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THE BRITISH TRADITION
The oldest and fullest folk music tradition of the white Americans came from Great Britain. Many of the American songs came from England and Scotland, and upon them was superimposed a native body of folk song, created in American in the British pattern but endowed with many of the special qualities of American culture and personality.
Ballads are perhaps the most important songs within the British tradition. Today they are found primarily in the East and the South, especially in the relatively isolated mountain areas of New England and the Appalachians. Contrary to popular belief, however, the number of ballads current in the North is greater than that in the South. A great many English ballads were brought verbatim from the Old World, but since numerous variants were developed here, even more than in England in the case of some songs, British ballad scholars consider the United States very fertile ground for their studies.
Many of the ballads brought from England go back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It is unlikely that all of these were composed by members of folk groups, for their words as well as their music often show the impact of cultivated song. Nevertheless, these ballads passed into folk tradition even if they did not originate there, and they soon acquired the genuine characteristics of folklore so that today we think of them as typifying the field of folk music.
The words and the music of the English ballads are equally