American Ballads and Songs

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I. The pieces in the following collection depend for their vitality upon oral, not upon written, transmission. They have a subliterate existence, as apart from verse preserved in a form fixed by the printed page. They are to be distinguished from folk-songs like Yankee Doodle, John Brown, Hail Columbia, although these well-known songs belong even more properly to the "people as a whole" than do the songs in this anthology. Those included here are known to singers in scattered places; they have circulation in certain regions, among certain groups; and some of them find very large currency indeed. But other regions of America and other classes of people do not know them at all. Patri­otic songs like America, and those named above, have nation-wide popularity. They are the property, not of the folk in certain sections and groups, but of the people of the United States. Their currency is not sporadic but universal. The real distinction, however, between folk-songs of the one type and of the other does not hinge upon their degree of currency among the people; it is something quite different. Songs handed on by the printed page are static; traditional pieces, handed on orally from mouth to mouth, are in a state of flux. This is the most valid distinction which can be made for folk-song proper as differentiated from book or semi-literary verse or from* popular song in general. Traditional songs, or genuine oral songs or folk-songs, have no existence fixed by;j print. They have no standard form but are contin-'; ually changing.

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