The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #143708   Message #3338725
Posted By: Brian Peters
15-Apr-12 - 02:25 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Child Ballads: US Versions Part 2
Subject: RE: Origins: Child Ballads: US Versions Part 2
Forgive me for obsessive scrutiny, Lighter, but's it's an interesting point of discussion.

"We do not know what proportion of "source singers" share this impractical, inessential, and even pedantic concern. What most appear to be interested in is the song and its associations...
And even those who are historically-minded may not *know* just how long a song (and in what version) has been in their family. If they believe a song to be old, it is easy to assert (not deceptively but innocently) that it's been in the family for a hundred or two hundred years."

My guess (given that many singers were not asked for their opinions) would be that the family associations were possibily as important as the content of the songs. The Coppers are an obvious - if arguably exceptional - example, but here is Carrie Grover, writing of her Nova Scotia family's singing tradition:

"My songs come from many sources. About 1811 my great-grandfather, William Hutchinson, was given a grant of land by the government on which he was required to build a public house half way between the towns of Windsor and Chester in Nova Scotia. Here my grandmother spent her childhood and girlhood and learned many songs from hearing them sung. She could even sing a bit in Indian and dance to her singing. Her mother, who came from England as a child, I believe, died when grandmother was twelve years old. Grandmother learned several old songs from her...

Of my father's side of the family I know very little beyond the fact that his grandfather, John Davis, came from Glenmorganshire [sic], Wales, and his mother from England. My great-grandfather Davis brought twenty-three of the Robin Hood ballads from Wales, three of which my grandmother remembered and taught to father."

Ms Grover's claim of songs having been sung by four generations of her family is not based on vague notion, but on specific information from her two grandmothers. Singers with sufficient historical interest to have written accounts conveying this degree of detail are unusual, but it's not unreasonable to suggest that songs were often passed on down the generations along with similar background information. I wonder how many of us can remember rhymes or sayings imparted to us by a parent, accompanied by: "My grandmother used to say / sing that"?

Returning, slightly obliquely, to the subject under discussion, Maggie Hammons was dismissive of collectors' insistence that her ballads like 'Young Hunting' and 'Hind Horn' originated in Britain, preferring to stress the family tradition behind her repertoire.