The Ballad of America: The History of the United States in Song and Story

The Ballad of America: The History of the United States in Song and Story

The Ballad of America: The History of the United States in Song and Story

The Ballad of America: The History of the United States in Song and Story


Eight epochs of American folk heritage are covered in this collection: Chapter I- The Colonial Period (The British Heritage and Colonial Songs and Ballads); Chapter II- The American Revolution; Chapter III- The Early National Period; Chapter IV- Jacksonian America (Sea and Immigration, The Westward Movement, and Slavery Days); Chapter V- The Civil War (Freedom Songs); Chapter VI- Between the Civil War and the First World War (Farmers and Workers, Immigrants, and The Negro People); Chapter VII- Between Two World Wars; and Chapter VIII- Since the War.

General introductions to each chapter and specific introductions to individual songs provide the context from which the songs were created. The book is the result of years of classroom teaching. An Afterword (written especially for this new edition) indicates the usefulness of Ballad of America for social studies, humanities, and literature teachers at all levels.

The bibliography and discography, brought up to date for this 1982 edition, indicate resources available to the student or teacher interested in probing more deeply into the musical resources of any given period.


During the past ten years, there has been a great revival of interest in traditional music in America. Sales of folk song records run into the millions. Guitars today are as numerous on college campuses as bicycles, sometimes more so. The Newport Folk Festival of 1964 impressed its organizers with attendance of seventy thousand enthusiasts, mostly young, at its sessions. Magazines dealing with folk songs and their performers have burgeoned. Sing Out alone, which appears five times a year, has a circulation of approximately forty thousand. Itinerant singers find large and receptive audiences on college campuses, in high school and elementary school assemblies, and in summer camps. The coffee house has both reflected and promoted the folk song revival. College students, playing to packed audiences, have begun to stage their own folk festivals and "hoots." "Folk" is invading the academic curriculum: Several major universities now offer courses and degrees in folklore.

The passion for folk music is manifested primarily among young people, but it would be wrong to dismiss it as merely a youthful craze, a new fad, or as a form of youthful protest. In fact, the revival is a search for roots, for a sense of identity, for a concept of the world we live in, for a vision of the future. The meaning of American nationality, of American ideals, of dedication to America, are all involved.

This book is an attempt to show how the story of the American people is revealed in their song; to provide an introduction to this national song heritage, and to indicate its extent, variety, and beauty; to make some little-known singing materials easily and cheaply available; and, in response to many requests, to provide historical songs for use at various levels of the educational system.

The book had its origins in a course given by Bill Bonyun and the author at the 16th Annual Seminars on American Culture under the sponsorship of the New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown 1963. It represents an expansion of the thoughts presented at Cooperstown, together with a transcription of a number of the songs used by way of illustration.

The songs in this book, chosen from literally thousands, had to pass rather rigid selection tests. I sought songs that conveyed most clearly, most typically, a given national mood or experience; that were examples of the finest melodies and lyrics available; and that had proved their effectiveness and . . .

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