Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

The folk & traditional music of Europe, Africa & the Americas explored.

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with the European cities, whose population has been more stable, and where mass media and the institutions of art music have had a longer period of impact. One interesting area of urban folk music in America is the body of songs revolving around the labor movement. These songs are of relatively recent origin, their poets and composers are usually known, and they are normally learned first from song-books and taught by trained organizers. Some of these songs (the best known is "Joe Hill") did pass into oral tradition and can be considered a special type of folk music. Many of them have words protesting the bad treatment of factory workers, miners, migrant farmers, and minority groups. Others sing the praises of labor or­ganizations. Usually, tunes of older folk songs, hymns, music hall ditties, and minstrel songs are used. Often the words parody songs already in the folk tradition. For example, a song sung during a New York state milk strike in 1939 is a parody of "Pretty Polly," a version of the British ballad of the "Cruel Ship's Carpenter":
Mister farmer, mister farmer, come go along with me (twice)
Come hitch up with the milk trust and we'll keep the system free.
So they followed the milk trust stooges and what did they find? (twice)
Nothing in their pockets and a knife from behind.4
The existence of folk music in the Anglo-American population of the cities is, however, largely outside the oral tradition. The awareness and knowledge of folk music on the part of the American city dweller has increased greatly since about 1950. The reason for this change in attitude is, of course, the rise of a folk singing move­ment mainly on the part of students and, as a result, the creation of folk music as a separate class of music somewhere between that of the folk tradition itself and popular music. Folk music as sung by professional folk singers such as Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, and Harry Belafonte, or bv ensembles such as the Lamplighters or the Kingston Trio, has few of the attributes of folk music in oral tradition; thus it should perhaps not form part of this discussion. (The artists men­tioned differ greatly in their degree of adherence to folk styles.) Nevertheless, the folk singing movement in the cities is a musical and cultural phenomenon worthy of detailed study. It differs from the
4 John Greenway, American Folksongs of Protest (Philadelphia: Uni­versity of Pennsylvania Press, 1953), p. 215.

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