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NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers

Desert Dancer 18 Aug 11 - 04:02 PM
Thomas Stern 17 Aug 11 - 05:08 PM
curmudgeon 17 Aug 11 - 06:06 PM
Martha Burns 18 Aug 11 - 01:24 AM
nickp 18 Aug 11 - 04:39 AM
Desert Dancer 18 Aug 11 - 11:48 AM
GUEST,schlimmerkerl 18 Aug 11 - 04:51 PM
peregrina 18 Aug 11 - 05:15 PM
fretless 18 Aug 11 - 05:29 PM
peregrina 18 Aug 11 - 05:52 PM
Stewart 18 Aug 11 - 06:40 PM
Desert Dancer 18 Aug 11 - 11:26 PM
GUEST,Lighter 19 Aug 11 - 10:17 PM
Desert Dancer 20 Aug 11 - 11:38 AM
Arkie 20 Aug 11 - 12:00 PM
GUEST,Sherry Minnick 20 Aug 11 - 03:57 PM
Kent Davis 20 Aug 11 - 10:40 PM
Kent Davis 20 Aug 11 - 10:57 PM
Desert Dancer 21 Aug 11 - 11:44 AM
Howard Jones 21 Aug 11 - 01:01 PM
Kent Davis 23 Aug 11 - 06:50 PM
Desert Dancer 24 Aug 11 - 11:52 AM
Kent Davis 27 Aug 11 - 01:05 AM
Desert Dancer 04 Dec 11 - 01:50 PM
GUEST 04 Dec 11 - 02:31 PM
Desert Dancer 04 Dec 11 - 02:54 PM
peregrina 04 Dec 11 - 03:30 PM
Lighter 04 Dec 11 - 05:48 PM
GUEST,BigDaddy 05 Dec 11 - 04:01 AM
Dave Ruch 05 Dec 11 - 01:45 PM
Desert Dancer 05 Dec 11 - 02:35 PM
Dave Ruch 05 Dec 11 - 03:00 PM
Desert Dancer 06 Dec 11 - 02:54 PM
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Subject: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 04:02 PM

I haven't had a chance to listen/view yet, but this looks interesting:

Ballad Singers Set Life To Music

"Ballads have been a part of Appalachian culture since the earliest English and Scotish settlers moved into the mountains more than 300 years ago. They were passed down through the oral tradition, which is pretty much extinct in the U.S.

"NPR Intern Edition reporter Laurin Penland caught up with her relatives, who still sing the old songs."

Audio and video at the link.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 17 Aug 11 - 05:08 PM

hear the full story doesnt produce anything - has it been deleted?
Thomas.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: curmudgeon
Date: 17 Aug 11 - 06:06 PM

refresh


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Martha Burns
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 01:24 AM

Thanks, Becky. You're always coming up with interesting things. I checked out your link. There's a minute-and-a-half video that starts with a young woman who must be the NPR intern Laurin Penland singing something not too terribly impressively and then goes to Sheila Kay Adams singing a snippet of "The Sailor Being Tired."

Underneath is a widget for the full six-and-a-half-minute NPR story. I'm not getting any sound from that, though. Wonder if that's just my computer or if the problem is with the website.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: nickp
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 04:39 AM

I can't get the audio either - although the timer moves. Shame, it seems like it'd be realy interesting.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 11:48 AM

Hmm... me neither. I'll try to contact them.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: GUEST,schlimmerkerl
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 04:51 PM

In any case, NPR is missing the boat unless they included the finest "current" southern ballad singer of them all: Elizabeth LaPrelle.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: peregrina
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 05:15 PM

Martha, I think that the singer just before Sheila Kay Adams is Melanie Rice, not Laurin Penland. NPR is not missing the boat, guest! Laurin is the daughter of singer Joe Penland who himself learned the ballads on the Wallins' porch. I thought this was a lovely piece, but the point was not ballad singing on its own--in which case of course La Prelle would have been a fine choice,--but rather it was about how the old songs are still being passed down in the same families and communities. For example, in the shots on the porch, Sheila Kay Adams and Melanie Rice referred to Dillard [Chandler] and the piece also illustrated the youngest singer, a child, getting to hear the ballads sung around the house in the hope that he would learn them too.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: fretless
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 05:29 PM

But LaPrelle routinely performs with her mother, so even if the theme were ballads within and transcending through families she could/should have been included. I think GUEST,schlimmerkerl made a valid point.

I can't get sound from the 6-minute clip either. Too bad. The teaser certainly suggested that the longer program would have been interesting.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: peregrina
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 05:52 PM

Laprelle is fantastic and performs with her mother and family, yes, true, but she has also talked about learning songs from recordings; the Madison county singers are 12th or 13th generation ballad singers. If you weren't able to hear the whole piece then you will not have heard that the point was about the tradition being passed down *for generations* in families and the old tradition was unaccompanied singing by one person--as in the CD Dark Holler, or John Cohen's film End of and Old Song.

But wait--why are people griping?!--how wonderful to have this on NPR.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Stewart
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 06:40 PM

"I can't get the audio either - although the timer moves."

just tweek the sound at the right end of the timer bar
that should do it - all of a sudden the sound comes on

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 18 Aug 11 - 11:26 PM

Yes, that worked for me, Stewart. I didn't mess with it initially, since it looked like it was set at maximum.

Sheesh! This was an intern project making use of the intern's family experience and connections, not a comprehensive survey of or popularity contest for current Appalachian ballad singers.

I'm glad to see (and hear!) it out there. I hope others can get the technical issues sorted and hear it too.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 19 Aug 11 - 10:17 PM

For eight minutes total on NPR, it's pretty darned good!


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 20 Aug 11 - 11:38 AM

I forgot to say, also, thanks, Stewart!

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Arkie
Date: 20 Aug 11 - 12:00 PM

I have enjoyed the singing of Elizabeth LaPrelle and admire her for taking an interest in historical ballads and continuing in that tradition. If the NPR piece had claimed to cover every living ballad singer or every young person who has continued in the tradition or even purported to cover the scope of balladry in North America then criticism of the piece for overlooking LaPrelle might be justified. But the absence of LaPrelle's name or presence takes nothing away from the NPR piece.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: GUEST,Sherry Minnick
Date: 20 Aug 11 - 03:57 PM

I haven't heard the NPR piece, but read this exchange with interest since I sing unaccompanied ballads. All over the planet people are singing and playing traditional music, and it is not "star" music. As Hazel would say, "It's hard to tell the singer from the song." In this community music, to compare is to lose.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Kent Davis
Date: 20 Aug 11 - 10:40 PM

Thank you so much, Desert Dancer, for finding and sharing this.

Here's the same family, 29 years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XBcr49-Rpw

Kent

P.S. For any who might not be familiar with Elizabeth Laprelle, here's a link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5h7c-MZBX0


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Kent Davis
Date: 20 Aug 11 - 10:57 PM

There seems to be a strong connection between the music of of the Adams/Chandler/Wallin family of Sodom Laurel, North Carolina, and the music of the LaPrelles of Rural Retreat, North Carolina.

Here's Cas Wallin, sitting on Dellie Chandler's porch in 1982, singing "Pretty Saro" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2kkFiJ70sw&feature=related

and here's Elizabeth LaPrelle singing "Pretty Saro" in 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSI-jMiagLw&feature=related

Kent


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 21 Aug 11 - 11:44 AM

Thanks for the links, Kent.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Howard Jones
Date: 21 Aug 11 - 01:01 PM

"the Madison county singers are 12th or 13th generation ballad singers."

That's very impressive, if it's true. Assuming 3 or 4 generations per century would take this back to the early 17th or 18th centuries. It's entirely possible, of course, but how can anyone know?


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Kent Davis
Date: 23 Aug 11 - 06:50 PM

Desert Dancer,

You are welcome. Glad you liked the links.


Kent

P.S. In my last post, I must have had North Carolina on the brain. Contrary to what I wrote, the hometown of the LaPrelles, Rural Retreat, is in Virginia, not North Carolina. When we were first married, we lived in near-by Wytheville. It is a beautiful area.

Note to self: pro0ooofread more carfully.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 24 Aug 11 - 11:52 AM

Howard: The Copper family in England has notes from a late 19th century member (who was elderly at the time) who says "my great-grandfather sang this song" -- which takes it easily back to the 18th century, so it's possible. That said, you're right that 12 or 13 generations is a very long time, unless the generation time is very short, so there might be a degree of unintentional hyperbole there... I assume Peregrina meant to indicate something comparable to the Coppers.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Kent Davis
Date: 27 Aug 11 - 01:05 AM

According to this site http://www.visitmadisoncounty.com/who-we-are/traditional-music-heritage/traditional-music-today/eighth-generation-ballad-singers , the ballad-singing tradition of Madison County, North Carolina, goes back about eight generations. I was unable to figure out how the site concluded that there were eight. Cecil Sharp collected a great trove of ballads there in 1916. The difficulty is in knowing for how many generations they had been singing the ballads before Sharp came along.

Kent


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 04 Dec 11 - 01:50 PM

Here is an essay by Laurin Penland herself, and the same video is linked. (NPR audio for the story will be available later today.) On the web page, there are photos of Inez Chandler and Joe Penland. There are also links to audio: "Camp a Little While" done by Joe Penland, "Barbary Allen" done by Sheila Kay Adams, and "Little Betty Ann" done by Dellie Norton and Inez Chandler.

~ Becky in Long Beach

From Knee-To-Knee To CD: The Evolution Of Oral Tradition In Mountain Ballads

by Laurin Penland
December 4, 2011

My 5-year-old nephew, Ezra, sits between his mother and grandmother on a porch-swing covered in old quilts. An expansive view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Madison County, N.C., spreads out before them.

The porch used to be a really important part of mountain music. Ezra's mother, Melanie, sings one of the old ballads, just like her ancestors used to do 200 years ago.

The hope is that if Ezra hears the ballads, he'll start to learn them, just as he's learned the names of the trees on his farm, says his grandmother Sheila Kay Adams.

"When he was a baby, we used to go all the way to the top of the mountain behind his house where he lives over in Sodom, and we would sing as we were going up the mountain," she says, and then sings, "'Here comes Sally with a snicker and a grin / Groundhog grease all over her chin / Oh, groundhog!"

Adams is a musician and writer. She learned the ballads the old way: by spending time with singers like Inez Chandler.

"When you learned them the way that I did, you had to spend the time with them," Adams says. "There was no other way around it, and that meant more to me — and means more to me now — than the song itself. Anybody can learn a song, but to sit with Inez Chandler for three hours on her front porch, buddy, was an experience."

There are hundreds of ballads that have been passed down from generation to generation. Adams asks her grandson to sing "Jerusalem Mourn," but to Ezra it's "Jerusalem More," because that's the way he understands the song: "Don't you hear Jerusalem more? / Don't you hear Jerusalem more? / Thank God there's a song that's singing in my soul / Don't you hear Jerusalem more?"

The small change Ezra makes to the lyrics is a good example of how songs morph as they're passed down through the oral tradition. The ballads survived 300 years of being passed down solely through the oral tradition. The fact that my 5-year-old nephew is singing a ballad at all is nothing short of a miracle.

Documentary photographer and writer Rob Amberg says there was a moment when the old songs almost died out.

"I think in succeeding generations, as people started listening to more and more radio and then watching more and more TV, the availability of other types of music in people's lives — I think that really changed the whole dynamic," Amberg says.

Amberg filmed and recorded the old singers in the 1970s. It was during the folk revival movement of the '50s and '60s that people like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez recorded their own versions of the songs. The folk revivalists may have saved the oral tradition from oblivion, but by recording everything they also changed the way songs were passed down. That was a problem for my Dad, Joe Penland.

"I heard the statement from one of the younger singers in Madison County say, 'It's not knee-to-knee anymore, it's knee-to-CD,' and that struck me wrong at first," he says. "[But] then when you start thinking about the new technology that we have — any way to learn and preserve our heritage is a good way."

Dad has now recorded two of his own albums of the old ballads. Personally, I'm one of those singers who has learned mostly by CD. I left home almost 15 years ago and will probably never move back. But transmission by CD isn't the only change the ballads have undergone.

"I will say that it was different for me in that Mom heard it from a bunch of old people working in the garden, and I heard it from a bunch of folk revivalists from New York City sleeping on our front porch," says Ezra's mother, Melanie Rice. "It's been a performance-geared situation. I've known Mom being on stage, and I've known big groups of people playing music. It was a big party. It wasn't as much as in the natural setting."

However the ballads are shared, the important thing to Rice is that the they have survived.

"I will always say that in order for anything to survive it must evolve," Rice says. "And in order for the ballads to have survived, they had to evolve in that way so that they could be taken to the greater population and still be getting interest, still be growing, and still be something that was viable enough to be passed down to my son."

As for me, maybe one day, I'll be taking it back to the porch, and Ezra can teach me a ballad sitting knee-to-knee.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: GUEST
Date: 04 Dec 11 - 02:31 PM

Thanks for posting that Desert Dancer.


Joe Penland is currently working on a CD of the songs that his ancestor Mary Sands, sang to Cecil Sharp.

There's page about it at the crowd-source funding site here-- a great project:
The Mary Sands project site


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 04 Dec 11 - 02:54 PM

That looks interesting, Guest, thanks for the tip.

~ Becky in Long Beach


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: peregrina
Date: 04 Dec 11 - 03:30 PM

guest was me, unaware that I wasn't logged in... thanks again Becky for the post


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Lighter
Date: 04 Dec 11 - 05:48 PM

>"When you learned them the way that I did, you had to spend the time with them," Adams says. "There was no other way around it, and that meant more to me — and means more to me now — than the song itself. Anybody can learn a song, but to sit with Inez Chandler for three hours on her front porch, buddy, was an experience."

Not the whole point of traditional music, but most of it.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: GUEST,BigDaddy
Date: 05 Dec 11 - 04:01 AM

I learned the songs from my mother. They included "Barbara Allen," "Gypsy Davy", "The Devil and the Farmer's Wife", "The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin," "Peggy and the Soldier", etc. These were passed on from mother to daughter until, in my case, they were passed from mother to son. When I heard Fairport Convention doing their thing with these in the late '60s I was excited. All of this ultimately led me to a second career as a folk singer. I still do one of the old ones from time to time. And I am eternally grateful to the women who handed these down over the many years.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Dave Ruch
Date: 05 Dec 11 - 01:45 PM

(excerpted and slightly edited from my Facebook posts earlier today)

It drives me crazy to see this myth perpetuated over and over again in the American media (NPR can be especially guilty) that oral tradition and ballad singing and homemade front-porch music and self-taught fiddle/banjo players are phenomena of the American South, period. Communities all across America had, and in some cases still have, these same things.

Why does every NPR feature about traditional music have to be based on something that's happened or is currently happening in southern Appalachia? It gives a very false impression.

Don't get me wrong, I'm enthralled with the music from that region, and the Norton/Chandler/Adams/Wallin family is a remarkable and important one with a very compelling story. It's just that each story like this - in a vacuum of stories about old-time fiddling in Nebraska or ballad collecting in Pennsylvania or banjo history in the American southwest - just reinforces a notion already in our minds that southern Appalachia is and always was ground zero for community music-making. I think Michael Hogan (another Facebook poster) hit the nail on the head about reducing the story down to what the listener (and quite possibly the program director) most identifies with the topic."

The entire Facebook thread, with comments from several others, is here.


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 05 Dec 11 - 02:35 PM

It may be a valid point in general, Dave, but in this particular case the article was written by Laurin Penland, a member of the Madison County family that she describes, and it arose from a project she did as an NPR intern (as linked at the start of this thread).

Whether it's really particularly valid to complain about NPR, as opposed to the world's perspective in general about traditional music in the USA, I'm not sure. If I do a search on links to NPR items shared on Mudcat (click), I see a pretty diverse assortment of stuff.

I think that the problem you describe has more to do with the history of folk music scholarship (especially folk song scholarship), the recording industry, and other mysterious cultural factors that have led to southern Appalachian traditional music being the best-documented of any genre in the U.S..

As a person with northern (northeastern, in particular) roots and musical inclinations, I've bemoaned this myself, but not just for what's available in public media, but also for what's pursued in the average "folk" gathering. From my experience, except for the truly eclectic gatherings, if you don't play old-time or Irish (or sing either), you're an outlier.

Old-time (that is, southern Appalachian) music is experiencing yet another resurgence, as far as I can see, and those of use who are fans of stuff from elsewhere in the U.S. will have to keep up the good fight to make it known.

~ Becky in Long Beach


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Dave Ruch
Date: 05 Dec 11 - 03:00 PM

It's been pointed out to me in a PM that my tone here was overly negative, and quite dismissive of this nice piece. I'm embarrassed to say that after re-reading my post, I agree, and really wish I'd started by saying that I think this is a wonderful piece on a remarkable family and set of traditions. I meant no disrespect for the writer, the Madison County music community or anyone mentioned in the article. I am also not partial to traditional music from other places as opposed to southern Appalachian stuff - I am a long-time fan and student of all of it. I would just like to see a more balanced representation of Anglo-American musical traditions in the media. I've written to NPR and to Paul Brown about it, and will continue to (as Becky says) "keep up the good fight."


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Subject: RE: NPR: current Appalachian ballad singers
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 06 Dec 11 - 02:54 PM

Well said, Dave.


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