The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #47891   Message #850369
Posted By: John Minear
19-Dec-02 - 10:44 AM
Thread Name: Water Is Wide - First American Version
Subject: RE: Water Is Wide - First American Version
As far as we know, it would seem that the tune for today's popular version of "The Water is Wide" can be traced back to Mrs. Caroline Cox, of High Ham, Somerset, and was "collected" from her by Cecil Sharp on August 8, 1905. This tune, with these lyrics, does not seem to show up anywhere in the North American traditions until the mid-twentieth century folk music revival. Both of these statements are very tentative and begging for correction if anyone has additional information.

In reading the article by Mr. J.W. Allen, entitled "Some Notes On 'O Waly Waly'", published in the JOURNAL OF THE ENGLISH FOLK DANCE AND SONG SOCIETY, Vol. VII, No. 3, December, 1954, pp. 161-171, I came across two interesting references. In his discussion of Mrs. Cox's song, Allen says, "a similar tune to this occurs in a version of "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor" and again in a version of both(sic) "Young Hunting", from the Appalachians."(p.163)

Mr. Allen is referring to Cecil Sharp's collection in ENGLISH FOLK SONGS FROM THE SOUTHERN APPALACHIANS. There are two versions of "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor" that are interesting. The first one was sung by Mrs. Hester House at Hot Springs, NC, on September 14, 1916 (Sharp's No. 19, A). With my limited ability to read music, I would say that the first phrase (first two full measures) of Mrs. House's song is definitely similar to the opening phrase of Mrs. Cox's song. The rest of the tune does not seem similar.   

Sharp also collected a version of "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor" from Mrs. Rosie Hensley, at Carmen, NC, on August 8, 1916 (Sharp's No. 19, C). He only gives the tune in this case. I would say that Mrs. Hensley's whole tune is definitely reminiscent of Mrs. Cox's tune. The timing is somewhat different, but the similarity is there. Both of these versions come from Madison County, North Carolina.

Sharp collected a version of "Young Hunting" from Mrs. Margaret Dunagan at St. Helen's, Lee County, Kentucky, on September 5, 1917. Once again, the tune seems to be related to that of Mrs. Cox's song, especially the opening phrase, which is so distinct.

I would invite those of you who are more able to read music and have access to Sharp's Appalachian and English collections to take a look at these three examples and compare them to the tune he collected from Mrs. Cox in Somerset and tell us what you think. If the tunes are related then that would give us some evidence that at least the tune was in the North American tradition, probably in the 19th century, even though, like the verses of "Waly, Waly" it seems to have traveled from song to song.

Does anyone know of other examples of Mrs. Cox's tune in the British or Irish traditions? Does it show up with other lyrics? Thanks. T.O.M.