Folk Music in The United States

The British Tradition

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The British Tradition                                                               49

is today almost unlimited and constantly increasing.

The songs of cowboys, sailors, and other occupational types, being narratives, are often ballads, and many give accounts of disasters and other tragedies. Some have been considerably influenced by early musical comedy and vaudeville. Many miners* songs have been patterned after Negro folk music. Sailors' songs have also been adapted to tunes which originated in many European countries and the Americas, something not unexpected in a group which has had contact with cultures throughout the world.

The entire history of the United States has been illustrated in folk song. Among the ballads, particularly, but also in the lyrical songs, there are many which have historical content. We have songs about wars, giving the exploits of unsung and unknown individuals as well as accounts of world-famous events, from "Yankee Doodle" to the F.D.R. ballads. Peacetime history is narrated in songs about the frontier and the trials of Indian fighters, in songs of the industrial revolution and the labor movement, in the accounts of local incidents and biographies of folk heroes, criminals, gangsters, and benefactors of mankind. Even political subtleties like Jefferson's "Embargo" of 1808 found their way into the folk tradition, as indicated by the following song sung to the tune of "Yankee Doodle"^:

Attention pay, ye bonny lads and listen to my Fargo About a nation deuced thing which people call Embargo

Chorus: Yankee doodle, keep it up, Yankee doodle, dandy, We'll soak our hide in home-made rum If we can't get French brandy.

In Boston town the other day the people were all blustering, And sailors too as thick as hail away to sea were mustering.

I asked the reason of the stir and why they made such pother, But deuced a word they answered me or Jonathan my brother.

At last a man with powdered hair come up and said to me, Sir,

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