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Settlers established themselves in the Appalachian region of several states, including North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. In these isolated areas, the old songs of love, loss, murder, ghosts, and earlier times were passed down by oral tradition, expressing timeless themes and ties to the past. Over time the melodies and words changed.
The Work of Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles
Appalachia TravelsCecil Sharp was a music teacher in England who collected British dances and songs passed down through generations and researched their background and history.
He visited the United States in 1914 and 1915 as a dance consultant and lecturer. While here, he worked with interested people to found the American branch of the English Folk Dance Society, now called the Country Dance and Song Society. He met Olive Dame Campbell, a North Carolina song collector and founder of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, who shared her song collection with Sharp.
In 1916, he returned to the US with Maud Karpeles, his assistant and dance troupe member. With help from John C. Campbell and Mrs. Campbell, the pair embarked on a rigorous tour of Appalachia to collect songs, beginning in North Carolina’s Madison County in July of that year. The collection, including those gathered by Campbell, was published as English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians with Maud Karpeles as editor.
Braving perilous terrain and uncertain weather or accommodation, the pair collected over 1500 tunes for over 500 songs in 46 weeks between 1916-1918 by visiting families and listening to their songs. Karpeles wrote down the words while Sharp transcribed the tunes. Karpeles returned to the region in 1950 and 1955 to record songs for the BBC.
“It is no exaggeration to say that some of the hours I passed sitting on the porch of a log-cabin, talking and listening to songs were amongst the pleasantest I have ever spent.”
Cecil Sharp, Introduction to English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians
Many have said that without their preservation work, the songs and the rich cultural heritage they represent would have been lost.
|Read the definitive
article on the history of Cecil and Maud's travels in America by
did Cecil Sharp go to the Appalachians"
See this article by the
English Folk Dance and Song Society
|See the Story of the French Broad
July 16, 1916
|Dancing in St. Louis, outdoor Shakespeare Festival, taught by Cecil Sharp, June 1916|