The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #47891   Message #848805
Posted By: John Minear
17-Dec-02 - 08:19 AM
Thread Name: Water Is Wide - First American Version
Subject: RE: Water Is Wide - First American Version
Frank, that is a very interesting piece of new information and pushes the dates around considerably, as well as the issue of where Pete got the song. From what you say, this would indicate that Pete was familiar with this song (probably{?}the version of "Waly, Waly" from Sharp's ONE HUNDRED ENGLISH FOLKSONGS) before he heard it from his sister, Peggy, who had apparently done her own editing, according to Pete's account posted above.

My guess is, and I'm trying to track it down at the present, that Pete must have combined his previous hearing of the recording with what his sister was doing, and began singing his version of it, adding his own last verse, of which he says, "It means an awful lot to me now because I keep thinking of the ocean of misunderstanding between human beings. And we can sing all sorts of militant songs, but if we can't bridge that ocean of misunderstanding we are not going to get this world together."

Perhaps it was Pete's version and singing that introduced the song to the revival. I know that Guy Carawan says that he learned it from Pete. In his liner notes from an early Folkways recording, "Songs With Guy Carawan", Guy says:

    "I learned this English folksong from Pete Seeger one day while we were driving along in a car in upstate New York. Later I had the opportunity to hear it sung in London by Shirley Collins - the very beautiful folksinger from Sussex, England."
Dick, I'm interested in two things:

1. Was the currently popular "Water is Wide" version ever sung traditionally in North America? So far, the answer seems to be "no", not until it was introduced during the "Folk Revival" of the '50's and '60's. There are scattered verses of "Waly, Waly" in the tradition but with other tunes (Cf. Sandburg, Sharp, Cox, etc.) But the familiar "Water is Wide" seems to go back to Cecil Sharp's collated, edited, and polished, published version in ONE HUNDRED ENGLISH FOLKSONGS.

2. If this is true, then who was responsible for introducting "The Water is Wide" to the folk revival. Was it Peggy Seeger? Or was it Pete Seeger? Or both, or others? Was it going strong in the British Isles before it was brought over here (during the revival)?

    The answer to the first question has to be traced through the written records, but the answer to the second question must still lie out there in the oral tradition. Frank's contribution is a great example of this. Thanks for all of your help, and lets hear more. T.O.M.