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Category: Folksong

Print shows the president's box at Ford's Theater with John Wilkes Booth, on the right, shooting President Lincoln who is seated at the front of the box; on the left are Mary Todd Lincoln seated in the front, Major Henry Rathbone rising to stop Booth, and Clara Harris standing behind Mrs. Lincoln

Caught My Ear: Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s “Booth Killed Lincoln”

Posted by: Stephen Winick

For many years, the song "Booth" or "Booth Killed Lincoln" has been considered a prime example of a traditional ballad about a historical event. Telling in remarkable detail the story of John Wilkes Booth's assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, the ballad seems ripped from contemporary headlines. Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who sang the song for the Library of Congress in 1949, has been credited as the song's collector, and many sources indicate a date of about 1890 as the latest possible origin for the song, since Lunsford said he heard his father sing "some of the stanzas" to the fiddle tune "Booth." But is there another possible explanation of the song's origins? In this post, we'll look more closely at Lunsford's various recordings of "Booth," as well as unpublished primary-source and secondary-source evidence in the AFC archive, to try to piece together the birth of "Booth."

Head and shoulders portrait of a woman

Lillian Short: Mrs. Robin Hood?

Posted by: Stephen Winick

This post continues the story of Lillian Short, who sang the song "Robin Hood" for Vance Randolph in 1941. It reveals that Lillian's husband, Leonard Short, was a notorious bank robber who had died in a jailbreak attempt in 1935. It recounts several legends that have developed about Leonard Short, including that he had a network of tunnels under Galena, Missouri, to allow him to escape the law. Most interestingly, it shows that Leonard Short himself had the reputation of being a modern Ozark Robin Hood, raising the question of whether Lillian's singing about Robin Hood had any connection to her husband.

Head and shoulders portrait of a woman.

Lillian Short: More Than Just Robin Hood

Posted by: Stephen Winick

In 1941, Vance Randolph recorded 34 songs from one of his favorite Ozark singers, Lillian Short of Galena, Missouri. We've featured Lillian Short's version of the song known as "Robin Hood," "The Cornish May Song," or "Hal An Tow" on the blog before. This post presents more information about the singer, with a selection of her best recordings. In addition to biographical information and photos, it includes extensive notes on her songs.

Hidden Folklorists: Harry Payne Reeves, the Mysterious Cowboy Singer Daca

Posted by: Stephen Winick

Learn about the fascinating character "Daca," a bookseller in New York who taught Alan Lomax the cowboy classic "Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle." Daca contributed ten songs and a sheaf of tall tales to the Library of Congress. He was a cowboy in the 1910s and a bookshop owner in Bohemian Greenwich Village in the 1920s and 30s, while he moonlighted by singing cowboy songs on the radio. He had a master's degree in Spanish and was an expert on European fables. He also went by at least three names (Harry Payne Reeves, David Daca, and Harry Reece). Daca was a fascinating forerunner both of Woody Guthrie, another cowboy singer who arrived in New York just as Daca left, and of Bob Dylan, a trickster who concealed his identity with aliases and gave evasive answers to interviewers. In this way, he laid the groundwork and established some of the norms for the folk scene in Greenwich Village. Read his story, hear his songs, and find out about a little known "hidden folklorist"--all in this blog post!

A man playing a guitar and singing to a close crowd of a dozen or so men and women

Caught My Ear: The Lullaby That Came to Symbolize the Exodus of Cuba’s Children

Posted by: Stephen Winick

During her internship here at the American Folklife Center, Elisa Alfonso had the opportunity to explore many wonderful digital collections here at the Library of Congress. In particular she found many versions of a Spanish-language lullaby, “Señora Santana,” and noted fascination variations among versions, suggesting that a version collected primarily from Cuban Americans has become a vessel through which migrants talk about the sensations of trauma and loss that come with childhood forced migration. Read her observations, and hear several versions of the song, in her guest post.

A man playing a guitar and singing to a close crowd of a dozen or so men and women

New AFC Latinx and Latin American Research Guide : Navigating AFC Collections During National Hispanic Heritage Month

Posted by: Allina Migoni

The research guides from the American Folklife Center help researchers navigate the AFC collections by geographic region or by topic. One of our most recent guides, Latinx and Latin American Collections: Resources in the American Folklife Center, provides quick access to our Latinx and Latin American resources during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

man seated in wheelchar singing next to a podium

From Conflict to Creativity: The Journeys of Matthew Gill and Teresa K. Howes

Posted by: Lisa Taylor

The following is a guest blog post co-authored by U.S. Navy veteran Matthew Gill and U.S. Army/Army National Guard veteran Teresa K. Howes. This is the second in a four-part guest series featuring military veteran artists who are members of Uniting US, a veteran-focused nonprofit arts organization. Go here to read part 1. In recognition …

ceramic cups sitting on shelves

From Conflict to Creativity: The Journeys of AnnMarie Halterman and Ehren Tool

Posted by: Lisa Taylor

The following is a guest blog post co-authored by U.S. Air Force veteran, AnnMarie Halterman, who is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Uniting US, and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Ehren Tool. This is the first in a four-part guest series featuring military veteran artists who are members of Uniting US, a veteran-focused nonprofit arts …

A man plays a Ukrainian Bandura

Homegrown Plus Premiere: Ukrainian American Bandura Master Julian Kytasty

Posted by: Stephen Winick

We're continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Julian Kytasty, a third generation player of the bandura, a Ukrainian stringed instrument with similarities to the lute and the zither. Julian also sings beautifully and composes for the bandura and other instruments. In this blog you'll find an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!