Folk & Roots Music Series
Folk And The Roots Of American Music
Now the story is here from the 1920s to the 1970s
While some observers often see Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor as the founders of America's contemporary singer-songwriter movement. The tradition actually dates back to the mid-19th century. The Hutchison Family of Milford, New Hampshire toured the United States singing religious and secular songs supporting numerous populist causes.
In the years before World War I, Joe Hill and Ralph Chaplin refashioned traditional songs and hymns into biting anthems for the Industrial Workers of the World. During the early '20s, Bentley Ball gave recitals of Appalachian ballads, Cowboy songs and Native American material to fascinated urban audiences.
In 1920 he made the first recordings of such folk standards as Jesse James and The Dying Cowboy. Four years later Marion Try Slaughter, a Texas-born light opera singer who performed under the name Vernon Dalhart, recorded twangy versions of The Wreck Of The Southern 97 and The Prisoner's Song. Though hardly authentic, it caught the public ear and sold hundreds of thousands of records.
Two Tin Pan Alley writers exploited that success by penning folk-flavored songs inspired by some current event. Carson Robison, a Kansas native who played guitar on Dalhart's record. Used a moralistic template for songs about train wrecks and natural disasters.
The National Barn Dance
Bob Miller, who hailed from Memphis, penned songs that addressed populist issues. Miller's left-leaning songs like Eleven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat anticipated the People's Songs movement of the late '40s. Folk songs continued making inroads into American popular culture during the Jazz Age of the '20s.
Millions of radio listeners tuned into the Chicago-based WLS every Saturday night. To hear 'The National Barn Dance' and its sweet-voiced Kentucky balladeer Bradley Kincaid sing Barbara Allen or The Blue Tailed Fly. John Allison organized a trio that introduced folk material over New York's WNYC as early as 1927. Recordings intended for Southern listeners occasionally migrated to urban audiences in the north.
The better-selling Victor Records by Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family crossed Southern borders; some of their titles were issued in Europe and Australia, and even India. While singers like Goebel Reeves never became household names.
Their recordings inspired a handful of performers that would change popular music.