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WHOOP-AND-HOLLER OPERA
by
Doron K. Antrim
There's a moanin' and a wailin' throughout the land as the resurgent hillbillies whang away at their dole­ful tales of love and woe.
Twenty-five years ago a shellshocked veteran of the first World War lay in a government hospital, overwhelmed with boredom and wishing he were somewhere—anywhere—else. He felt so bad about it that one day he wrote a little song.
That might have been the end of it, but it wasn't. The bored patient was Guy Massey, and what he wrote was The Prisoner's Song. Massey never knew what he started. He passed from this troubled life before his sad little dirge had had time to become a national earache. Today his forlorn ballad is enshrined in the Archives of American Folk Music in Washington, D. C, and the hillbillies are still with us and going stronger than ever.
It isn't true, of course, that The Prisoner's Song was solely responsible for the epidemic of corn that is sweeping the country today. We've always had what the music busi­ness calls the hillbillies—and what students of Americana call folk music. But Guy Massey's song, which outsold everything in sight a quarter of a century ago, made it clear to the "down thar" musicians that there was real money in the stuff they'd been doing mostly for fun. Today, by every index—sheet music, radio, recordings, movies—they're an important factor in America's music.
Radio, for example, gives you an idea of how things are. Even the big networks, following the lead of the outlying stations, are giving out with folksy music. NBC's hookup of Grand Ole Opry, from Nashville, Tennessee, has been put on over WSM every Saturday night without a break for seventeen years. NBC also has another hillbilly show on the chain—the Chicago National Barn Dance. CBS also airs a couple of hoe-downs, one from Renfro Valley, Ken-
"Keprinted by permission of Doron K. Antrim from Collier's, Vol. 117, No. 4, January 26, 1946, pp. 18; 85."
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III