American Ballads and Folk Songs: page - 0013

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When I went first to college in Texas I carried in my trunk, along with my pistol and other implements of personal warfare, a little manuscript roll of cowboy songs. My father's farm and small ranch was located on the Chisholm Trail, over which many thousand Longhorn cattle were driven to Dodge City, Kansas, sometimes on to Montana and the Dakotas. Especially at night when lying awake, I had heard the cowboys sing to the cattle "bedded down" near our home. These songs and others like them were also current among a number of neighbor boys, older than myself, who each spring went on the round-up and afterwards trailed a herd of cattle to a Northern market. They brought new songs back with them for the entertainment of their friends.

On one occasion I exhibited my store of cowboy songs to a somewhat startled Texas English professor. I was told politely that they had no value. So I put them away until I became, years afterwards, a student in Harvard. There, during a course in American literature taught by Professor Barrett Wendell, I was encouraged to believe that the songs were worth preserving. In order to aid my work in collecting, he and Professor George Lyman Kittredge sent out to many newspapers of the country a letter asking that all types of folk songs be forwarded to me. Later on, after I had been appointed a Traveling Sheldon Fellow "to investigate American folk songs," Professors Wendell and Kit­tredge were joined in a second appeal to the public by Dean L. B. R. Briggs and Professor Fred N. Robinson. Such sponsorship resulted, during the three years I held the Sheldon fellowship, in the accumulation of a great mass of material.Two books of cowboy songs were issued from material secured principally in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado,Wyoming, and other states where I visited and recorded tunes in saloons and on remote ranches.

Several thousand pages of unused manuscript were filed away. The present book is a direct outgrowth of the collection which was then made under Harvard patronage. Whatever its fortune, it goes to a public whose interest in folk material is much greater than in 1910, when Cowboy Songs was pub­lished. At that time no publisher would print the cowboy song music, except a few illustrative examples. Records of this music had been made on wax cylinders, which, alas! have crumbled with age* How­ever, the music then set down and printed, long unnoticed, is now often heard over the radio. It has been said that the song "Home on the Range" was the most popular tune of the first half of 1933, The music for that song was obtained twenty-three years ago from the Negro proprietor of a low drinking and gambling dive in the slum district of San Antonio. It remained safely buried in Cowboy Songs for nearly a quarter of a century. The publication of this volume is, therefore, largely due to the unflagging interest of two men. So long as Professor Barrett Wendell lived, he gave my work his cordial sup­port, and through the resulting association I, in turn, gave him my everlasting affection. To me, as well as to all who collect folk songs, or who write of this literature, Professor Kittredge is ready with advice, help, and, when needed, forceful admonition* These words are set down in grateful recognition and appreciation. Many other people have helped to make this book possible. Entitled perhaps to first mention is Miss Mary Gresham, a competent musician and teacher of Washington, who transcribed from aluminum, wax, and celluloid records made this summer much of the Negro music in this book, and, in addition, other songs from singing and from rough manuscript notation. Edward Neighbors Waters, Assistant in the Music Division, Library of Congress, wrote out the music for approximately fifty songs, principally from singing. Other members of the Music Division, notably Carl Engel, its. Chief, Oliver Strunk, Assistant Chief, and Frank Megill, Assistant, were constantly courteous and helpful. None of the faults of the book or responsibilities growing out of it, however, are chargeable to these persons.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III