Anna Halgash

The Music of the People: Appalachian Ballads and the Search for the Authentic in the 1960s American Folk Music Revival

April 3, 2021   /  

Name: Anna Halgash
Majors: English, History
Advisors: Dr. Joan Friedman, Dr. Susanna Sacks

This research explores why Appalachian ballads resonated with so many folk singers during the 1960s American folk music revival. I analyze how these performers saw Appalachian ballads as authentic and how they incorporated them into their professional careers. Revivalists first encountered Appalachian ballads through folk songbooks, youth summer camps, and folk music concerts. Early twentieth-century musicologists, or “songcatchers,” popularized Appalachian ballads as authentic and defined them as significant cultural relics of Britain. By contrast, 1960s revivalists were attracted to Appalachian ballads because they both distracted from political tensions and helped revivalists reinvent the American identity amidst societal shifts. I conclude that revivalists’ ambiguous definitions of authenticity allowed Appalachian ballads to serve individual revivalists’ needs and political goals, from civil rights activism to self-discovery to cultural pride. This research demonstrates that Appalachian ballads did not have an isolated presence in the revival but rather were immensely integrated by revivalists, strengthening and diversifying the revival as a result.

Videos Referenced in Presentation:

Kingston Trio:

Jean Ritchie’s “Gypsy Laddie”:

Bob Dylan’s “Blackjack Davey”:

View full presentation with works cited

Anna will be online to field comments on April 16:
2-4pm EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

39 thoughts on “The Music of the People: Appalachian Ballads and the Search for the Authentic in the 1960s American Folk Music Revival”

  1. Congratulations on completing your IS! I’m wondering if there were any particular musicians that you had to choose to leave out that you initially wanted to discuss, or any that you learned about that you would want to continue at a theoretical “next time”?

    1. I would have been curious to further explore Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and other 1960s folk icons came up a lot and were motivated in different ways, but I thought comparing an Appalachian singer (Jean Ritchie) with the “main icon” of the 1960s revival (Bob Dylan) would make an easier comparison. I am very fond of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, but they are more associated with earlier folk music movements, although Seeger was still active in the 1960s. I think in hindsight, I would have liked to explore more about how Dylan in a way helped usher in a new kind of folk, one that was more commercially oriented.

  2. Wow Anna! This is an amazing project on so many levels. Congratulations on everything!! 🙂

  3. Congratulations, Anna! This is incredible! I am so impressed, thank you for sharing this. I especially love your discussion of authenticity, which becomes so complicated when discussing art. Best of luck at grad school and for your bright bright future.

    Is there anything in particular that you weren’t able to discuss in your presentation, but that you’d like to talk more about?

    1. I think that exploring more 1960s folk singers’ interpretations of authenticity would have been interesting!

  4. Hi Anna,

    I love this project so much, I’m kind of wishing that my IS was about music. Some of my favorite music is early ’70s music that’s very inspired by folk music (e.g. Joni Mitchell, James Taylor) so it’s interesting to learn about the impact that the 1960s folk revival had on culture and on music. I also have one question: how did you choose your case studies?

    1. Since I was comparing two singers, I thought it would result in a clearer and easier-to-understand binary if I chose an Appalachian singer and a non-Appalachian singer to compare the variety of approaches to Appalachian ballads during the revival! I knew of both Ritchie and Dylan already, which helped me in comparing their background and styles.

  5. Congratulations Anna! Your passion and appreciation for this topic is so obvious and I really enjoyed your presentation! Thank you for doing this research and talking about this topic! You are going to do great things!!

  6. Anna,

    Brilliant research and historical scholarship into Appalachian ballad influence on 1960’s folk music.
    Music not only reflects who we are as a society but influences who we shall become. I hope that you continue the important work that you started here.

  7. Congrats Anna! It shows that you are really passionate about this topic. I hope you and Professor Friedman had a great time working on it. Keep up the great work!

  8. Great job! This was really interesting. I’m happy you were able to do an IS that you were so passionate about.

  9. Anna, I am so proud of you and lucky to call you my friend! What inspired your project? Also, how do you believe that analyzing music from a historical lens instead of a theoretical lens is important to the field of ethnomusicology?

    1. I started really getting interested in folk music freshman year, starting with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and eventually, it snowballed into an interest in Appalachian ballads, so combining them increasingly made sense. I thought it was a good way to combine both my English and History majors. One potential English-History Senior I.S. topic I had early on was to compare poems and other works written in reaction to the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, Ireland! I think a historical lens is important in contextualizing ethnomusicology and helps one understand how musicologists, singers, and fans alike have interacted with music differently over time.

  10. Anna, first of all I love seeing a member of flannel family succeed and this topic is so interesting! My question is if you found any musical artist from this project that you enjoy and wouldn’t have found if you wouldn’t have done this research?

    1. Most of the artists I referenced I was already familiar with to various extents, but I was interested by learning more about Mike Seeger’s group the New Lost City Ramblers that started the same year, 1958, that the Kingston Trio’s hit song “Tom Dooley” came out and set the revival ball rolling. The New Lost City Ramblers were very much a contemporary group, but consciously imitated the older folk styles of the 1930s and 1940s, which spoke to how they defined authentic folk music.

  11. Congratulations! What a great project. As a (not-so-old) folkie myself, I appreciate the ways you deconstruct the authenticity of folk music. And I love the way you’ve brought together your own interests with the disciplines of English and History. Well done!

  12. This was great, Anna! I performed in a folk music group for many years (started by Pete Seeger!) and also coordinated a folk coffeehouse (where Jean Ritchie performed). Your research gave me some new ways to think about many of the songs in our repertoire.

  13. Great job Anna! My question is what did you find most surprising about your topic when researching?

    1. I was surprised that despite the significant research on Appalachian ballads and on the 1960s American folk music revival, there was not much on the explicit overlap between the two. Most Appalachian ballad scholarship I encountered was centered on the 1910s-1930s.

  14. This is so interesting! I really enjoyed your insights.
    It must have been fun doing the research, but difficult to decide what to leave out!

  15. Hi, Anna, Congratulations on a interesting musical tour of America’s folk music roots. You have given me a new appreciation for Dylan’s folk roots, too. Although I do remember reading that his “purist” folk music fans did not appreciate it when he started using the electric guitar in 1965–probably trying to compete with the many “British Invasion” bands (Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.).

    I am the mom of a COW Alum (’13), and I looked forward to all of your presentations. Your intelligence, energy, and passion fill me with hope for our future.

    Best wishes.

  16. Hi Anna! It’s wonderful to see how this project has evolved and come to fruition since I got to hear your plans in August. I really love the consideration of authenticity and agree that this would be fascinating to explore further. It’s not an area where I have much scholarly experience, but do you explore the tension between authenticity-as-history vs authenticity-as-identity in the project, and/or do you have readings to recommend on the subject? Congratulations!!

    1. I focus mainly just on how different performers approached authenticity, but this was significantly influenced by their identities. One book that Professor Sacks pointed me to was Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition (1992), which talks about how many known traditions were actually constructed relatively recently, such as those of the Scottish Highlands.

  17. Great job, Anna! Looking back on this project and the many different threads you pulled together to create it, what would you say was the most challenging aspect of this IS?

    1. I would say the most challenging aspects were narrowing my initial focus on Appalachian ballads during the 1960s American folk music revival and finding sources that could speak to both Appalachian ballads and the 1960s revival (rather than only one or the other). Also with a longer paper comes the need to avoid excessively repeating points across sections.

  18. Anna
    I really enjoyed reading about your senior research on American Folk Music. All I can do is be me, whoever that is.
    Best, Bob
    p.s.
    If you make any profits from this work I must insist on 50% of the royalties.

  19. Anna, It is such an interesting topic and you really opened my eyes to the legacy of Appalachian ballads. I also enjoyed learning more about Dylan’s folk roots. Great job!

  20. Anna, such interesting work–a great synthesis of English and History approaches to this archive! It’s also making me think of your English Jr IS project and role of music in Okorafor’s story. Funny how the threads connect even when the projects are so different! Great work.

  21. I enjoyed learning a little bit about the Appalachian folk music tradition from your presentation. Though I do love music and am a fan of folk music, I never knew how important it was to the Appalachian region.

    I noticed that you included Bob Dylan in your presentation, since he was a pretty influential folk musician. However, when he began dabbling in rock’n’roll in the mid- to late 1960s, many folk music fans believed he was a traitor to the art. Would you consider Dylan’s folk-rock songs an important addition to the folk music tradition, a musical chimera of sorts, or are you more on the side that Dylan was a “traitor” to folk music, with sarcasm as his only defense?

    1. I think Dylan’s oeuvre was an important addition, yes, considering evolution is inherent to any music genre. Pursuing your own journey as a “lone wolf” of sorts while simultaneously an icon of a multifaceted music movement is never easy, and Dylan was never comfortably adhering to the rules of a movement. Inevitably, this led to clashes in perspective between him and his fans. But I think Dylan nevertheless appreciated his process of self-discovery — he probably had to check his fingers to make sure he wasn’t dreaming!

  22. Really enjoyed your IS subject and talk, Anna. As a member of the 60’s folk revival era who played at the Wooster coffee house and still plays guitar and banjo it was fun to hear about Jean Richie and folk music’s evolution again.

    Recommend you expand your next musical explorations to include the Canadian folk singers who also evolved during the 60’s…Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, etc.. They were my major influences, and I wonder how their closer links to the British Empire affected their adaptation of British and Appalachian ballads. Maybe you can discover some insights.

    Thanks for a great IS from a fellow Woo grad who was also an active folk era participant.

    Rick Rider
    COW English Major, ‘72

  23. Congrats on finishing your I.S.! Your presentation was really pretty and very easy to follow. Great job. I wanted to ask– why did you choose this topic? What kind of music do you like to listen to?

  24. Thanks for your work and presentation, Anna. I enjoyed reading it and I’m still thinking about it. You have added to my understanding and appreciation of the great Mr. Dylan.
    If you continue your work on this field of music (and I hope that you do!), you could consider some of the groups that took “traditional folk” music to new “folk rock” places, like the Byrds, The Band, and Country Joe. It would be interesting to get your thoughts on whether/how these “folk rockers” extended the revivalists’ departures from “traditional folk” for the same, or different, political and social goals. Thanks again; well done!

  25. Thank you for your work, and for the interesting approach of comparing Jean Ritchie and Bob Dylan. I had not heard of Jean Ritchie, but have just ordered the album you linked to.

    I wonder if you ran across the University of Chicago Folk Festival in your research? This year was the 61st Annual, and it was virtual this year: http://www.uofcfolk.org/. This was started in the 1960s by students interested in “authentic” folk music. It includes a lot of Appalachian performers, but also in recent years a wider variety of “folk” traditions. If you’re ever in Chicago in early February, there are two concerts (normally not free, unlike this year) and a full day of free folk music and folk dancing workshops on Saturday. It’s usually recorded by the Chicago NPR station WBEZ, so some of it may be accessible that way. I think it’s interesting that the festival has been carried on for this long.

    If you want to talk about these traditions further, students involved in the festival would probably be interested in your research.

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