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Are ballad singers predominantly female?

Anne Neilson 02 Mar 10 - 02:32 AM
MartinRyan 02 Mar 10 - 03:13 AM
Jim Carroll 02 Mar 10 - 03:18 AM
MGM·Lion 02 Mar 10 - 03:36 AM
Tangledwood 02 Mar 10 - 03:38 AM
Spleen Cringe 02 Mar 10 - 03:46 AM
Anne Neilson 02 Mar 10 - 04:14 AM
Mary Humphreys 02 Mar 10 - 04:37 AM
GUEST 02 Mar 10 - 04:45 AM
Ruth Archer 02 Mar 10 - 04:50 AM
Andy Jackson 02 Mar 10 - 04:54 AM
Paul Davenport 02 Mar 10 - 05:07 AM
Smedley 02 Mar 10 - 05:08 AM
Suegorgeous 02 Mar 10 - 05:27 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 02 Mar 10 - 05:30 AM
Matt Seattle 02 Mar 10 - 06:13 AM
GUEST,Ed 02 Mar 10 - 06:25 AM
Brian Peters 02 Mar 10 - 06:36 AM
Matt Seattle 02 Mar 10 - 06:52 AM
GUEST,Ed 02 Mar 10 - 07:16 AM
Susan of DT 02 Mar 10 - 08:17 AM
RTim 02 Mar 10 - 08:32 AM
Bert 02 Mar 10 - 08:50 AM
The Villan 02 Mar 10 - 01:05 PM
GUEST,Steamin' Willie 02 Mar 10 - 01:16 PM
Anne Neilson 02 Mar 10 - 05:44 PM
Spleen Cringe 02 Mar 10 - 06:29 PM
Anne Neilson 02 Mar 10 - 06:48 PM
CET 02 Mar 10 - 07:42 PM
robinia 02 Mar 10 - 08:42 PM
Commander Crabbe 02 Mar 10 - 08:59 PM
Jim Carroll 03 Mar 10 - 05:08 AM
The Sandman 03 Mar 10 - 12:36 PM
robinia 03 Mar 10 - 12:45 PM
Anne Neilson 03 Mar 10 - 01:01 PM
Drumshanty 03 Mar 10 - 01:02 PM
Anne Neilson 03 Mar 10 - 01:21 PM
Anne Neilson 03 Mar 10 - 01:23 PM
Jim Carroll 03 Mar 10 - 03:19 PM
Mrs Scarecrow 03 Mar 10 - 03:42 PM
Goose Gander 03 Mar 10 - 04:04 PM
Bill D 03 Mar 10 - 05:11 PM
Anne Neilson 03 Mar 10 - 05:58 PM
Jim Carroll 03 Mar 10 - 06:17 PM
Goose Gander 03 Mar 10 - 06:42 PM
Art Thieme 04 Mar 10 - 01:25 AM
GUEST,Mike Yates 04 Mar 10 - 07:13 AM
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Subject: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 02:32 AM

Having just run 4 very well-attended ballad sessions (mainly teaching new material so far), Gordeanna McCulloch and I are struck by the fact that 95% of those signing up are female.
Can anyone suggest why this might be so? And does anyone else have other experience?

We're not worried -- just curious!


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: MartinRyan
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 03:13 AM

"teaching" is probably the keyword. In Ireland, certainly, women are far more likely to sign up for taught part-time courses than men - largely "irregardless" of the topic.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 03:18 AM

American researcher Sandy Ives once suggested to us that the great source ballad singers (maybe he was referring to the US) were predominently women.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 03:36 AM

I guess we men think we know it all already!


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Tangledwood
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 03:38 AM

Are ballad singers predominantly female?

The beards would suggest otherwise but who can really tell?


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 03:46 AM

For yer actual ballads, as opposed to the more general "mainly but not exclusively" traditional mixture we get, I'd say it was about half-and-half at our singaround, with the balance maybe slightly tilted towards the women. Having said that, one of the best moments I recall from our three years of existence was Dave B singing Tam Lin.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 04:14 AM

I've certainly heard many fine singers of ballads, though probably more females than males on balance (or maybe those are the performances that are more attractive to me?).
I'm thinking Jeannie Robertson, Lizzie Higgins, Lucy Stewart, Elizabeth Stewart, Belle Stewart, Sheila Stewart. And Jean Ritchie, Margaret MacArthur, Hedy West, Sheila Kay Adams. To my shame, I've not listened to much at all of Elizabeth Cronin or Sarah Makem or English singers.
And I've heard and seen many fine younger singers from the revival - Gordeanna, Heather Heywood, Chris Coe, Sara Grey, Judy Cook (and I'm sure I've missed out many more in the effort of concentration that typing is for me!).
Male singers of ballads whose performances have attracted me are more of a revival vintage (and I'm not producing a list).
But I was interested, in the original post, in the preponderance of women at our sessions - and the fact that almost half the participants were under 35. Could it be that younger men in traditional music are putting more of their energies into mastering instruments? And could that be something to do with role models?
If so, then what is it that might predispose us to these choices - does gender enter into it?


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Mary Humphreys
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 04:37 AM

Intriguing thought from EKanne re the preponderance of men instrumentalists vs women singers with a couple of notable exceptions (Eliza & Nancy). I have often wondered the same myself.
It is easy to practise singing whilst working in the home and caring for children. Playing a concertina or melodeon whilst changing nappies, doing the cooking or going shopping is impossible. So if women haven't learnt to play well before children come along, it is unlikely they will have the time until they have grown up.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: GUEST
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 04:45 AM

Playing a concertina or melodeon whilst changing nappies, doing the cooking or going shopping is impossible.

It's kind of hard whilst working or a building site, in an office, driving etc, etc.

What a stupid arguement.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 04:50 AM

Not really. Traditionally, men have had a much clearer line of demarcation between their work and their leisure time.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Andy Jackson
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 04:54 AM

I think Mary was simply saying that in a home environment it is easy and natural to sing while you are working. I think you would get a very strange response if you sang all day in the average workplace.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 05:07 AM

Interesting- most seem to be in the Ballad sessions we have run at Festivals about two thirds women to one third men, but Sheffield Ballad Club is 50 - 50 amongst the regulars.
Paul


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Smedley
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 05:08 AM

Not all women have, or want, children, of course.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 05:27 AM

In all the many voice/singing/song courses, workshops and classes I've done over the last 18 months - some folk-oriented, some not - women have always been in the majority. I suspect, to generalise, that men don't like learning in a group situation so much (the competitive thing?). And don't the stats say that girls usually do better in the classroom than boys?


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 05:30 AM

This is an interesting thread. When I come to think of it many of my favourite singers are women (including Mary H.). But it wasn't always so - when I was younger my 'fave raves' were Ewan MacColl and Bert Lloyd. Neither of those two played an instrument - and the idea that many recent male singers have tended to concentrate on the instrumental side of their act, rather than on their singing, might contain a germ of truth. Another explanation may be that many of these modern women singers actually 'get' traditional song - while many of the men really just want to be rock stars (Ooh er! Controversial!).

Then again many great female singers accompany themselves - Mary Humphreys, Shirley Collins, Alison McMorland and many Americans all use the banjo to great effect and Eliza Carthy's use of the fiddle as an instrument for self accompaniment is truly, and spine-tinglingly, incredible! I suppose I could make some facile remark about 'multi-tasking' - but I think I'll resist ...


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 06:13 AM

The same point emerged in the Border Ballad talk by Ted Cowan, and the discussion afterwards, which I went to in January. And the corollary was raised - if it is acknowledged that women were and are the main transmitters of Ballads, it is no great leap to infer that they were also the main creators of Ballads.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 06:25 AM

if it is acknowledged that women were and are the main transmitters of Ballads, it is no great leap to infer that they were also the main creators of Ballads.

Yes it is! It's a huge leap, and one that has no logical validity whatsoever.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 06:36 AM

Look at some of the greatest Scots ballad singers of the past: Anna Brown, Bell Robertson, and Bell Duncan. Anna Brown learnt her ballads in the 18th century, from an aunt who had in turn learned them from local women. Many singers seemed to have learned ballads as small children, from the singing of their mother - in the way that fairy tales were also passed on. Some academics have suggested that, in Scotland at least, ballad transmission was essential a female preserve, although that rather ignores male singers prominent in the Greig-Duncan and Carpenter collections.

To EKanne's list of great Scots ballad singers from the revival I could add Ellen Mitchell, Sylvia Barnes, Sheena Wellington and of course Anne Neilson herself. Big ballads, Scotland and womanhood seem to be a pretty potent combination!


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Matt Seattle
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 06:52 AM

"Yes it is! It's a huge leap, and one that has no logical validity whatsoever."

What has logic got to do with it? It's nothing to do with logic to say that men or women created ballads. We can be fairly certain that humans had a lot do to with it. Other than that, we make assumptions and/or look for evidence. The evidence here is 'circumstantial', an interesting inference was made, not a huge leap - history was not written or rewritten.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 07:16 AM

It's nothing to do with logic to say that men or women created ballads

It's kind of got everything to do with it, but there we go....


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Susan of DT
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 08:17 AM

The thread on Living Singers of Traditional Ballads in North America, refreshed, lists, if I have counted correctly, 83 men and 118 women.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: RTim
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 08:32 AM

I would bow to others greater knowledge of the past than mine to answer this question -
However, it seems to me, that today, there is less opportunity to sing Ballads.
Most places I sing one is almost EXPECTED to sing a chorus song, and but for venues like Paul Davenport's Sheffield Ballad session (which I have not been to!) I see all too few openings.
I love to sing Ballads, but even at a place like Pinewoods Camp Folk Music Week, one does not often get the chance!

Tim Radford (Massachusetts, USA)


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Bert
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 08:50 AM

Every one of them:-)


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: The Villan
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 01:05 PM

Maybe you should look at this.

http://digitaldreamdoor.nutsie.com/pages/best_balladsddd.html


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: GUEST,Steamin' Willie
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 01:16 PM

Yeah but a ballad denotes a story.

What if the story is boring?

At least with female singers, if you don't like the story you can fantasise about the singer..


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 05:44 PM

Aargh! Some ballad singers sing with their eyes shut - perhaps Willie should try listening with his eyes shut!
Anyway, another thought has occurred -- accepting that possibly more women than men sing ballads, is anyone else of the opinion that there is a difference in the type of ballad chosen by the sexes? Singers I have heard singing the more stripped-back, formulaic ballads (Lord Randall, Lizzie Wan etc.) have more usually been female; both sexes sing straight narratives (Tam Lin, Matty Groves etc.); sturdy songs of fighting or disputes (Otterburn, Sir Patrick Spens etc.) are more commonly sung by men.

Or am I just imagining all this? Perhaps there is someone out there who has heard a man singing 'The Cruel Mother'...


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 06:29 PM

Eek! I sang the Cruel Mother at our last singaround and sang a different version a few months back. Should I really leave that one to the wimmins?


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 06:48 PM

Only mentioned 'The Cruel Mother' as an example because of various (female) conversations with friends about how their attitudes to the central character had changed as they grew older.
No, I'm not saying that certain ballads are forbidden territory - I've been known to sing 'The Battle of Harlaw' and 'Sir Patrick Spens' - but I suppose I was wondering how far there was some unconscious selection process which guided male and female repertoire choices.
Just as there might be some strong unconscious impulse towards ballads for female singers.

But perhaps instead of being so fussed about it all, I should be grateful that anyone wants to sing ballads!


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: CET
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 07:42 PM

I doubt it has anything to do with any mystical notion about women being the transmitters of traditional song. The old traditional ways of transmitting music are pretty weak nowadays anyway. Most people learn songs by going to concerts or folk clubs or listening to recordings. Partly, it's no surprise that women predominate in any kind of arty, educational endeavour. Organize some workshops on poetry appreciation, or water colours, or pottery, etc, etc and you'll probably find that most of the punters are women. (Assuming that punters can be of both genders.) Secondly, there's the fact that women seem to like getting together in group to do non-competetive things more than men do. In Canada there's a chain of sporting goods stores called the Running Room that hosts free group runs every Sunday morning and Wednesday. I have run with them many times and I am always struck by the preponderance of women. It's not that men don't run - there are lots of them at any road race - but I think a lot of them are training on their own.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: robinia
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 08:42 PM

What about bothy ballads?   I have the opposite impression there, of an overwhelming male presence....


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Commander Crabbe
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 08:59 PM

No not really, I sing loads of them as my voice tends to suit them. Though I do sing other stuff as well.

CC


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 05:08 AM

Among Travellers, who were the main source of 'Big Ballads' in Ireland, the load was evenly spread between men and women.
Ballads like Lamkin, The Maid and the Palmer, Young Hunting, Lord Gregory, The Grey Cock... were all sung by men, while Lord Randall and Edward turned up mainly from women. The Outlandish Knight, probably the most common ballad from Travellers over here, turned up regularly from both, but mainly women.
Mary Delaney from Tipperary was one of the most skilful narrative singers we came across. She was blind from birth and sang in public from the age of four. Her disability and the fact that she raised fourteen children (and led a life that would supply the plot for a good Dostoevsky novel), somewhat limited her activities around the home or working at the traditional Traveller occupations, but she did make some money singing for crowds at fairs and markets and occasionally in pubs. The first money she ever earned was at a village concert in Tipperary, aged seven. She never participated in the trade of 'ballad selling'; the selling of printed song sheets (some traditional, others not) on the streets, particularly at animal fairs and markets , which was predominantly a Traveller occupation and persisted right up to the mid 1950s.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: The Sandman
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 12:36 PM

Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Smedley - PM
Date: 02 Mar 10 - 05:08 AM

Not all women have, or want, children, of course.
likewise:Not all men have,or want children, of course.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: robinia
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 12:45 PM

Still asking about those bothy ballads (from the northeast of Scotland); they do strike me as an understandably male specialty . . .


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 01:01 PM

Jim's list of male and female repertoire intrigues me - not entirely what I would expect! Did any of the travellers offer explanations of these selections?
For example, I think I would have expected to hear 'Lord Gregory' from a women singer.
And I wonder if Jim could suggest why 'Lord Randall', for example, was a woman's song.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Drumshanty
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 01:02 PM

I once asked, and was told that there are very few, if any, true bothy ballads written from the female point of view; although I would have thought that the kitchie deems would have sung as well...?

As far as the performance being a male "preserve", I know that the late King of the Bothy Ballads, Tam Reid, didn't approve of women singing them. Didn't stop them though; most bothy ballad competitions I've witnessed have always had female competitors. Indeed, Shona Donaldson came second in the Champion of Champions that took place in Elgin last month. I believe that she is only the second woman to grace that particular competition.

Still, robinia, I would agree that the overwhelming presence in the bothy ballad world is male.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 01:21 PM

Robinia, sorry I didn't pick up on your earlier post about bothy ballad singers. Yes, this is very much a male province, although Shona Donaldson came second in the recent King of the Bothy Ballads competition in North-East Scotland, having sung these songs for much of her life. But given that these songs originated with the male farm labourers on the large farms in that area, it's hardly surprising that most folk now think of them as men's songs.
But when I made the original post I was thinking about the big narratives that we sometimes call The Muckle Sangs (in Scotland) or, more generally, Child Ballads - the 305 gathered by Professor F. J. Child.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 01:23 PM

Sorry, Drumshanty -- cross ost.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 03:19 PM

EKanne;
One of the things I have noticed among field singers here in Ireland is the lack of demarcation between women's and men's songs. It is quite common for a man to sing a song from a woman's point of view, and vise versa.
The Lord Gregory I referred to came from John 'Jacko' Reilly' of Roscommon, recorded by Tom Munnelly - he knew it as 'Lord Googley'. The principle source of the ballad in Ireland was Mrs Cronin of County Cork, but since then it has appeared in the field a few times from (from memory), Mr Siney Crotty (Clare), Ollie Conway (Clare) and Tom Moran (Leitrim). We recorded a fragment of it from Kerry Traveller Peggy Delaney, who learned it from her father.
Lord Randal in its adult form is quite a rare ballad. We recorded it from Mary Delaney and her brother as Buried in Kilkenny (brother Paddy Reilly's version was included on the Voice of The People series.) I think that both of them learned it from their mother.
I must confess I have always regarded Lord Randal, a dialogue ballad, as neither male nor female.
There have been a little over fifty Child ballads recovered in Ireland over the last 40 years, some of them rareties (The Maid and The Palmer, Prince Robert, Sweet William and Fair Margaret, Young Hunting, Johnny Scot, The Demon Lover, The Green Wedding, Geordie.....). Some of them are due directly to the Scots presence in Ulster, but the Republic has proved a fruitful source. In this area (West Clare; Munster) the most popular ballads are Captain Wedderburn's Courtship, Lord Lovel, Lord Bateman and - most strangely, the one you can't throw a stone without hitting a singer of - The Suffolk Miracle.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Mrs Scarecrow
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 03:42 PM

My husband is one of the best ballad singers I know . I rarely sing a ballad. I usually accompany myself on the guitar he usually sings unaccompanied although he is quite capable of accompanying himself if he wishes.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 04:04 PM

I've heard that ballad singers in North America are predominantly female, don't remember where I read this, but I do recall that no quantification was offered. But let's see, off the top of my head, there's Doug Wallin, Cass Wallin, Dillard Chandler, Nimrod Workman, Frank Proffitt, Hobart Smith, Roscoe Holcomb, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Bill Cornett, J.D. Cornett, and I'm sure I'm forgetting many others, all of whom sang ballads, sometimes with accompaniment and sometimes not.

Not to mention coal miners and northern camp ballad singers.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Bill D
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 05:11 PM

After over 30 years in the FSGW (Greater Wash. DC folk society), I can say that similar numbers of men & women sang some ballads, but women tended to know MORE ballads and do them more often. When I start to make a list of 'ballad singers' I know personally, the list is 90% female.

Me? I only regularly do 4-5 different ballads.....I like and listen to many more.


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Anne Neilson
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 05:58 PM

Maybe Bill D's post provides a clue -- might there be a perception that there are more female ballad singers because they sing more and different ballads? Although we would be no nearer to knowing why they would want to! (Mind you, I've a memory from another thread that Jim said that Ewan MacColl sang over 100 ballads, but he was a very special case and should probably be excluded from any debate.)
Jim, thanks for your detailed answer; there's something lurking at the back of my mind, but I may need to sleep on it.
And thanks to everyone else for being so good as to engage with this question - it's giving me plenty of food for thought!


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 06:17 PM

MacColl sang 137 of the Child ballads - some of them in multiple versions.
On the other hand, he was a revival singer who researched and rebuilt many of them. Even some of the ones he learned from members of the family were only got in partial form and were fortified from print - the Peter Buchan collection being his favourite source.
American ballad singers.
There are some wonderful American ballad singers - Texas Gladden, Emma Dusenbury, Rena Hicks, Buna Hicks, Hattie Presnell, Lena Harmon, Bertha Baird spring to mind.
Some of the best ballad singing I have heard has been from the early Library of Congress recordings - well worth digging out - I am told that they are still available.
There is an excellent article based on the lives of the last five women I mentioned entitled 'Some Ballad Folks'. Happy to pass on a copy to anybody interested.
Also, the late Dr Hugh Shields traced the progress of the Irish version of Lord Gregory for an international ballad organisation, also happy to pass that on - pm me.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 03 Mar 10 - 06:42 PM

Jim just reminded me that since ballad singing runs in families, there are counterpoints to his list - Hobart Smith, brother of Texas Gladden; Lee Monroe Presnell, both her father-in-law and great uncle to Hattie Presnell; Johnny Ray Hicks, related to Buna and Rena Hicks?


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 04 Mar 10 - 01:25 AM

Right off the top, a few of my favorites of the USA trad ballad singers are Emery DeNoyer, Horton Barker, Aunt Molly Jackson, and Lee Monroe Presnell.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Are ballad singers predominantly female?
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 04 Mar 10 - 07:13 AM

When Cecil Sharp was in the Appalachians (1916 - 1918)he mainly collected ballads from women singers. He did collect some ballads from men, but, as I say, the majority of his singers were women. When I questioned Appalachian people about this (in the late 1970's - early 1980's) the most common answer was that "the men were probably away, working elsewhere." I don't know if this was true or not, but it does give us something to consider.


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