Magazine article American Music Teacher

The Ballad Collectors of North America: How Gathering Folksongs Transformed Academic Thought and American Identity

Magazine article American Music Teacher

The Ballad Collectors of North America: How Gathering Folksongs Transformed Academic Thought and American Identity

Article excerpt

[mouse] The Ballad Collectors of North America: How Gathering Folksongs Transformed Academic Thought and American Identity, edited by Scott B. Spencer. Scarecrow Press, 2012. www.rlpgbooks.com; 246 pp., $65.00.

The Ballad Collectors of North America is a unique book that focuses on the lives and works of America's most important folk song collectors, something that past scholarship has largely ignored. Editor Scott B. Spencer corrects this deficiency with The Ballad Collectors, a series of essays that presents the song collectors' personal stories, their motivations, the social and technological currents in which they operated and the impact of their efforts.

The book is loosely organized into 12 chapters. Some are organized by region: the Ozarks, the West, the Midwest, the Northwest and even eastern Canada. Others are devoted to important song collectors: Franz Boas, John and Alan Lomax, and Robert Winslow Gordon, among others. Although the book is scholarly in nature and intended for students of American cultural history, it is also easy to read and ideal for anyone interested in American music.

Readers will be amazed by the wealth of interesting facts associated with each region. The chapter devoted to Western songs, for example, reveals that cowboy songs were only a small portion of the repertoire and that many more songs were contributed by railroad workers, loggers, buffalo hunters and the Mormons.

More importantly, readers will learn about the collectors' fascinating lives. For example, the fervor for collecting folk songs began with Harvard professor Francis James Child. …

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