His possesion of the most used version almost moved the song out of the the folk song class in this day of copyright exclusives for folk song arrangements - until performers began coming up with their own melodies and versions.

He then lists 'essential' recordings by Niles, Susan Reed, Pete Seeger, Bob Ross, and (surprise, surprise) Jean Ritchie.

The air played by Peter Bellamy attributed to Willie Clancy, I mentioned earlier, is in fact a family tune of Jeans. I'd muddled the story, which I'll try to give in Pete's own words:

This is an Irish whistle tune that I learnt from the playing of Willie Clancy. This is a fascinating tune, not just for its beauty, but for the fact that I'd heard exactly the same tune with the same name from Jean Ritchie. In fact, this is not an Irish tune that got taken out unchanged to America. This is an English song that went out to America so long ago that everyone has forgotten about it, and the Americans changed it, as they do, and it became part of the Ritchie Family repertoire. Jean Ritchie sang it to, I believe, Shirley Collins, who came back to England where she sang it to Willie Clancy who thought 'Thats a lovely tune' and went back to Ireland playing it. Meanwhile Folkways Records from America turned up and said 'Play us an Irish tune, Mac!' and Willie played them 'Black is the Colour'. They rushed back to America, released it on an American label, which got exported to England, where Muggins bought it.

This air is similar to the song Sharp collected from Mrs Lizzie Roberts, Hot Springs, N.Carolina in 1916. That also has the Clyde in the lyrics, as Malcom says.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 07:16 AM

I had wondered if the unnamed American singer in the reference I found might have been Jean.  To say that Niles wrote the tune that he copyrighted is stretching things a little, I think, but of course Leisy was writing nearly 40 years ago, and research has moved on since then.

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: catspaw49
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 08:15 AM

I sent a PM to 'kytrad' the other day asking if she might check in on this thread.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: kytrad
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 08:32 PM

Well yes, I'm back, and have enjoyed reading all about "Black is the Color." Thanks, Spaw, for clarifying the Peter Bellemy story...I had been about to tell you-all I've never met Willie Clancy, unfortunately (know Liam, but that's a different person, no?). I have sung the song, which we always called, "But Black," to tell it apart from the Niles, "Black, Black, Black", almost all my life. I think my older sisters brought it home from Berea College where they had sung it in the chorus, so it is probably the Sharp NC version. That would be in the late 20s/early 30s, so I HAVE known it a long time. Have always thought it Scots because of the Clyde. Among his many other changes in melody & lyrics, JJ Niles substituted "Troublesome" for "Clyde." That refers to Troublesome Creek, in Knott County, KY where my dad was born & raised, so I sometimes (not always) used "Troublesome" in my performances. Just tickled me to do that.

The other song mentioned is I believe NOT a variant of "But Black," someone just dragged in a verse of "Black" to round out the "Sailors' Life" song. The FOLK do that all the time... there's a great old banjo song from my family/community that does it, sung there long before they ever knew the "But Black" that I recorded in 1950(EK-L-2, released in 1952). One of the verses:

O that pretty little girl, sixteen years old
Hair j'st as yaller as the flamin gold,
Well the prettiest hair and the neatest hands-
God bless the ground onwhere she stands!

Lord, I hope those worked...Joe'll kill me if they don't! Jean


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 10:56 PM

Many thanks for the information, Jean.  I wasn't suggesting that "Black" and "Sailor's Life" were particularly related -as songs- (apart from shared floating verses in some versions), but that there seemed to be a close relationship between the melody Sharp found in Hot Springs, which, if I've understood properly, may be the source of your family's set, and the one Max Hunter got in Eureka Springs, both of which also show a strong connection to the tune Niles claimed for his own.  I'm still thinking that the "Sailor's Life" and "Died For Love" tune families might bear more examination for correspondences, but so far it's only a thought.  For what it's worth, and for anyone who might like to hear, here are some sound files:

DT: Black is the Colour (2)  (Lizzie Roberts, 1916)
Black, Black is the Color   -Short Real Audio sample of J.J. Niles.
DT: Black is the Color  No clear indication as to where this tune came from; it doesn't seem to be from Niles or Sharp.
Black is the Color  -Borrowed temporarily from the Max Hunter Collection (see above) and played at nearly double speed for (relative) ease of comparison.  The audio files on-site referred to above give a better picture, mind.
Died For Love  Noted by Percy Grainger, from Joseph Taylor of Lincolnshire.
There also seems to be some relationship to some of the Water Is Wide/ Waly Walytunes, but that's not so clear, and is certainly beyond my abilities to analyse.  Worth mentioning, just as a p.s., that another "Sailor's Life" variant at Max Hunter,  Sailor Boy  As sung by Mr. Harrison Burnett in Fayettville, Arkansas, June 15, 1959,also contains the lines

Oh [h]it's dark is th(e) color of my true love's hair
His cheeks is of a lily fair

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 06 Nov 01 - 08:54 AM

Thought I'd refresh this thread as the various versions of the song came up in a discussion yesterday.
Also serves to link a couple of related threads together:
Help: 'Black is the color' verse question...

and a relevant bit on John Jacob Niles authenticity?

(that was his name, Allan!)

Noreen


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Allan C.
Date: 06 Nov 01 - 08:57 AM

Thanks, Noreen!


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,noreen
Date: 06 Nov 01 - 09:02 AM

Made me jump!


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Subject: Lyr Add: DARK IS THE COLOUR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR
From: Noreen
Date: 16 Nov 01 - 07:46 PM

I was reminded that I haven't posted the version that I got from Sean 'ac Donncha, as mentioned earlier in this thread.

DARK IS THE COLOUR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR
Trad, as sung by Sean 'ac Donncha

Dark is the colour of my true love's hair
Her face is like some rose so fair
The slenderest waist and the neatest hands
I adore the ground whereon she stands

I went to the Clyde for to mourn and weep
But satisfied I ne'er could sleep
I sent her a letter in a few short lines
I suffered death a thousand times

I kneeled down and I wrote a song
I wrote it neat and I wrote it long
At every line I shed a tear
And the last line said, "Farewell my dear."

So fare thee well my own true love
I thought you were true as the stars above
But if pleasure on earth no more I'll see
I'll never treat you as you treated me

The winter is past and the fields are green
The time is past that we have seen
But still I hope the day will come
When you and I shall be as one

V similar to 'Black is the colour of my true love's hair' in the DT, the version from Cecil Sharp as recorded by Jean Ritchie. Major differences I have put in italics, and one of Sharp's verses is missing in this version.

Tune is virtually identical to BLACKCO2 which is attached to the other version in the DT.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 16 Nov 01 - 08:30 PM

Did Sean 'ac Donncha say where he got that one?


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 16 Nov 01 - 08:39 PM

No, sorry, Malcolm. I assumed until this thread came up, that it was a local song- hadn't heard it from anyone else.

It might be on an LP of his (from the '60s?), which might have more information... long shot. Trying to think who I knew who had the LP...


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Dicho
Date: 02 Aug 02 - 06:54 PM

No wonder I couldn't find Black Is The Color, coll. from Lizzie Roberts by Sharp, in the DT. It took me awhile to find that the English spelling is used by mistake. Enter -black is the color- and only the Ritchie?-version comes up. Colour should only be used for UK-Ireland versions.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 02 Aug 02 - 07:03 PM

But surely Cecil Sharp would have written it as colour when he collected it, Dicho? *smile*


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Subject: Lyr Add: MOMENT'S RIVER SIDE
From: Dicho
Date: 02 Aug 02 - 08:50 PM

Noreen, if he did, he mis-spelled it since the Sharp-Campbell volume of 1917 was published in New York (Putnam). Of course he may have changed it in the later Oxford edition for the English reader. Harrumph! (Now as a pennance, I will have to add another version).

The song was collected by Cox about the same time (1917), obtained from a Miss Lucretia Collins of West Virginia by a Fred Smith, but as "Moment's River Side." Cox published it as "Sweet William (The Sailor Boy)," which could cause confusion for the careless with Child 74 (Fair Margaret and Sweet William) and Child 77 (Sweet William's Ghost). Here 'tis:

MOMENT'S RIVER SIDE

Way down on Moment's River side
The wind blew fair with gentle guide;
A pretty maid that sat and mourned;
"What shall I do? My true love's gone.

"His rosy cheeks, his coal-black hair,
Has drawn my heart all in a snare;
His ruby lips so soft and fine,
Ten thousand times I've thrust in mine.

"And if ten thousand were in a row,
My love would make the brightest show,
The brightest show of every one;
I'll have my love or I'll have none.

"I'll build myself a little boat,
And on the ocean I will float,
And every ship that I pass by,
I'll enquire for my sweet sailor boy."

She had not sailed far upon the deep,
Until a ship she chanced to meet:
"O captain, captain, tell me true,
Does my sweet Willie sail with you?"

"O no, kind miss, he is not here;
He lies in yonder deep I fear."
She wrang her hands, she tore her hair,
Just like a lady in despair.

The wind did blow and the waves did roll,
Which washed her body to the shore;
She viewed him well in every part,
With melting tears and bleeding heart.

With pen and ink she wrote a song,
She wrote it large, she wrote it long;
On every line she dropped a tear,
And every verse cried, "O my dear!"

Six weeks from then this maid was dead,
And on her breast this letter laid:
"Go dig my grave both wide and deep,
And strew it well with roses sweet.

"Plant by my side a willow tree,
To many years wave over me,
And on my breast a turtle dove,
To tell the world I died for love."

Cox, J. H., 1924, Folk-Songs Of The South, pp. 353-354. In another version, also communicated in 1917, "brought into the community in 1901," Willie was left on "Greenland's isle."

Noreen, note that I changed inquire to enquire just for you!


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 02 Aug 02 - 11:14 PM

The UK/USA spelling issue leads to quite a lot of problems in a database such as this. Sharp, being English, used the standard English spelling of colour when he noted the song; it was published as such here. Evidently the American publication used the American spelling. In the main, the difficulty works in the opposite direction; people post songs here that were noted and published in Britain or Ireland but change the spelling of words to the American forms. As a rule, the spelling used in the published source should be retained, wherever it comes from.

In this particular case, of course, the spelling difference is more than usually liable to lead to confusion, and I, too, forgot that there were two separate, differently spelled sets in the DT when Dicho asked about it in another thread, recently revived by a visitor who had failed to find this, more substantive one. If only people would stick to one discussion on any particular song, we could avoid a lot of unnecessary duplication and confusion.

Black is the Colo[u]r is number 3103 in the Roud Folk Song Index; all entries so far relate to American examples, except for two sets from Sean 'ac Donncha and Joe Heaney, both dating from the early 1970s (though presumably in their repertoires earlier than that). Whether or not this indicates an Irish origin for either song or tune remains to be seen, as does whether or not there is a significant connection between this and the Sailors's/Soldier's Life group (Roud 273, Laws K12); as I mentioned earlier, I think that the latter question merits further investigation, but a direct connection should not yet be taken as read.

The former question would in large degree depend on deeper investigation of the latter; that song having been found far more widely in tradition in the USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Canada (roughly in order of frequency). In particular, examination of correpondences between the recorded tunes might be helpful.


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Subject: Lyr Add: Dark Is the Color of my Sweetheart's Hair
From: John Minear
Date: 03 Aug 02 - 06:39 AM

I've already posted this in the thread "Black is the color of my true love's eye" because I thought maybe the discussion was going on over there and I had been out of town for awhile. Forgive a double posting, but I decided to repost it here as well, since I think it fits here.

The version, which goes back at least to Lizzie Roberts of Hot Springs, is a favorite of mine. In the early 1950's Maud Karpeles made a return trip to the Southern Appalachians to see if she could find any of the singers that she and Cecil Sharp had visited earlier. This time she took a recording machine. She found Lizzie Roberts and recorded her singing "Black is the Color". Her collection is in the Library of Congress. Some of it was released commercially on cassette. If you can find them, Lizzie Roberts' song is on BLACK IS THE COLOUR, by Folktracks Cassettes (UK), 1980. I was able to obtain this through Interlibrary Loan. The second tape is CUMBERLAND GAP.

In August of 1929, Mellinger Henry collected a version of this song from Mary E. King, in Gatlinburg Tennessee. He published it in his FOLK-SONGS FROM THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS,p. 266. There is no tune.

DARK IS THE COLOR OF MY SWEETHEART'S HAIR

Dark is the color of my sweetheart's hair;
His cheeks are like some roses fair;
The prettiest face and neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon he stands.

My dear sweetheart, my harmless love,
I hope we'll meet in heaven above;
And there to dwell with Christ forever;
My dear sweetheart, you are so clever.

I go to cry, to mourn, to weep;
But satisfy I never can sleep;
You have turned me away and broke my heart;
Oh, how can I from you depart?

Yes, you are all for this to blame;
That I must die in grief and shame;
And after death I will go home
And think of what you've done for me.

Many an hour have I spent with you;
But never knew that you wasn't true.
I found it out and cried aloud;
I must, I did, in all this crowd.

But if it be God's will, I'd rather
For us to llive in this world together;
For I have said and done my part;
I love you,, mister, with all my heart.

As you do pass me by so brave,
Look at the tomb-stone on my grave;
And read this there that you may see;
And think of what you have done to me.

This was also known, according to Henry, as "My Dear Sweetheart."


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Paddy Plastique
Date: 03 Aug 02 - 06:49 AM

Noreen, Joe Heaney, Seán 'ac Donncha's neighbour, sings that version too - with
the slight variation that he says 'the river' instead of 'Clyde'. He lived
part of his life in Scotland - not sure if that might explain the provenance...
Is the melody the same as the DT one ??


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Subject: ADD Version: Black Is the Colour
From: John Minear
Date: 05 Aug 02 - 08:02 AM

On Volume IV of the recently released CD set

Far in the Mountains : Volumes 3 & 4 of Mike Yates' 1979-83 Appalachian Collection

which is available from CAMSCO and a wonderful collection, finally available on CD, Dellie Norton sings the following version of "Black is the Color". What follows is taken from the excellent liner notes, which can be found on the web at Far On The Mountain.

6. BLACK IS THE COLOUR (Roud 3103)
(Sung by Dellie Norton at her home in Sodom Laurel, Madison County, NC. 26.8.80)

My pretty little pink, so fare you well.
You've slighted me, but I wish you well.
If never on earth I no more see,
I cain't slight you like you've slighted me.

The winter have broke and the leaves are green.
The time has passed that we have seen.
But I hope the time will shortly come,
Never you and I will be as one.

Black is the colour of my truelove's hair.
Her home is on some island fair.
The prettiest face and the neatest hands.
I love the ground whereon she stands.

Off to Clyde for a weep and mourn.
Dissatisfied, I never can sleep.
I'll write to you in a few short lines.
I'd suffer death, ten thousand times.

One of the most beautiful of the Appalachian lyric songs, which Dellie begins with a verse from the separate song Come My Pretty Little Pink. According to Roger deV Renwick (Recentering Anglo/American Folksong. 2001. pp. 51 - 52), the song is similar, in parts, to versions of The Week Before Easter and to the song The Rambling Boy, which contains verses such as:

The rose is red, the stem is green
The time is past that I have seen
It may be more, it may be few
But I hope to spend them all with you.

Or

Oh my pretty little miss sixteen years old
Her hair just as yeller as the shining gold
The prettiest face and the sweetest hands
Bless the ground on where she stands.

Cecil Sharp noted a single set from Mrs Lizzie Roberts of nearby Hot Springs, NC, in 1916 (see English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (1932) vol.2 p.31). The reference to the river Clyde suggests that it may be based on an older Scottish song."


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Subject: ADD Version: Black Is the Color
From: John Minear
Date: 06 Aug 02 - 05:40 PM

Betty Smith, on her Folk-Legacy cassette (C-53), has a very nice rendition of Lizzie Roberts' version of "Black is the Color". Cecil Sharp collected Roberts' version in Madison County, North Carolina. Today, another ballad singer (seventh generation!) from Madison County carries on this tradition. Her name is Sheila Kay Adams. I heard her sing "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" at the Swannanoa Gathering a few weeks ago, and it was powerful! Sheila is the grand-niece of Dellie Norton, whose version I posted earlier. While Sheila learned many of her songs from her "Granny Dell", she learned "Black is the Color" from Evelyn Ramsey. You can hear Sheila sing this song on her first recording "Loving Forward, Loving Back". And you can see/hear her sing part of it (as Sheila Barnhill) on Alan Lomax's "Appalachian Journey" video. Find out more about Sheila and her music on her website Sheila Kay Adams. Here are the lyrics to her version:

BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR

Black is the color of my true love's hair.
His face is like some rosy fair,
With the prettiest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon he stands.

I love my love and well he knows,
I love the ground whereon he goes.
If you no more on earth I see,
I can't serve you as you have me.

The winter's past and the leaves are green.
The time is past that we have seen.
Still I hope the day will come,
When you and I shall be as one.

I go to the Clyde for to mourn and weep.
But satisfied I never could sleep.
I'll write for you a few short lines,
And I'd suffer death ten thousand times.

So fare thee well, my own true love.
The time has passed, but I wish you well.
Still I hope the day will come,
When you and I shall be as one.

I love my love and well he knows,
I love the ground whereon he goes.
If you no more on earth I see,
I can't serve you as you have me.


Another traditional ballad singer, from Lenoir, North Carolina, is Bobby McMillon. He sings a very interesting version of "Black is the Color" on his recording "A Deeper Feeling" from Ivy Creek Recordings (ICR 401). Bobby learned a lot of his songs from his Maw Maw Phillips of Cosby, Tennessee. He was also influenced by all the folks over in Sodom, in Madison County, such as the Wallins and the Chandlers and Dellie Norton. Bobby is a close friend of Sheila Kay Adams. Here is his version:

DARK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR

Dark is the color of my true love's hair,
Her home is on some island fair.
The sweetest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon she stands.

It's I love my love and well she knows.
I love the ground whereon she goes.
If you no more on earth I see,
It's I wouldn't serve you like you have me.

The winter's past and the leaves are green.
The time has past that we have been,
But yet I hope the time will come,
When you and I shall be as one.

I go to cry, for to moan and weep,
But satisfied I never can sleep.
It you no more on earth I see,
It's I wouldn't serve you as you have me.

The pain of love no tongue can tell,
No heart can think no mind can sell.
But I'll tell you in a few short lines,
It's worse than death ten thousand times.

So fare you well, I'd rather make,
My home upon some icy lake,
Where the southern sun refused to shine,
Then trusting love as false as thine.

Bobby has some interesting variations with regard to lyrics, and his tune is a little different, too. He says "this song has two different tunes, one in a minor key and theother in a major key." Bobby is a ballad singer worth finding out about. Sheila says "he's the walking encyclopedia of all things Appalachian" and "he knows more than 800 of the old love songs (ballads)".


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Subject: ZDTStudy: Black Is the Color
From: Joe Offer
Date: 07 Aug 02 - 12:23 AM

Looks like this is the primary thread on this song, so I'll tag it for DTStudy indexing.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: John Minear
Date: 17 Aug 02 - 10:30 AM

In Dellie Norton's version above, she picks up a verse from "Pretty Little Pink". Mellinger Henry collected a version of "My Pretty Little Pink" from Austin Harmon of Varnell, Georgia, in 1929, that has overtones of "Black is the Color". The last several verses then switch over to a "final testimony" situation.

My pretty little pink, so fare you well.
You slighted me, but I wish you well.

The prettiest face, and the meanest hand;
I love the ground whereon she stands.

I saw you the other day; you looked so loving
And you were so gay; you fooled and trifled your time away.

If on earth no more shall see,
I can't serve you as you serve me.

I love me love and well she knows
-----------------------------------

I would rather build my home on some icy hill
Where the sun refuses to shine; a trusting girl is hard to find.

But when you find one just and true,
Forsake not the old one for the new.

On the twenty-ninth of May the prison doors flew open wide
With guns and guards on ever side, and on my coffin made ride.

Come, welcome, death, I will go with you;
The roads are dark and lonesome too.

Come on, my dear, and see me die,
And meet sweet Jesus in the sky.

The rope is bought, the bolt is swung,
A innocent man, you all have hung.

Before they thought he was quite dead,
Down came a little dove, hovered around his head,
And they thought it was the Saviour dear.

Henry does not print a tune. Austin Harmon was the son of Sam Harmon of Cades Cove, Tennessee.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Crazy Little Woman
Date: 18 Aug 02 - 12:29 AM

Re: "I go to Troublesome to mourn and weep," which someone thought might refer to the name of a town, many postings back. In fact,Troublesome was a name which was often given to a flood-prone creek.

There is a wildlife refuge, the Flint Hills NWR, about 60 miles SE of Kansas City, and it has a creek called Troublesome. Since most refuges were purchased in the 1930's as the government bought up flood-prone, failing farms, this all makes sense.

It gave me a tingle to see that name on small, smudgy printing on the refuge's map of long-forgotten places.


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Subject: ADD Version: Black Is the Color
From: John Minear
Date: 26 Oct 02 - 10:09 AM

Here is another version that refers to "Troublesome". It comes from Evelyn Ramsey of Sodom Laurel in Madison County, North Carolina. Sheila Adams says that she learned her version from Evelyn. When you listen to Sheila's version and Eveyln's version back to back you can definitely see the relationship, especially with regard to the tune and the delivery.

Evelyn Ramsey's version can be found on a CD that accompanies the very recently published book by Rob Amberg called SODOM LAUREL ALBUM, published by the University of North Carolina Press at Chapel Hill, NC. It is an account in pictures and text and song of Amberg's time at Sodom Laurel, especially with Dellie Norton and her family. The CD adds significantly to the body of recorded material by the "Sodom Laurel Ballad Singers". Here is Evelyn Ramsey's version of "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair":

BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR

Black is the color of my true love's hair,
Her cheeks are like some rosy fair,
With the prettiest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon she stands.

I love my love and well she knows,
I love the ground whereon she goes,
If I no more on earth shall see,
I won't serve you as you have me.

I go to Troublesome to mourn and weep,
But satisfied I can never be,
I write to you a letter in a few short lines,
I'll suffer death ten thousand times.

I love my love and well she knows,
I love the ground whereon she goes,
If I no more on earth shall see,
I won't serve you as you have me.

My love, she's sixteen years old,
Her hair is like some glittering gold,
With the prettiest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon she stands.

The last verse is unusual and is the same as the one mentioned by Jean Ritchie above:

"The other song mentioned is I believe NOT a variant of "But Black," someone just dragged in a verse of "Black" to round out the "Sailors' Life" song. The FOLK do that all the time... there's a great old banjo song from my family/community that does it, sung there long before they ever knew the "But Black" that I recorded in 1950(EK-L-2, released in 1952). One of the verses:

O that pretty little girl, sixteen years old
Hair j'st as yaller as the flamin gold,
Well the prettiest hair and the neatest hands-
God bless the ground on where she stands!

It is also mentioned by Mike Yates above in his discussion of Dellie Norton's version. I think he attributes this verse to "The Rambling Boy":

Oh my pretty little miss sixteen years old
Her hair just as yeller as the shining gold
The prettiest face and the sweetest hands
Bless the ground on where she stands.

The apparent contradiction of hair color doesn't seem to have been a problem for Evelyn in her version. Also, if you compare Sheila Adams' version, posted above, with Evelyn's version you can see that Sheila has gone beyond this single source and gotten some verses from others besides Evelyn.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,catherine m
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 01:36 AM

I must admit I have only heard one version of this song, and was wondering if anyone could give me some context for it.

It's from Joan Baez's (technically) first album, the one that was all bootlegged and everything, which she recorded with Bill Wood & Ted Alevizos(sp?). I have it on vinyl (got it for $1!!) Even though it's the only version of this song that I have ever heard and I have no comparison, I will still defend it as a simply heart-stopping recording, along with her rendition (on that same album) of "Virgin Mary Had One Son".

Anyway, what I want to know is, where did she get these (slightly) altered lyrics? (see below) For those of you familiar with the recording, is the arrangement the same as JJN's? I'm just interested in the process of change, etc.

Lyrics as I can hear them:

Black, black, black
Is the color of my true love's hair
His lips are something wondrous fair
The brightest eyes and the bravest hands
I love the ground where on he stands
I love my love and well he knows
I love the ground where on he goes
On earth (and if?) my love no more I'll see
My life would quickly fade away
Black, black, black
Is the color of my true love's hair

Did others ever record such an abbreviated version? Just to reiterate, all I know about other versions of this is from reading this thread. Thanks in advance!


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Subject: Lyr Add: BLACK IS THE COLOR (from Joan Baez)
From: Q
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 02:10 AM

In "The Joan Baez Songbook," 1964 Ryerson, and 1989 Amsco, p. 28-29, she prefaces the song with acknowledgements to John Jacob Niles [the author??] and Jean Ritchie.
Yes, the Baez lyrics are brief. From the music in her book:

BLACK IS THE COLOR (Baez)

Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.
His lips are something wondrous fair,-
The purest eyes and the bravest hands,-
I love the ground whereon he stands.-

Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.

I love my love and well he knows,
I love the ground whereon he goes
And if my love no more I see,
My life would quickly fade away.

Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.

"Interested in the process of change" The material put together here pretty well covers it. I think the song is typical JJN, but make up your own mind.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 02:28 AM

Thanks for the info, Q. I mean, JJN didn't say "bravest hands", did he? Or "wondrous fair"? I'm just wondering, specifically, who first made those alterations.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Q
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 02:59 PM

The Niles original lyrics do not seem to be available on a website. I can only suggest that someone who has the book issued by his music publisher please post the words here.
G. Schirmer, publisher. "The Songs of John Jacob Niles." Piano and vocal. $US 15.00

I do recall that his version, on an old RCA Red Seal (1940s) set of folk, was brief, but I can't recall any of the words now. In the following note, Niles refers to his 1958 recording- same words??

""Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair" as sung here was composed between 1916 and 1921. I had come home from eastern Kentucky singing the song to an entirely different tune- a tune not unlike the public domain material employed even today. My father liked the lyrics but thought the tune was downright terrible. So I wrote myself a new tune, ending in a nice modal manner. My composition has since been discovered by many an aspiring folk-singer." John Jacob Niles. Music

Posts above show that there was an older song with a different tune. The Niles version and its copies have taken over, however.

I like the Ellis Peters version from her murder mystery:
Black, black, black is the color of my true-loves heart!
His tongue is like a poisoned dart,
The coldest eyes and the lewdest hands...


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Kaleea
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 04:16 PM

I sang the Niles version when I was a voice major in college. My voice prof was fond of several of the "Niles" songs, but always poked fun at Niles for listing his name as composer/lyricist.
   One sings a variety of "literature" as an edjumacated vocalist, most of which is composed "literature," such as from operas & other works. When one wants to sing a folk song, however, one must have an "arrangement" by a proper source, and then it is considered an "Art Song." I frequently have voice students sing Folk Songs in performances, or in competition. I rarely have any printed "Music" of Folksongs/Spirituals for competition judges-which is normally a requirement-as I teach the Folksong as I learned it from whatever source, and I improvise the accompaniment, usually on Piano. Instead, I bluff by stating that I am positive that they are all familiar with the "Niles" (or one of the other well known Folksong thieves) arrangement of such & so. So far (30+ yrs), no one has ever questioned me.


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Subject: ADD: The Pinery Boy
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 06:10 PM

I've always felt that THE SAILOR BOY was close to the deepest root version of this song. When it got to dry land in the USA, it almost demanded to be rewritten for the various geographical areas.

In the Wisconsin lumber woods, as collected by Franz Rickaby, it was THE PINERY BOY. His source was Mrs. M.A. Olin of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She told Franz Rickaby that..."she had learned it shortly after she came to Wisconsin...in 1867...from a neighbor boy, one Thomas Ward---a great singer."

-----------------------------------------------

THE PINERY BOY

Oh, a raftsman's life is a wearisome one,
It causes them to weep and mourn,
It causes many a fair maid to weep and mourn,
For the loss of a true love that never can return.

Father, oh, father, build me a boat,
That down the Wisconsin I may float,
And ever raft that I pass by
There will I inquire for my sweet Pinery Boy.

As she was rowing down the stream,
She spied three rafts all in a string,
She hailed the pilot as they drew nigh,
And there she did enquire for her sweet Pinery Boy.

"Oh, pilot, oh, pilot, come tell me true,
Is my sweet Willie among your crew?"
Tell me quick and give me joy,
For none other will I have but my sweet Pinery Boy."

"Oh, Auburn was the color of his hair,
His eyes were blue and his cheeks were fair,
His lips were of a ruby fine,
Ten thousand times have they met with mine."

"Oh, honored lady, he is not here,
He's drowned in the Dells, I fear,
'Twas at Lone Rock as we passed by,
Oh, there is where we left your sweet Pinery Boy."

She wrung her hands and tore her hair,
Just like a lady in great despair,
She rowed her boat against Lone Rock,
You'd a-thought this fair lady's heart was broke.

"Dig me a grave both long and deep,
Place a marble slab at my head and feet,
And on my breast a turtle dove,
To let the world know that I died for love.
-----And at my feet a spreading oak,
-----To let the world know that my heart was broke."

-------------------------------------------------

In the California gold fields (1850s) this song became THE CALIFORNIA BOY. It was possibly transported there by a lumberjack trying to strike it rich. All that really changed in the song was the locale --- and the way the young man tried to make a living.

Also, the song THE PINERY BOY is on my CD for Folk Legacy Records at www.folklegacy.com It is called Art Thieme-On The Wilderness Road.

Art


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 06:18 PM

Whenever I sang it, it must've instantly become an "Art song".    ;-)

My version was also on a compilation LP put out by Wisconsin Public Radio called A SIMPLY FOLK SAMPLER.

Art again


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,george_mcarthur@hotmail.com
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 10:59 AM

This song has create a very big stir i've a lot of friends from my time in Dublin many have sung it and all my Spanish and Polish friends love it......

Been trying to find out more about it when i said Hamish Imlach to irish Christy Moore fans they said Joe Heaney but i've since found John Jacob Niles and many before Hamish's version.

here are just a few

http://www.blackisthecolour.bravehost.com



Jordi


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,robinia@eskimo.com
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 11:35 AM


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Cluin
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 11:43 AM

I always liked The Easy Club's version.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,robinia
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 12:19 PM

Sorry about that..... I meant to recount my memory of JJN singing "Black, black, black" in the fifties. Singing it to the melody he'd composed, he said, because the song had such a poor tune. Or words to that effect. I was offended because I rather liked the older melody even if it didn't have quite the sweep of the "Niles" version, and I didn't see why he felt called upon to trash it. But I never doubted that he HAD sustantially altered the song (and in so doing made it much more popular) nor have I ever doubted that he wrote one of my family's favorite carols, "Jesus, Jesus, Rest your Head." Is he charged with stealing that too?


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Q
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 02:26 PM

Re Guest McArthur post of "Black Is the Color" from the bravehost website-
"... is a famous traditional Scottish song" - Any evidence in print before 1900-1916?


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 09:44 PM

None whatever that I've heard of. The only apparent Scottish connection is the mention of the Clyde, which in any case appears in some versions only. Almost all sets found in tradition, so far as I know, are American; the song has turned up in relatively recent years in Ireland, probably learned from Jean Ritchie.

The webpage "McArthur" refers to is (shall we be kind?) rather less than reliable. "The lyrics were added for the first time in 1916" is presumably a complete misunderstanding of the fact that the earliest known example was noted by Sharp in that year (Mrs Lizzie Roberts, Hot Springs, NC, 15 September 1916). As for "the tune ... dates back to XVIII Century", no evidence is even hinted at. It may well do (though we should look to the earlier Sailor's Life, as I've already said, for that) but bald, unsubstantiated assertions mean nothing.

Unfortunately, some people will believe that this "McArthur" knows what he's talking about. He clearly doesn't.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 10:07 PM

Oh - "Black is the true colour of my Love's ____ Hair"...


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 10:23 PM

This was about the only thread on the song where nobody had given into the temptation to mention that tedious little parody; amusing once, but boring thereafter. It was predictable enough, I suppose, that a compulsive poster with nothing useful to say on the subject would eventually make good that omission.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Q
Date: 23 Nov 05 - 03:29 PM

A relationship to the old song, "The Sailor Boy," is likely.


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Subject: Lyr. Add: THE SAILOR BOY (Belden)
From: Q
Date: 23 Nov 05 - 04:40 PM

THE SAILOR'S TRADE
(The Sailor Boy)
, 1909

The sailor's trade is a dreary life,
It causes poor girls to lose their heart's delight,
It causes them for to weep and mourn
The loss of their true love, never to return.

'Brown was the color of my true love's hair,
His cheeks resembled a lily's fair.
If ever he returns it will give me joy,
For none can I wed but my sweet sailor boy.

'Father, father, go build me a boat,
That I may on the river float;
I'll hail each captain as I pass by,
And there I'll inquire for my sweet Willie boy.

'Captain, Captain, tell me true,
Does my dear Willie sail with you?
Tell me quick, for 'twill give me joy;
For none can I wed but my sweet sailor boy.'

'No, kind madam, he is not here,
He's drowned in the gulf and we left him there;
All on the rocky island as we passed by,
There we let your true lover lie.'

She wrung her hands and she tore her hair
Just like some lady in despair:
'All on the rocky island as they passed by,
There they let my true lover lie.

'Hand me a chair till I sit down,
A pen and ink for to write it down.'
At the end of every line she shed a tear,
At the end of every verse she cried 'Willie, my dear.'

Go dig my grave both wide and deep,
A marble stone at my head and feet;
And on my breast a sweet turtle-dove,
To let the world know I died for my love.'

Secured in 1909 by Miss Hamilton from Mary Van Wormser of the West Plains High School who wrote it down 'as sung by her grandfather.'
Version C in H. M. Belden, 1940, "Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society, pp. 188-189. Music is given for version A, pp. 186-187, which lacks the verse about the 'color of my true love's hair'.
A version D with 'Brown is the color...' obtained in 1914.

These versions with 'brown' or 'dark' hair seem to have spread in America from the English (?) "The Sailor Boy" (and variants), possibly through printed song sheets.

THE SAILOR BOY
(Ashton, 63, in Stone, 1906)

The sailing trade is a weary life,
It's robbed me of my heart's delight,
And left me here in tears to mourn,
Still waiting for my love's return.

Like one distracted this fair maid ran,
For pen and paper to write her song,
And at ev'ry line she drop't a tear,
Crying alas! for Billy my dear.

Thousands, thousands, all in a room,
My love he carries the brightest bloom,
He surely is some chosen one,
I will have him, or else have none.

The grass doth grow on every lea,
The leaf doth fall from every tree,
How happy that small bird doth cry,
That her true love doth by her lie.

The colour of amber is my true love's hair,
His red rosy cheeks doth my heart ensnare,
I'd fain lay a night in his lovely arms.

Father, father, build me a boat,
That on the ocean I may float,
And every ship that doth pass by,
I may enquire for my sailor boy.

She had not sail'd long upon the deep,
Till a man of war she chanc'd to meet:
O, sailor, sailor, send me word,
If my true love William be on board.

Your true love William is not here,
For he is kill'd so I fear,
For the other day as we pass'd by,
We see'd him last in the Victory.

She wrung her hands and tore her hair,
Crying, alas! my dearest dear,
And overboard her body threw,
Bidding all worldly things adieu.

Christopher Stone, 1906, "Sea Songs and Ballads," LXXXVI, pp. 174-176, Oxford Press.
Note: "Ash.[ton] 63. There is another version in the Folk Song Society Journal, vol. i, 3.20." From Ashton, "Real Sailor-Songs."

It was difficult to decide where to place these versions. Thread 22870, Penguin- A Sailor's Life, is related, but lacks the '--- is the color' verse.
Sailor's Life

According to the "Traditional Ballad Index," th song was first mentioned in 1847 in a ship's journal.

The song by John Jacob Niles seems to be a much abbreviated version, with his own tune. He wrote "Black Is the Color," but borrowed lines from American versions of "Sailor Boy" and simplified the song to a love ballad.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Lighter
Date: 23 Nov 05 - 06:26 PM

As we've observed in other threads, JJN was not a "thief." Quite the contrary. He wrote and rewrote lyrics, and adapted and composed melodies. He built himself a giant dulcimore from a bass fiddle and cultivated his countertenor. Then he more or less suggested to his audience thathis performances came straight from the unsophisticated, musically illiterate folks of Kentucky and North Carolina and, by an undeviating route through them, directly and pristinely from Ye Middle Ages.

He really does deserve composer credit for most everything he put before the public.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Q
Date: 23 Nov 05 - 08:23 PM

Born in England, Dyer-Bennet's family moved to British Columbia in 1919, so if he wrote "Black....." in 1916, it was written in England before he moved to the U. S. in 1923. The family moved to Berkeley, California in 1923, but much subsequent movement involved. RD-B spent high school years in Santa Barbara and Germany. He enrolled in Univ. California, Berkeley, 1n 1932, studying English and seriously involved in sports. By the end of his junior year, he was well into serious voice study with Gertrude Wheeler Beckman. She suggested he study with the Swedish minstrel and art song specialist Sven Scholander. This was followed by a brief stay in Wales. Engagements at private concerts followed, but the break came in 1941, when a Harvard professor underwrote his first recording. Later that year, he received his first engagement, at Le Ruban Bleu, a small sophisticated club in New York. Work followed at the Village Vanguard and 'the rest is---', with concerts at Town Hall and Carnegie. He began serious guitar study with Ray de la Torre in NY in 1944; A tour on the Sol Horok circuit followed in 1945. He toured annually until 1970 but limited his yearly concerts so that he could devote more time to study, his translations, and sports.

He translated and performed Schön Müllerin by Schubert, and later in life devoted full time to the epic "Odyssey."

Nowhere in the biographical note does Bonnie Dyer-Bennet, in notes prepared for Smithsonian-Folkways, mention any contacts with "unsophisticated, musically illiterate folks of Kentucky and North Carolina." This 'may' have happened during his period on the concert stage.

Listening to his recordings (available from Smithsonian Folkways), one is always aware that he was a professionally trained singer of art songs, and he did it very well. He was especially good on songs by Thomas Moore, poems by Yeats ("Down by the Sally Gardens") and English and Scottish folk and music hall songs ("Vicar of Bray").
As Lighter emphasized, he rewrote both words and music to suit his voice and inclinations.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Stephen R.
Date: 23 Nov 05 - 10:44 PM

Hold hard! How did we get from John Jacob Niles to Richard Dyer-Bennet? Has anyone claimed that RDB wrote a version of "Black is the Color"?

Stephen


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Q
Date: 23 Nov 05 - 11:42 PM

Hold hard is right. I was listening to Dyer-Bennet and got my wires crossed with John Jacob Niles. SORRY!


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 24 Nov 05 - 12:17 AM

I apologise for my typo - I meant to post

"Black is the true colour of my Love's Long Hair".


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: John Minear
Date: 24 Apr 06 - 08:07 PM

In a note dated August 3, 2002, above, I say:

"In the early 1950's Maud Karpeles made a return trip to the Southern Appalachians to see if she could find any of the singers that she and Cecil Sharp had visited earlier. This time she took a recording machine. She found Lizzie Roberts and recorded her singing "Black is the Color".

This is an incorrect statement and I would like to clear up my mistake. Maud Karpeles recorded Emma Hensley (Mrs. Donald Shelton) of Carmen, N.C. singing Lizzie Roberts' version of "Black is the Color" in the 1950s. This is on the Folktrax 908 CD. I say that this is Lizzie Roberts' version, that is in Sharp's collection. It looks the same to me. There are no additional notes provided with the Karpeles recording.

Another note of interest on this song is that Betty Smith, in her liner notes to her Folk-Legacy recording of "Songs Traditionally Sung in North Carolina", says about her version of "Black is the Color"
that she got it from Sharp's collection and that it is Lizzie Roberts' version. She goes on to say this about Evelyn Ramsay's version (printed in the discussion above): "I asked her who she had learned it from and she told me she had learned it from Sharp's book, English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians."

Sheila Adams has said that she learned her version from Evelyn Ramsay, so there would seem to be a fairly direct line of descent here from Lizzie Roberts through Cecil Sharp to Evelyn Ramsay to Sheila Adams. It is unclear whether others in the Madison County area of North Carolina knew the song besides Roberts at the time Sharp was collecting. He gives no evidence of this. It does seem clear that Emma Hensley learned it from somewhere. Was her version from Sharp's book as well? It wasn't recorded until the 1950s. It may well be that Sharp was the one to have preserved this song, even in its own native area.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Bobby McMillon
Date: 25 Apr 06 - 05:01 PM

I learned "Dark is the Colour of My True Loves Hair" in my youth from Mrs. Mae Shults Phillips, originally from the McMillon Settlement, near Cosby, Tennesse in the Great Smoky Mountains. She told me that, as a school girl (prior to 1916, the year she married)she and her girl friends would sing this song as the boys passed by as if they were crying as they sang it, to tease the boys. Her tune was close, but with differences to the Roberts melody. Dellie Norton, of the Burton Cove, near Revere, NC, told me in 1976 that she knew it to begin both as "Black is..." and "Dark is...". The tune she sang was quite a bit different than the way Evelyn Ramsey sang it. She said it was originally called "Fair Pink". Her neighbor Cas Wallin sang the same tune, but his words were often different and had the verse about "I'd ruther make my home on some cold,icy lake", a verse found in "Midnight on the Stormy Deep" which, in turn, is related to "Earlye Earlye in the Spring". Mae Phillips sang her variant also to a tune in a faster, livelier tune in a major key, but which was longer than the one in a minor key, and is very close to the song Henry collected in neighboring Sevier Co. as well as two others that may be found in the Frank Brown Collection of NC Folklore. In 1988 I learned a version called "Come All Ye Girls of Adams Race" from Mrs. Rendie Smith (appx 88 years old) of Mollie, Columbus County, NC, near the coast. I believe there is a version that Leonard Roberts collected in Kentucky and included in his work "In the Pine". As to the question of "the Clyde" in this song, I have heard all that have been mentioned in the discussion as well as "I go to Christ...". On more than one occasion I've wondered if the "I go to Troublesome" verse couldn't possibly be "I go to trouble some, to mourn and weep" which certainly would be in context with the drift of the song.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: John Minear
Date: 26 Apr 06 - 07:36 AM

Bobby, I appreciate your response on this. It's obvious that others in the Madison County region (and also just over the mountain in Tennessee) who must have known "Black is the Color" besides Lizzie Roberts and just because Sharp didn't find them doesn't mean they weren't there. And the fact that there were different versions and relationships to other songs also current at the end of the 19th century would show that the more recent versions are not necessarily all dependent upon Sharp's collection. Your background on this puts the Roberts' version in a much clearer context, and nicely ties together the versions I posted earlier in this thread from Dellie Norton and the one collected by Henry, your own version, and Evelyn Ramsay's and Sheila Adams' versions. I'll have to go look up the versions in the Brown Collection. Surely I've seen them but I don't recall them at the moment. And I completely missed seeing the one in Leonard Roberts' collection from Kentucky! Thanks.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Declan
Date: 26 Apr 06 - 02:31 PM

Although there were older versions of the song floating around in Ireland, I can confirm that Hamish Imlach is acknowledged by Christy Moore's as the source for his version of the song. It was also recorded by Christy's younger brother Barry (now known as Luka Bloom) on his first album "Treaty Stone" in about 1978.

Barry (Luka) used a sort of a bluesy guitar riff behind the song which as far as I can remember is the way Hamish used to play it as well.

By the way Sean 'Ac Donnchadha mentioned above was a closed friend of Willie Clancy, so they may have learned the song from each other or for a common source. Willie was a well known traditional uileann piper from West Clare, so many people hearing him playing the tune might have assumed it was an Irish Traditional tune. In this case the song seems to have come to Ireland from the US rather than the other way around.

I have heard the great Irish flute player Matt Molloy playing "Dark is the Colour of my true loves hair" as a slow air. It certainly sounds traditional played in this style, but it could well be that Matt learned the tune from Willie Clancy.


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Subject: ADD Version: Pretty Little Pink
From: John Minear
Date: 08 May 06 - 05:24 PM

Here is "Pretty Little Pink" from Leonard Roberts' book IN THE PINE - SELECTED KENTUCKY FOLKSONGS (1978). He says that "The song was sung and tape recorded in 1957 by Doris Breeding, Adair County, learned from her mother." (pp. 234-235)

PRETTY LITTLE PINK

My pretty little Pink, so fare you well,
You slighted me, but I wish you well;
If you on earth no more I see,
I couldn't treat you like you have me.

The fairest face and the neatest hands,
The fairest face and the neatest hands,
The fairest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground where on she stands.

I would build my house on some mountain top.
I would build my house on some mountain top.
I would build my house on some mountain top.
Where the sun it failed to shine.

I will love you till the day I die,
I will love you till the day I die,
I will love you till the day I die,
To think of you it makes me cry.

The winter had broke and the leaves turned green,
The winter had broke and the leaves turned green,
The winter had broke and the leaves turned green,
And me, a poor boy, is going to be slain.

Come, my little Pink, come and see me die,
Come, my true love, come and see me die,
Come my dearest dea, come and see me die,
I will meet sweet Jesus in the sky.

And when you pass on by my grave,
So when you pass on by my grave,
And when you pass on by my grave,
You can view the green grass which over me waves.

I can't see any particular relationship between the tune that Leonard Roberts provides and the tune of the Lizzie Roberts version of "Black is the Color". But I am not trained to read music.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: John Minear
Date: 08 May 06 - 05:52 PM

In his headnote on "Pretty Little Pink", Leonard Roberts refers to Vance Randoph's OZARK FOLK SONGS, no 756. I haven't had a chance to look that one up yet. He also references Carl Sandburg's AMERICAN SONGBAG, p. 166, and some versions in the Frank Brown Collection of NORTH CAROLINA FOLKLORE, III, no. 78. The texts in the Brown Collection are under the title of "Coffee Grows on a White Oak Tree". Out of the nine versions mentioned by Brown, three refer to "little Pink", but don't seem to have anything else in common with the Kentucky version. The Sandburg version is similar to those in Brown, and he thinks that it goes back to at least the Mexican War as a marching song. The tunes published by Brown and Sandburg, as near as I can tell, don't seem similar to either Leonard Roberts' Kentucky version or to the North Carolina "Black is the Color" traditions.

Other than the reference to "little Pink", I don't see any connection between Leonard Roberts' Kentucky version and this other tradition of "Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees". I am also aware that there are other "Pretty Little Pink" songs. I don't think that they are directly related either.

There does seem to be a relationship between Leonard Roberts' Kentucky version and the one sung by Dellie Norton from Madison County, North Carolina, which is printed earlier in this thread. She has as her first verse the following:

My pretty little pink, so fare you well.
You've slighted me, but I wish you well.
If never on earth I no more see,
I can't slight you like you've slighted me.

She also has the verse:

The winter have broke and the leaves are green.
The time has passed that we have seen.
But I hope the time will shortly come,
Never you and I will be as one.

These are very similar to verses in the Kentucky version. Mike Yates recorded the Dellie Norton version on August 28, 1980. Leonard Roberts recorded Doris Breeding's version in 1957. While there are definite relationships with some of the verses, the two tunes don't seem to me to be similar at all. Dellie Norton uses a variation of the Lizzie Roberts' version of "Black is the Color".

Some of the verses in the Kentucky version also seem similar to those collected by Mellinger Henry in Tennessee. It seems to me like a number of songs have gotten mixed up here and have on occasion been reworked with other materials. It is still not clear to me that anyone has turned up anything that is directly parallel to the version that Cecil Sharp collected from Lizzie Roberts in 1916 in Hot Springs, NC. The Kentucky version from Doris Breeding was "learned from her mother". That would mean that it could easily go back into the 19th century, except we don't know when her mother learned it.

We have a number of tantalizing relationships and definitely a number of missing links in the transmission of this song, and as near as I can tell, nothing that we know for sure pre-dating Lizzie Roberts' version.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Jordi
Date: 17 Feb 07 - 11:11 PM

Black is the Colour is from John Jacob Niles unless you wanna change the lyrics and the tune.... Mr Malcolm Douglas has other ideas but they are all speculative with no fact and even the facts he has. have changes the lyrics and tune.... From the Christy Moore and John Jacob Niles versions that everyone loves....so unless you have something contructive to add Mr Douglas then pipe up...


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Jordi
Date: 17 Feb 07 - 11:18 PM

The song is called Black is the Colour nothing else not sailor boy or My pretty little pink fare thee well.... "Black is the Colour of my true loves hair"


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 17 Feb 07 - 11:20 PM

I think you may need to read this discussion a little more carefully, Jordi.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Jordi
Date: 18 Feb 07 - 12:04 AM

The discussion was where does Black is the color come from if you go to the Kentucky music musuem hall of fame you'll see that Jean Ritchies fame was not "Black is the Color of my true loves hair" whereas John Jacob Niles was.....

http://www.kentuckymusicmuseum.com/hall_of_fame.htm


Born April 28, 1892 in Louisville, Kentucky - Died May 1, 1980

Music played an important part in the early life of John Jacob Niles, and he would spend his life collecting, composing, and performing folk songs. By the age of 15 he had begun collecting songs in the Appalachian Mountains, a habit he would continue while serving as a ferry pilot in the U.S. Air Corps during World War I. Niles remained in France after the war, studying music at the Universite de Lyon and the Schola Cantorum in Paris.

He would continue his studies for two more years at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music upon returning to the United States. In 1921, he came to New York where he met the singer Marion Kerby. Kerby shared his love of folk music, so the two decided to work as a team, traveling throughout Europe and the United States.

Niles collected folk songs in the Southwest while working as a guide and chauffeur for photographer Doris Ulmann. During the '20s and '30s, he began publishing collections of folk songs, including Singing Soldiers (1927), Songs My Mother Never Taught Me (1929), and Songs of the Hill-folk (1934). In the '30s he began to perform solo, traveling widely and singing at high schools, churches, and colleges. He dressed in bright-colored shirts, wore corduroys, and sang in a striking, high falsetto. Barry Alfonso, recalling the first time he heard Niles on record, wrote, "Out of my stereo came his startling, other-worldly voice, the sound of someone enraptured — or maybe possessed. He seemed to embody his dire ballad, rather than to merely perform it."

Niles wrote a number of classic folk songs that are often mistaken for traditional material, including, "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair," "Go 'Way From My Window," and "I Wonder as I Wander." He recorded numerous albums, including Early American Ballads (1939) and American Folk Lore (1941). He also composed more formal music, writing the oratorio "Lamentation," which would receive its first performance at the Indiana State Teachers College in 1951. Between 1967 and 1970 he would compose a work based on the poetry of Thomas Merton titled "The Niles-Merton Songs." The Songs of John Jacob Niles was published in 1975 and Niles would continue to perform publicly until two years before his death in 1980. Part Renaissance man, part traveling minstrel, Niles left an invaluable body of recordings, folk song collections, and compositions behind. His work has greatly aided the preservation and continued vitality of American folk culture.


(1922 -    ) Viper, KY

Mountain Dulcimer Performer, Folk Singer, Songwriter. Jean Ritchie was the youngest of 14 children from a well-known family of traditional singers. Jean's father taught her to play the Mountain Dulcimer and she was first recorded in 1948. A Fullbright Scholar, her 1952 release Jean Ritchie Singing Traditional Songs of Her Kentucky Mountain Family, was the first folk recording to be issued on the Electra label.


Folklorist Alan Lomax recorded Ritchie's songs for the Library of Congress Folksong Archives. Her light voice and simple arrangements have made her very popular. Ritchie's composition, My Dear Companion was recorded by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton in 1987. Over the years, Jean Ritchie's name has become synonymous with excellence in traditional music.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Nellie Clatt
Date: 18 Feb 07 - 04:39 AM

I can't understand this reverence some of you have for JJ Niles, to me he sounded like a feckin howling banshee, and claimed to have written a lot of songs collected from the tradition.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Kevin L Rietmann
Date: 12 Mar 07 - 07:49 PM

To perhaps illuminate the origins of this song, Click Here. This is an introduction to the tune from Liam O'Flynn, the piper who was a close friend of Willie Clancy's. Date of recording was late 1972, about six months before Willie died. As he says the words were known in Ireland but the tune was lost, and his source in Warsaw was an American girl whose parents or grandparents were Irish. Liam I think had formed Planxty with Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, and Christy Moore by this time, so certainly Christy could have had a chance to learn this from Liam or Willie. Never heard his take or Hamish's so I can't say which one it resembles more.
From the liner notes of Seán 'ac Donnchadha's LP An Aill Báin: The White Rock (Claddagh CC9), liner notes by Seamus Ennis = "Dark is the Colour of My True Love's Hair. I had already heard this song sung by Robin Roberts of New York, to her own guitar accompaniment, but to another tune, when Willie Clancy of Miltown Malbay, County Clare, brought it home from a folk-festival in Warsaw in the 1950s, and played it on the Uilleann pipes for me. Many of us fell immediately in love with the tune and Seán made sure to learn the words of the song too. He tells me it is now one of his favourites when he is in the mood for this type of song."


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Kevin L Rietmann
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 12:24 AM

Sorry, meant to say origins of the song in Ireland.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 13 Mar 07 - 11:50 AM

Niles was a showman. He butchered a cello and made a dulcimer out of it. His voice was supposed to emulate a traditional Appalachian singer.

If he wrote "I Wonder as I Wander", "I Met Her In Venezuela", "Lass From the Low Countree",
"If I Had a Ribbon Bow", "In My Little Cabin", "Go 'Way From My Window".....he was one helluva great songwriter.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: ADD Version: Black Is the Color
From: Fiddlin' Jim
Date: 30 Dec 07 - 04:37 PM

BLACK IS THE COLOR

I learned this in the late 1950s from a field recording in the possession of the late Bil Godsey, Champaign, Illinois . (see http://www.riverfronttimes.com/1999-08-25/news/strip-search/4)

It was sung by a Missouri woman with a guitar, in very loose time, almost like John Jacob Nile's dulcimer style. It bears no resemblance to Niles's famous "Black is the Color," nor to any other song I've heard, nor have I ever heard anyone else sing it.

BLACK IS THE COLOR

Chorus:
Black, black is the color of my true love's hair,
His face is like some lilly fair.
If ever he returns it will give me great joy,
For none can I love but my sweet sailor boy.

Oh Ma, oh Mother, go build me a boat
That I may on the ocean float,
And call to the ships as they pass by,
Tell me, pray, have you seen my sweet sailor boy.

She built her a boat on the deep, deep main,
And she spied three ships come out from Spain,
And she called to the captain as they passed by,
Tell me, pray, have you seen my sweet sailor boy?

Chorus.

"Oh no," said the captain, "That never can be,
"For your love was drowned in the deep salt sea,
"There off Rock Island as we passed by,
"It was there that we lost your sweet sailor boy."

She stove her boat into the rocks,
And I thought that the poor lady's heart was broke.
She wrung her hands and she tore her hair
Just like someone in deep despair.

Chorus.

Go dig me a grave both wide and deep,
Place a marble slab at my head and feet,
And on my breast place a mourning dove
To show to the world I died for love.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 31 Dec 07 - 05:47 AM

Jim,
What you have there is a song usually known on this side of the Atlantic as 'A Sailor's Life', with a bit of 'Died For Love' thrown in.
We recorded it on numerous occasions from Irish Travellers and used the title for an album of them (Early In The Month of Spring).
This is the version we got from Kerry Traveller Mikeen McCarthy, along with our note when we re-issued the cassette as 'From Puck To Appleby'

2 - Early in the Month of Spring
(Roud 273, Laws K12) Mikeen McCarthy

Oh, 'twas early, early in the month of spring,
When my love Willie went to serve the king;
The night was dark and the wind blew high,
Oh, that parted me from my sailor boy.

"Oh, then, father, father, build me a boat,
It's on the ocean I mean to float,
To watch those big boats as they pass by;
Have they any tidings of my sailor boy?"

Oh, she was not sailing but a day or two,
When she spied a French ship and all her crew,
Saying, "Captain, Captain, come tell me true,
Oh, does my love, Willie, sail aboard with you?"

"Oh, what colour hair has your Willie dear?
What kind of clothes do your Willie wear?"
"He've a bright silk jacket and it trimmed all round,
And his golden locks they are hanging down."

"Oh. indeed fair lady, your love is not here,
For he is drownded, I am greatly feared,
For in yon green island as we passed by,
Oh. we lost nine more and your Willie boy."

Oh, she wrung her hands and she tore her hair,
She was like a lady all on despair,
She dashed her small boat against the rocks,
Saying, "What will I do if my love is lost?"

Oh, I'll write a letter and I'll write it long,
In every line I will sing a song,
In every line I will shed a tear,
And in every verse I'll cry, "Willie dear."

"Oh, then, father, father, dig me my grave,
Oh, dig it long, both wide and deep,
Put a headstone to my head and feet,
And let the world know it was in love I died."

English folk-song scholar, A L Lloyd, in his note to the Sussex version of this, entitled A Sailor's Life, pointed out that this is often com¬bined with Died For Love, although he held them to be two different songs. He might also have added that is has become entangled with several other songs, including The Butcher Boy and Black is the Colour.
The evocative 'month of spring' opening line can also to be found in the version recorded from Traveller Lal Smith in 1952, which is hardly surprising as Mikeen and Lal's families were closely associated in Mikeen's youth. Lal's father, Christie Purcell, was a showman who, among other occupations, ran a travelling theatre company (known in Ireland as a Fit-Up). They performed plays such as East Lynne and Murder in the Red Barn around the towns and villages of rural Kerry in the nine¬teen thirties and forties and Mikeen and his three sisters participated in the productions as stage crew and as actors.
Mikeen learned the song from his father's singing and it was one that he sold on a ballad sheet when he was involved in that trade as a young man.

Ref: The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, R Vaughan Williams and A L Lloyd (eds.), Penguin Books. 1959.
Other CDs: Liz Jeffries - Topic TSCD 653; Phoebe Smith - Topic TSCD 661; Harry Cox -Rounder CD 1839.

Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Q
Date: 31 Dec 07 - 12:26 PM

Malcolm Douglas reproduced comments by Vaughan Williams and A. L. Lloyd in the Penguin book in thread 22870: A Sailors Life .
The version from the Penguin book is posted in that thread.
Malcolm Douglas added notes in his revision of the Penguin book, "Classic English Folk Songs," EFDSS.

A Sailor's Life, Died for Love and its derivative, Tavern in the Town, and others, have been joined to Black Is the Color (see post by John Minear 06 Aug 02, above, for a version that is relatively free of the older English songs) by singers for some 100 years.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
From: GUEST,Listener
Date: 08 Oct 08 - 07:26 AM

l love this song its one of my favourites.It has so much meaning


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Subject: RE: Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
From: Brian Peters
Date: 06 Jan 12 - 10:21 AM

I looked up this old thread in the course of researching the Sharp / Karpeles Appalachian collection, and thought I should clear up a couple of points. Some way up above, my good friend John Minear wrote:

"In the early 1950's Maud Karpeles made a return trip to the Southern Appalachians to see if she could find any of the singers that she and Cecil Sharp had visited earlier. This time she took a recording machine. She found Lizzie Roberts and recorded her singing "Black is the Color"...

This is an incorrect statement and I would like to clear up my mistake. Maud Karpeles recorded Emma Hensley (Mrs. Donald Shelton) of Carmen, N.C. singing Lizzie Roberts' version of "Black is the Color" in the 1950s. This is on the Folktrax 908 CD. I say that this is Lizzie Roberts' version, that is in Sharp's collection. It looks the same to me.


I've corresponded with Mike Yates on this point, and you were right the first time, John. The track listings on that Folktrax release are inaccurate. It was Lizzie Roberts that MK recorded singing 'Black is the Colour' when she went back to Hot Springs in 1950 - we know this because she makes reference in her own account to Ms. Roberts' acquisition of a harmonium with which she accompanied the song, "completely spoiling the lovely tune." On the Folktrax release you can hear her sing it both with and without the harmonium - the defiantly major-key accompaniment sounds almost comically strange, if you're used to the unaccompanied version.

The Folktrax track listing for this album is all over the place, I'm afraid. It lists Emma Shelton both under her married name, and her maiden name of Hensley, and incorrectly attributes several tracks. Tracks 1, 2 and 19 - all credited to 'Emma Hensley' seem to be Lizzie Roberts. Track 20 ('Dear Companion') is credited to 'Ella (sic) Shelton', but is almost certainly Emma Shelton-Hensley, since the song as sung is identical to that Cecil Sharp collected from her mother Rosa. On the same grounds I would say the attribution of tracks 24 and 25 to Emma Shelton is correct, and the spoken piece (#22) describing her running away from the school that Sharp had assisted her to attend is definitely Emma too.

But what of tracks 14, 15 and 16, all attributed to 'Emma Hensley'? To me the voice here sounds harsher than the singer of the songs we can confirm as Emma's. Also, the version of 'Gypsy Laddie' at #14 is almost identical to that sung to Sharp by Becky Mitchell of Burnsville, NC, in September 1918, whereas this ballad doesn't appear anywhere else in the (quite extensive) Hensley family repertoire - and neither did the two 'jigs' at #15 and #16, come to that. I suspect that this is a different singer, but I suppose you'd have to go to the original recordings or Karpeles' diaries to be certain who it is.

Oh, and I would guess that the fiddle tunes at #3, yet again credited to Emma, are the work of her husband Donald Shelton, who contributes several other fiddle pieces. What a shambles!


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Subject: RE: Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
From: Brian Peters
Date: 06 Jan 12 - 01:11 PM

I said there were a couple of points to clear up; here's the other one.

Just in case anyone's as confused as I was about the relationship between the Lizzie Roberts recording, the Niles version and the various renditions by Irish singers, here's John Jacob Niles' version
And here's Christie Moore's version

What Christie is singing is very close to the Lizzie Roberts version, and the same goes for the Corrs, Sinead O'Connor, Cara Dillon and so on. Whereas if you look up the Joan Baez recording, she sang the Niles composition (and I reckon it's sufficiently different from the traditional one to be called 'a composition'). Someone further up the thread suggested that Willie Clancy popularised the song in Ireland, having learned it from Jean Ritchie, and Jean herself said that she'd learned it from her sisters who had been at Berea college, and most probably learned the Cecil Sharp / Lizzie Roberts version there.

So there we have it: Lizzie Roberts' 'Black is the Colour', collected in Hot Springs, Madison County, North Carolina, has joined 'The Wild Rover' and 'Dirty Old Town' as another 'Honorary Irish' song. It's probably been obvious to everyone else for years, but I thought I'd share it anyway.


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Subject: RE: Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
From: MtheGM
Date: 07 Jan 12 - 12:19 AM

I once had a piece in Folk Review, suggesting that the somewhat garbled 2nd line of Black Is The Color, common to Lizzie Roberts, Niles, et al, of 'rosy fair', seemed to furnish a, perhaps remote, echo of Edmund Spenser's song to Elisa, Queen of the Shepherds, obviously a pastoral idealisation of Queen Elizabeth I, in the April eclogue of his The Shepheardes Calender [sic, 1579]:

"The redde rose medled with the White yfere,
In either cheeke depeincten liuely chere." [sic spelling passim].

(The red rose mixed together with the white paint lively cheer in each of her cheeks)

'Yfere' meant 'together' ~~ no connection with fairness, but would sound so. {A pretty-well obsolete word even when Spenser was writing ~~ he acknowledged a great debt to Chaucer, his 'well of English undefiled', who flourished 200 years earlier, and so affected an obsolescent style and vocabulary.}

Probably a fanciful association; but perhaps just worth taking into consideration as a possible distant source. The chiming redolence of 'rosy fair' with 'rose ... yfere' raises a distinct echo in my mind. Could Spenser's pastoral 'shephearde' Hobbinol, singing in praise of an idealised Gloriana, have descended through who knows what anfractuous ways, to Mrs Lizzie Roberts in N Carolina singing in praise of an unnamed narrator's dark-haired love?

~Michael~




~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
From: Lighter
Date: 07 Jan 12 - 10:23 AM

Isn't "roses fair" or "rose so fair" more likely?


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Subject: RE: Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
From: John Minear
Date: 07 Jan 12 - 04:30 PM

Brian, thank you so much for the clarification on the Lizzie Roberts/Emma Hensley Shelton version of "Black is the Color." I think I really wanted that to be Lizzie Roberts singing her version of that song! And I am very glad to know that it was her! Those recordings are so valuable, but so frustrating. Please pass along my thanks to Mike Yates for helping to clear this up. It would be really helpful if somebody could start a new thread and publish a corrected track listing (as near as possible) for both volumes of the Karpeles collection.

And while I have not read back over this entire thread yet, I am wondering if anyone has been able to find a source for Lizzie Roberts' version? While its collection of verses probably evolved from a number of sources, the tune seems unique and the song as a whole seems to cohere in such a way as to suggest that it had been around for awhile. And it certainly is a different creature from the "Niles version" !


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Subject: RE: Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
From: Richard from Liverpool
Date: 07 Jan 12 - 04:35 PM

Christy Moore, in his book "One voice: My Life in Song" does indeed note that his version of this song is "from the singing of Hamish Imlach". He the following to say (along with some comments about Hamish Imlach himself):

"Once, I was standing in the queue outside the MSG [Manchester Sports Guild Folk Club] to hear Hamish Imlach. He walked down the street and, seeing me with a guitar case, he stopped to chat and then invited me in as his guest. It was the beginning of a long friendship that lasted until he died in the first minutes of 1996...

"This song was a mainstay of Hamish's set and I only started doing it when I returned to Ireland and off his patch. In recent years it has become part of the national repertoire. There is another fine version I heard sung by the late Lian Weldon. The words are quite similar but Liam's melody was a lot more dramatic and may have been based on a slow air of the same name that I heard Willie Clancy play on the pipes."


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Subject: RE: Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
From: John Minear
Date: 08 Jan 12 - 04:16 PM

Better late than not at all. I've quickly scanned this thread and I don't see a link to the Lizzie Roberts version, so here it is:

http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/english-folk-songs/southern-appalachians%20-%200355.htm

This is taken from the earlier and shorter collection that Sharp did with Olive Dame Campbell. I have been unable to find, quickly, which of these songs were collected by Campbell, before Sharp arrived. Surely that list must exist. I am curious to know if "Black is the Color" was perhaps collected by Campbell. Is there information about this in Sharp's notebooks by any chance. I've not found any mention on his part to Lizzie Roberts.


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