Appalachian Music Fellowship 7

Berea College Appalachian Music Fellowship

Day 7, June 9, 2009

How many ways can you murder your sweetheart?

That’s the question I kept coming back to today while reading the verses to hundreds of “Murdered Sweetheart” Ballads (honest, that’s the genre name scholars give to these murder songs). In the countless variations of the murder ballad “Knoxville Girl,” for instance, the murderer uses a beech wood stick, beech wood club, hickory stick, hard oak stick (you choose) to beat his beloved “till the ground around her stood in a bloody gore.” Then the murderer (now remember, this is the man who wanted to marry the Knoxville Girl) drags her around by her hair and throws her in the river. Drowning is one of the preferred methods of slaughter in these “Murdered Sweetheart” ballads, but poisoning, stabbing, decapitating and shooting are just as effective as blunt force trauma. Evidently, strangling was not often used, or maybe just not poetic enough to qualify for song lyrics. Whew, I’m exhausted today from vicariously witnessing so many murders.

One more bit of interesting information I found today regarding the ballad called “Rose Connoley” or “Down in the Willow Garden.” Although this is an Irish ballad, it has rarely been collected in Ireland in the same way that it appears, almost everywhere, in the southern Appalachian mountains. Folklore scholar D.K. Wilgus writes: “It is as if an Irish local song, never popularized on broadsides, was spread by a single Irish peddler on his travels through Appalachia.”

The Wilburn Brothers had a big hit with “Knoxville Girl” after the Louvin Brothers. Here’s Teddy and Doyle (with flattops) singing their version


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