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historical fiction about folk singers?

MorwenEdhelwen1 15 May 11 - 05:34 PM
GUEST,mg 15 May 11 - 05:37 PM
katlaughing 15 May 11 - 05:43 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 15 May 11 - 05:44 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 15 May 11 - 05:46 PM
ChanteyLass 15 May 11 - 11:17 PM
Janie 15 May 11 - 11:37 PM
MGM·Lion 16 May 11 - 12:27 AM
Don Firth 16 May 11 - 01:18 AM
giles earle 16 May 11 - 02:04 AM
Splott Man 16 May 11 - 03:42 AM
Jack Campin 16 May 11 - 04:50 AM
open mike 16 May 11 - 05:44 AM
MGM·Lion 16 May 11 - 06:41 AM
Midchuck 16 May 11 - 06:47 AM
nickp 16 May 11 - 06:47 AM
nickp 16 May 11 - 06:48 AM
Don Firth 16 May 11 - 02:36 PM
Michael S 16 May 11 - 02:57 PM
GUEST,mg 16 May 11 - 03:19 PM
katlaughing 16 May 11 - 03:43 PM
GUEST,Jaze 16 May 11 - 06:26 PM
Susanne (skw) 22 May 11 - 09:31 AM
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Subject: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 15 May 11 - 05:34 PM

Does anyone know of any historical fiction about folk singers or the American folk music revival?


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 15 May 11 - 05:37 PM

isn't there something called the Banjo Trilogy by Elizabeth? I am not sure of the contents. I think it is science fiction. Ooops, you said histgorical fiction. mg


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: katlaughing
Date: 15 May 11 - 05:43 PM

It's the Songkiller Trilogy by Elizabeth Scarborough, but you're right...it's sci-fi/fantasy. Brill, though!


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 15 May 11 - 05:44 PM

Thanks mg. What is the author's full name?


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 15 May 11 - 05:46 PM

Thanks katlaughing. Anyone have any historical fiction?


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: ChanteyLass
Date: 15 May 11 - 11:17 PM

How about Jean Plaidy's "The Heart of the Lion," which includes the role of the minstrel Blondin in the rescue of King Richard the Lion-Hearted? There's also Norah Loft's "The Lute Player." Blondin might also appear in Pamela Kaufman's "The Shield of Three Lions" or one of the other two books that continue that series. Also, there's Viola in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night?" There are other minstrels in Shakespeare's plays.


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: Janie
Date: 15 May 11 - 11:37 PM

Lee Smith's "The Devil's Dream," probably doesn't qualify as historical fiction, but is loosely based on the the history of the Carter family.

The Devil's Dream


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 May 11 - 12:27 AM

ChanteyLass ~ I think rather Feste in 12th Night: tho not sure if that historical fiction rather than a play set in its time. In which case (using works from the past in which folk music/singing occurs) I should mention the novels of Thomas Hardy [esp Tess & Return Of The Native), & Mrs Gaskell's Mary Barton. {I had an article on Folk Music In Thomas Hardy in Folk Review for Dec 1972).

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 May 11 - 01:18 AM

Not historical fiction, but--

Ellis Peters is probably best known for her "Brother Cadfael" series (which IS historical fiction--a medieval monk who is also a detective, well played on television by Sir Derek Jacobi), but she also wrote a modern murder mystery that takes place at "The Follymead Folk Festival." Title, Black is the Colour of My True Love's Heart..

CLICKY

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: giles earle
Date: 16 May 11 - 02:04 AM

Whilst the book is not primarily about folk-singers, folk-song and folk-song collection are integral to the plot of 'Charles Jessold, considered as a murderer' by Wesley Stace. The novel is set in early 20th century England.

Of Stace's other novels, folk-song also raises its head (albeit holding a far smaller place in the story) in 'Misfortune'.


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: Splott Man
Date: 16 May 11 - 03:42 AM

Folk music is central to Mark Radcliffe's Northern Sky published a few years ago.


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 16 May 11 - 04:50 AM

Halldor Laxness's "The Happy Warriors" is kinda about this. Hero goes off to do heroic deeds accompanied by a bard to write about them (and it all goes wrong).


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: open mike
Date: 16 May 11 - 05:44 AM

Manly Wade Wellman wrote about a character "Silver John" who went about banishing evil with his silver-strung guitar in the Ballad of Silver John. We once did this as a musical play. It has lots of Appalachian songs in it.

Also Harold Bell Wright wrote Shepherd of the Hills which is set in the Ozarks and has some hill country music in it.

In the movies "Oh, Brother Where Art thou" and "Cold Mountain" and "Songcatcher" there is lots of traditional music..presumably these are based on books?


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 16 May 11 - 06:41 AM

Worth mentioning is the play Dark Of The Moon, based on a version of the Barbara Allen story --

Wiki says~~

---Set in the Appalachian Mountains and written in an Appalachian dialect, the play centers around the character of John, a witch boy who seeks to become human after falling in love with a human girl, Barbara Allen. Originally written by Howard Richardson in 1939 as a dramatization of the centuries old European folk song "The Ballad of Barbara Allen", it was first performed at the University of Iowa in 1942 under the title Barbara Allen.
In a rewrite by Richardson's cousin, William Berney, it was presented at the 46th Street Theatre in New York City on March 14, 1945, directed by Robert E. Perry. Although Dark of the Moon is not a musical, it was originally billed as a "legend with music" and characters do sing in most productions. Paul Newman and Richard Hart once played the role of John.---

I saw a v memorable London production by the then young Peter Brooke in about 1948; particularly recall performance by Sandra Dorne as the Fair Witch and Sheila Burrell as Barbara.

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: Midchuck
Date: 16 May 11 - 06:47 AM

When I was a teen-age geek in the '50s, before it was fashionable to be one, Wellman's "John" stories were one of the major influences in making me want to play guitar. It all went downhill from there. If I'd stuck with piano as my mother wanted me to, I'd now have a good job in a fancy bordello, with excellent fringe benefits.

Peter


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: nickp
Date: 16 May 11 - 06:47 AM

Insolent Breed by Borden Deal


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: nickp
Date: 16 May 11 - 06:48 AM

Although to be pedantic, Insolent Breed is about an oldtime fiddler


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: Don Firth
Date: 16 May 11 - 02:36 PM

Wow, Michael, that rings a bell!!

In late 1955 (having been playing the guitar and learning folk songs for all of about three years!), I got hauled into something that I was not especially prepared for, but managed to bring of rather well, apparently. If you will indulge me, this is an excerpt from the "memoir" thingy I'm writing.

Setting it up, I was back home in Seattle after being in Denver, Colorado for a couple of months, undergoing a course of intense physical therapy in an effort to reverse or alleviate the after-effects of polio at the age of two, and was due to go back in January of 1956.
A week or two after I returned to Seattle, I received a phone call from a young woman who was directing a play at the Cornish School of Allied Arts on Capitol Hill. I can't recall her full name, but one or two of my memory neurons insist that her first name was Maggie. I'm not sure where she got my name, but she wanted my help.

The play was "Dark of the Moon," by Howard Richardson. It was ostensibly based on a folk legend. It included a square dance scene, and at one point the female lead, a character named "Barbara Allen," sings the ballad Barbara Allen. The words tied in with the plot of the play, but they were radically different from the traditional Anglo-American ballad. The tune, though, was supposed to be the same as the most commonly heard version.

Maggie said she didn't know much about folk music, but since the play sprang from a folk ballad and depended on it, she wanted the music to be as authentic as possible. Would I be willing to act as music director?

I asked her what all this would involve.

First, she needed musicians and singers to accompany the folk dance scene. She asked me if I could find some for her. She wanted two folk musicians, one a guitar player and the other a 5 string banjo player, and, if possible, a fiddle player. I could be the singer-guitarist if I wanted, or I could find someone else. Also, she felt she needed someone to coach the female lead on how the ballad should be sung.

The idea of appearing in a play, especially doing something I felt more or less able to do, such as singing and playing the guitar, was very tempting. I knew some songs appropriate for "play parties" and square dances and could handle the guitar part. Nevertheless, my first impulse was to decline. I saw a couple of problems right away.

First, even though I had learned a lot about folk music recently, I was just beginning to get a glimmer of how little I knew and how much I still had to learn. As for being any kind of music director, I felt totally inadequate.

Second, as far as I knew, the nearest we had to 5 string banjo player around Seattle was Ken Manus. Ken played blues guitar but he had dinked around a little on the 5-string banjo. He knew a bit about 4-string plectrum banjo (instruction books were available), but the 5-string folk banjo was a mystery. What was that odd-ball 5th string all about? The shortest and highest in pitch, it was up there where the basses were supposed to be. Even though I had watched Pete Seeger carefully at the Wesley House concert – from about sixty feet away – I still didn't know what he was doing with his right hand*.

And a fiddle player? I knew a couple classical violinists, but no country fiddle players at all.

I told her of the problems and voiced my misgivings.

Well, she said, at worst, I knew more about folk music than she did. She had a nagging feeling that there was something not quite right about the way they had been rehearsing the scene, but she didn't know what it was. Would I at least sit in on a rehearsal and offer whatever suggestions I could?

At Spears, between physiotherapy sessions while I was supposed to be resting, I had been going through John and Alan Lomax's Folk Song U. S. A. and Carl Sandburg's American Songbag, not just learning songs, but reading up on their backgrounds, musical aspects, suggestions for performing, and all that. Of all the people I could think of, I probably knew at least as much as anyone else. Possibly more. I agreed.

A few days later, in the theater at Cornish School, I watched the rehearsal. Once I saw what they had been doing, I realized that my knowledge was not inadequate. They did need help, and I knew right off what the main problem was.

The square dance itself would work fine.   Someone who knew square dancing had already coached the actors, and they had practiced the dances using records. They could bring them off with authenticity and exuberance. Songs like Skip to my Lou and Old Joe Clark would fit perfectly. All they needed were live musicians.

I could handle the singing and guitar part. For my own authenticity, I would hide my modern aluminum forearm crutches and use an old pair of wooden crutches on stage. No problem. I just had to talk Ken Manus into trotting out his banjo and bringing it, and himself, on stage.

The big clinker was the way the female lead sang the ballad. The words tied in with the play, and she had those memorized okay. Instead of
In Scarlet Town where I did dwell. . . .
it started out
A witch boy from the mountain top. . . .
Weird! The version of the ballad used in the play, and the play itself, dealt with witchcraft, rape, and other dark deeds – the sort of thing that Stephen King would write in years to come. It was something like "Rosemary's Baby," but set in the southern mountains.

Someone had given the female lead a record with the traditional version – more or less – of Barbara Allen on it, so she could learn the melody. The problem: it was the version recorded by Josh White.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Josh White. Quite the contrary. He was an exceptional singer and a blues guitar virtuoso.   Blues were his strong point, along with songs and ballads from the African-American tradition, such as his full-length recording of the song and legend of John Henry*. He also sang some songs he had learned from Billie Holiday, whom he had accompanied from time to time.

But Anglo-American ballads were not his métier. The Josh White records that came out in the early Fifties contained his usual powerful and compelling material; but several of them included a traditional Anglo-American or British ballad, like Barbara Allen or Lord Randal. They were recorded in an almost exaggerated blues style quite inappropriate for those particular ballads. Josh White was much too tasteful a musician to have included these ballads on a basically blues record, especially sung in that style, unless he was under a lot of pressure to do so. It was probably at the insistence of some record company executive or producer (who have been known to do such things) in a misguided effort to widen the audience for Josh White's records. And, of course, increase their sales.

So instead of singing in the straightforward, matter-of-fact manner typical of the way a young mountain girl would have sung a ballad, "Barbara Allen" sang it with blue notes and sexy slides from note to note. The style might have been at home in some smoke-filled bistro. But not at a mountain barn dance.

I pointed that out.

Maggie jumped on it right away.

"That's it!" she said. "I knew something was not right about that. But that record was the only source we had."

I sang a few verses of the traditional ballad, first with guitar accompaniment, then without.

"The second way, without accompaniment, would be much better for the play," I said. "Much more like a real mountain folksinger would do it."

In my growing but as yet meager record collection, the only women folksingers I had were Susan Reed and Cynthia Gooding. I didn't have any records at all of unaccompanied ballad singing. I suggested that they check record stores, especially Campus Music and Gallery on University Way.

"They have a pretty good stock of folk records, and I've always found them helpful and accommodating," I told them. "If they have any records by Jean Ritchie, pick one up and study her style of singing. Learn to sing the ballad that way. She usually accompanies herself with a dulcimer, but to really sound authentic, don't use any accompaniment at all. Just solo voice."

Good! They would do that. In the meantime, I would try to corner Ken Manus.

The play was scheduled to open sometime around the middle of January. I was scheduled to check back into Spears on January 2nd. In the flurry of activities – parties, hoots, more guitar lessons with Joe Farmer (who had moved to Burien, south of Seattle, and opened his own music store), and especially the Cornish play – I had forgotten all about that. I would not be able to be in the play. I wouldn't even be able to see it. Damn and blast!

It took little persuasion to get Rae Creevey to take over the singer-guitarist role. Working at the Cirque Theater, albeit as a lighting technician, he was no stranger to the stage. And Ken Manus was game. He said he was real foggy about 5 string banjo folk technique and no way could he sound like Pete Seeger, but he was willing to give it a shot. If it didn't sound like a folk banjo, at least it would sound like a banjo.

All this was okay with Maggie. I sat in on the next couple rehearsals. The square dance was going to be good, and "Barbara Allen" was getting the hang of it. She was singing the ballad without accompaniment and she did a pretty fair impression of Jean Ritchie.

Early on Monday, January 2nd, I boarded a DC-6B at the Seattle-Tacoma airport and took off for Denver.

A few weeks later, I learned that "Dark of the Moon" was a memorable success and that the musical portions had come off especially well. And although I never saw a copy of the program, I was told that I received program credits as both Music Director and Folk Music Consultant.

© Copyright 2011, Donald R. Firth
Not too much of a thread drift, I hope. Just an aside spurred by the mention of "Dark of the Moon."

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: Michael S
Date: 16 May 11 - 02:57 PM

The Big Ballad Jamboree, by Donald Davidson, described here. The author taught literature at Vanderbilt. While he died in 1968, the book was not published until 1996. People who knew of the book presumed the manuscript was lost, but eventually it was discovered among his papers. Not the greatest novel, but it can be warm and funny, and it deals a lot with the tension between staying true to rural, folk-song roots or becoming a star. Definitely responsive to the request.


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 16 May 11 - 03:19 PM

There is a folk-opera I think about Melungeons in Appalachia..not sure if it is about folk musicians. Well, there is that George Clooney film also. mg


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: katlaughing
Date: 16 May 11 - 03:43 PM

Don, thank you for that excerpt!


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: GUEST,Jaze
Date: 16 May 11 - 06:26 PM

I thought of mentioning "Songcatcher" even tho it's not strictly fiction. Just glad someone else was braver.


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Subject: RE: historical fiction about folk singers?
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 22 May 11 - 09:31 AM

Britain: Brian McNeill has written two novels about a Scotsman busking in Germany and the Netherlands iirr, 'The Busker' and 'To Answer the Peacock'.


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