The Rise of a Native American Balladry Essay

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The Rise of a Native American Balladry

First, it will be necessary to review some important points. In the early days (1600-1770s), importation/adaptation was the dominant process.
British songs and ballads were adapted to the frontier experience,
Victorian morality and Puritan ethics. Songs which contained subject matter which was completely irrelevant to the frontier or unacceptable to moral and ethical standards were either discarded altogether, new lyrics were added to old melodies, or lyrical changes were made. (Remember, there were no copyright laws at that time). However, even from the beginning, original folk creations began to take their place
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This was done by including a moral object lesson, i.e., a warning, exhortation, etc., which gave the song some moral justification and made it palatable to
Calvinistic religious beliefs or by omitting offensive material. The
"Wreck of the Old 97" ends with the admonition to girls that they should never speak harshly to their sweetheart because "he may go an never return." In "Rising Sun Blues," the singer says,

"Go tell my baby brother, Lord, not to do what I have done, Don't spend your days in pain and misery, In the House of the Rising Sun."

Even songs about natural disaster such as floods, storms, etc., contained such lessons. In a song known as the Vicksburg Flood, the writer warns his listeners to "Get right with your Maker as He doeth all things right." At the same time, American ballads retained the significant characteristics of the ballad tradition --descriptive narrative, hard-hitting realism and a pre-occupation with the tragic element.

Just as important as the adaptation of older ballads and the creation of new ones was the rise of a distinctive "folk style."(Much of the following discussion is from Alan Lomax, "Folk Song Style," in The
American Anthropologist, 61 (December, l959):929-955). No sound recordings were made until the 1880s and no folk music was recorded, to speak of, until the 1920s; therefore, any discussion of performance style must be
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