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“Mustache on a Cabbage Head”: Three Centuries’ Experience with “Our Goodman”

In my last post at Folklife Today, I wrote about a folksong that connected my appearances on some important radio shows. Since then, some of my Library of Congress colleagues (some current and some retired) have expressed interest in the song, stemming from their own experiences as radio listeners. Given their interest, I thought I’d […]

“The Mermaid”: the Fascinating Tail Behind an Ancient Ballad

Mermaids are among folklore’s most beloved magical creatures, especially among children. Usually depicted as beautiful women with long, fishy tails, they’ve captured the imagination of many kids, and a few adults too. Most youngsters, and most parents, are aware of the sympathetic character from the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Little Mermaid, and its […]

Caught My Ear: The Ballad of J. B. Marcum

On May 4, 1903, a prominent and well-respected attorney and U. S. commissioner, James Buchanan Marcum, was shot and killed on the steps of the Breathitt County courthouse in Jackson, Kentucky. “The J. B. Marcum Song,” more widely known as “The Ballad of J. B. Marcum,” preserves the memory of this important Kentucky citizen and the […]

Collection Spotlight: Children’s Songs from the Virgin Islands

Between 1976 and 1978 Karen S. Ellis recorded the playground songs of elementary school students on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. She was teaching at the Ricardo Richards School and many of the children she recorded were her students. This work culminated in a book and recording, Domino, a resource for children and teachers, published […]

Ghost Stories in Song for Halloween

Halloween is on its way, and this year the Library of Congress has decided to make it extra-special, with a pop-up exhibition of our best spooky treasures. The event is called LOC Halloween: Chambers of Mystery, and we hope you’ll visit us for the scary fun. As part of the effort, I’ve been looking through AFC’s […]

From “Mule-een” to New Orleans: Just What Was Lead Belly Saying?

Introduction The great American songster Lead Belly, first recorded by John A. and Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1933, is a towering figure in global popular music. In some cases, his influence can be clouded, or hard to understand, because of his own enigmatic personality and because of the fragmentary nature of […]

She Sells Seashells and Mary Anning: Metafolklore with a Twist

A little while back, the internet was abuzz with the inspirational story of Mary Anning, a pioneering 19th-century paleontologist from Lyme Regis in England. Some of my favorite blogs and magazines got in on the act: Atlas Obscura, QI (Quite Interesting), Dangerous Women, Cracked, and Forbes, to name just a few, published versions of the […]