Since my last blog on Christmas Eve, January 2016 is here and almost gone! I was casting about for a blog subject, and while not everyone is experiencing a snowy winter, I would like to suggest it might be a good time to settle in and listen to some original artists in the folk field.
The NLS Music Section has recently uploaded some titles to BARD from the Smithsonian Folkways collection; Andrew Rowan Summers, DBM 03657, John Jacob Niles Sings Folk Songs, DBM 03667, and Anglo-American Ballads, DBM 03690.
What is interesting about this trio of Folk enthusiasts is that two were trained as lawyers; Andrew Rowan Summers received his law degree from the University of Virginia and Hermes Nye was born and educated in Chicago, then relocated to Texas. They kept their day jobs but loved folk music and pursued research into Appalachian music and folk tunes for their personal pleasure. John Jacob Niles was taught music theory by his mother, and following an injury in World War I, studied music in France (talk about being in the right place at the right time.) Upon his return to the States, he studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory, sang opera, maintained a performing career on the radio, and toured Europe and the United States.
On Andrew Rowan Summers, the program notes for each folk song are written by the performer, Mr. Summers. He heard his first dulcimer at the White Top Folk Festival played by an older man and after initiating a relationship with him, learned as much as possible via oral tradition. Upon the older musician’s death, Summers inherited his dulcimer. This is such a beautiful example of passing knowledge from one generation to another; aren’t we fortunate to have it in recorded format so we may listen to it for ourselves? Mr. Summers has a nice clear voice; give it a listen.
Anglo-American Ballads, sung by Hermes Nye, includes the history of each ballad presented along with some personal commentary. He makes a suggestion for a setting as you listen to “John Peel”, an old fox hunting song; “perhaps on a picnic under a Texas October moon at that delicious time when everybody has had all the beans, beer and barbecue he can hold and nobody is quite bored enough to go home.” I think I would be delighted to listen to many folk ballads with a background such as that. He speaks briefly of playing in a community orchestra, the Amarillo Symphony, and was a member of the Texas Folk Lore Society and knew John Lomax. What a character!
John Jacob Niles Sings Folk Songs includes many songs transcribed by him as well as some of his original compositions that were used in popular culture. “I Wonder as I Wander” has attained a high level of popularity during the Yuletide season, and cabaret singers like Marlene Dietrich recorded “Go ‘Way From My Window.” If you’re a Bob Dylan fan, you recognize that title as the first line in his song “It Ain’t Me Babe.” In a gesture to realism, Mr. Niles sang in a high, rather convincing falsetto on the songs he recorded when the lyrics implied a female role as you can hear on “The Lass From the Low Country” and “Go ‘Way From My Window.” And to share a fine moment of serendipity with you, the NLS Music Section will soon have The Songs of John Jacob Niles, BRM 28350 available for downloading from BARD in braille format. I was scanning and proofing this title before this blog post was even considered. Coincidence? You decide.