It's just these old hills is kinda sad lookin', you know. And you get feelin' down and out and lookin' at these old hills sittin' on your front porch or somethin'.. and you get to playin' these old tunes and it helps you, builds your morale up a little bit
Diverse in style, sometimes varying greatly from county to county, American old time music is known by many names. It was played on multiple instruments, primarily the fiddle, banjo, and guitar, and it was created as a blend between two distinct styles of music:
(1) Eurasian—This area of monody, usually associated with the spread of
the high cultures of antiquity, spreads right around the world from Japan
through the Far East, the Moslem World, the Mediterranean World, into
France, the British Isles, and Colonial America. The voices are ordinarily
high-pitched, often harsh and strident, delivered from a tight throat, with
great vocal tension, body position rigid, facial expressions sad to agonized,
prevailing mood of the music tragic, melancholy and nostalgic. Melodies
long and highly ornamented. Control and individuality are the keynotes here.
(3) African Negro—With some noted exceptions, the area includes Africa,
south of Moslem influence, and the Negro colonies of the New World. Song
is largely a group product, often polyphonic and polyrhythmic. The
individual voice plays through many pitches. The accent is on the dance and
rhythmic variety. Sensual motor activity, facial expression animated, music
characteristically composed of short phrases which wander easily from song
to song, mood often frankly orgiastic.
The murders of women by husbands, lovers, fathers, acquaintances, and strangers are not the products of some inexplicable device. Murder is simply the most extreme form of sexist terrorism. A new word is needed to reflect this political understanding…femicide best describes the murders of women by men motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership of women.
Long before Eminem became the focus of criticism for writing lyrics about the violent murder of his estranged wife, Kim, both black and white American folks had been writing songs about femicide. In fact, murder ballads which almost always relate tales of femicide are as old as American music itself. Indeed, such themes have been a central part of Western culture since time immemorial.
Little Sadie, as Mrs. West indicates, is one of the few murder ballads which is a part of both the white and negro old-time musical traditions. Though it's not currently available on Youtube, a group of young black musicians named the Carolina Chocolate Drops do an excellent version of this song in the style of the old negro string bands.
In 1808 John Lewis took his lover, Naomi Wise, out to the river in Asheboro, North Carolina, where he drowned her. Just nineteen years old, Naomi Wise could not have known that the story of her death would inspire a song that would be sung for hundreds of years to come.
Reading the actual history behind these murder ballads can often be disturbing. In the late 19th century Peter DeGraff impregnated his lover Ellen Smith (who on some accounts was mentally challenged) out of wedlock. The pregnancy ended in a miscarriage and DeGraff rejected Ellen Smith. She continued to pursue a relationship with him, and in 1894 DeGraff wrote a note telling her to meet him in a secluded area outside of Winston. There, he shot her through the breast.
This tale of female harm and eventual femicide would become the basis for a ballad which is a textbook example of misogynistic expression in the music of a part of the United States caught between rural old-world sensibilities and burgeoning modern culture. Ballads, by definition, tell a story, and ballads of femicide are inevitably told from male perspectives. The female experience is often left out completely. One exception, though not technically a femicide ballad, is Young Emily. Told from a woman's perspective it tells the story of the murder of a rich girls poor lover by her father.
Young Emily, sung by Dellie Norton
Toast, NC fiddle and banjo player Tommy Jarrell plays "Poor Ellen Smith," a ballad about the 1894 murder of Ellen Smith by Peter DeGraff. Jarrell's father is said to have learned the song from DeGraff in the jailhouse at Winston-Salem.
The song is based on real events in 19th-century Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In 1894, a town drunk and ne'er-do-well named Peter DeGraff had an ill-fated love affair with Ellen Smith, who was unable to understand his rejection and may have been mentally challenged. Smith became pregnant by DeGraff, but their child died at birth. Afterwards she began following DeGraff around town, and eventually he sent her a note that asked her to meet him in a secluded area, worded in such a way that Smith would have believed DeGraff wanted to reconcile. Instead, when she arrived, DeGraff shot her through the chest. He later reported that Smith's only words after being shot were "Lord have mercy on me." DeGraff confessed to the crime on the gallows, shortly before he was hanged.
Young Californian old-time instrumentalist and all around Weird Guy does an interesting version of Poor Ellen Smith.
The last time I saw Darlin' Cora she was sitting on the bank of the sea, with a fourty-four around her and a banjo on her knee.
Popular tune Darlin' Cora, also played by both black and white musicians, is somewhat of an exception. Though still the tale of a woman's death, Cora is portrayed as a roguish outlaw rather than a helpless woman.
Edited by EmanuelaOrlandi (March 26, 2012 01:01:43)