Academic journal article Newfoundland and Labrador Studies

Kenneth Peacock's Contribution to Gerald S. Doyle's Old-Time Songs of Newfoundland (1955) (1)

Academic journal article Newfoundland and Labrador Studies

Kenneth Peacock's Contribution to Gerald S. Doyle's Old-Time Songs of Newfoundland (1955) (1)

Article excerpt


IN 1965, AFTER TEN YEARS of folksong research in Newfoundland, the classical musician and composer Kenneth Peacock (1922-2000) released a three-volume collection, Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, with 500 songs and variants, and a wide range of song material derived from the British, Irish, Canadian, French, and American traditions as well as several locally composed songs. It showed the strength and vitality of Newfoundland's musical tradition as Peacock saw it, based on his field collecting in the 1950s and early 1960s on behalf of the National Museum of Canada (Guigne 2004). In this work, Peacock paid a small tribute to St. John's businessman Gerald S. Doyle (1891-1956), remarking that he had been "more responsible than anyone else for making people aware of Newfoundland folksongs" (1, xxi). (2) Alluding to Doyle's popular songsters Old-Time Songs and Poetry of Newfoundland (1927, 1940) and Old-Time Songs of Newfoundland (1955), Peacock added, "though the value of his collection cannot be overestimated, its wide dissemination on the mainland has created the impression that Newfoundland folksongs consist entirely of locally composed material." By publishing Outports he hoped to "correct that erroneous impression" (xxi).

Peacock had a singular understanding of Doyle's impact on the popularization of a select number of folksongs. Almost half of the 1955 songster, which Doyle published shortly before his death, was comprised of material Peacock himself had collected in 1951 during his first year of fieldwork in Newfoundland. Although Doyle acknowledged Peacock as a contributor to this particular edition, little is known of the extent to which he drew on this collector for new material (1955a, 7). Even less has been written about the interaction between the two. This essay clarifies their mutually constitutive social roles. I consider Peacock's influence on the 1955 songster and Doyle's impact on Peacock's publication strategies.


Gerald S. Doyle was a native of King's Cove, Bonavista Bay, with strong Irish-Catholic roots. Moving to St. John's at an early age, in 1919 he founded a highly successful business retailing pharmaceutical and household products and his own brand of cod liver oil. Doyle was a marketing innovator with a populist touch. In 1924, he launched The Family Fireside, a free newspaper filled with local news, poetry, and updates on community activities alongside advertisements for his products. In 1932, he initiated The Gerald S. Doyle News Bulletin, which aired over VONF radio. The program, the broadcast equivalent of the newspaper, combined a community message service with commercials for his products, and was popular for over 34 years. (3)

Doyle became a familiar figure to thousands by travelling regularly to the outports each summer to meet customers face to face. At first he leased vessels, and, then, in the 1930s he purchased his own boat, naming it Miss Newfoundland. (4) These ventures provided Doyle with the opportunity to distribute products and to socialize. He met numerous singers, inviting them on board for an evening of song and a drink. Between 1927 and 1955, Doyle also released his three paperback songsters. These too were distributed free across Newfoundland. True to form, he alternated songs with advertisements for Doyle products.

Doyle's business activities were linked to his fervent nationalism. (5) He was passionate about Newfoundland's position as a country unto its own and on the importance of the outport economy. Although he was keenly aware of the richness of the British, Scottish, French, and Irish folksong tradition in Newfoundland, he chose to emphasize locally composed songs (Rosenberg 1991, 45-57). These he considered to be "true Newfoundland songs"; all others were viewed as "importations" (Doyle 1955a, 31). These true (i.e., local) folksongs, Doyle noted, were recognizable by the "rollicking swing and tempo, the grand vein of humour" and their description of the Newfoundland "way of life" (31). …

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