The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #47891   Message #806877
Posted By: John Minear
19-Oct-02 - 05:24 PM
Thread Name: Water Is Wide - First American Version
Subject: RE: Water Is Wide - First American Version
I've been doing some work on "The Water is Wide". Let me state at the outset that I'm only interested in this one particular song rather than the much broader family of songs that has been widely discussed on Mudcat. As near as I can tell, this is one of the more recent threads on the topic, so I decided to jump in here.

I want to focus on Malcolm's comments that the widely recorded and perhaps most familiar versions of "The Water is Wide" can be traced back to a version collected (and collated with others?) by Cecil Sharp from Mrs. Caroline Cox, of Somerset, in 1905. He has suggested that it may have been introduced into the "Folk Revival" by Peggy Seeger, who may have gotten it from Cecil Sharp's printed collection, and handed it on to Pete Seeger.

I am interested in trying to pin this down if possible. Was Peggy Seeger the one who introduced this song to the Revival? What is the earliest recording we know about in the U.S. of this version? And the earliest in print? As Malcolm mentioned above, Pete Seeger published it in his book, American Favorite Ballads, p. 77 (1961).   Interestly enough, Pete says on page 4 that this song comes "from "English Folk-songs from the Southern Appalachians" by Cecil Sharpe(sic)..." Surely this is a mistake.

Malcolm points out that Sharp did collect a two verse version of "Waly, Waly" in the Southern Appalachians, but did not publish it, at least in this particular collection. Is that correct? I sure don't remember coming across either "The Water is Wide" or "Waly, Waly" in my work with these volumes. I don't have access to them at the moment so I can't double check on this. I'm assuming that Seeger made a bibliographic mistake here. In the headnotes to the song he simply says, "Another song from England, collected by Cecil Sharp many years ago and titled by him "Waillie, Waillie."

I also don't have access to Sharp's collection of English songs. Did he incorporate any of the unprinted Appalachian version into his collation? I apologize for making work for the rest of you, but I can't get to the library for awhile to check this out.

I did not find "The Water is Wide" in Peggy Seeger's older songbook published by Oak. Has she published it some place else?

And, I have not been able to check out the Almeda Riddle reference. Apparently she recorded this song in the 1970's. Malcolm mentioned that he did not know where she got it from. She could easily have picked it up from the revival singers (I always think of Billy Graham!)on a recording or live. She learned lots of songs from lots of different places, even though she was a "traditional ballad singer".

So, I have basically two questions: 1. Are there any "early" American versions of Cox's "The Water is Wide"? - I have not found any in all of the collections I have looked at - and, 2. If it didn't get here until the Great Revival, who brought it over and when?

Malcolm may already have said all that can be said on this subject. I appreciate your clear work on this, Malcolm. Thanks. T.O.M.