A lavish presentation of 208 folksongs collected throughout Alabama in the 1940s
Alabama is a state rich in folksong tradition, from old English ballads sung along the Tennessee River to children’s game songs played in Mobile, from the rhythmic work songs of the railroad gandy dancers of Gadsden to the spirituals of the Black Belt. The musical heritage of blacks and whites, rich and poor, hill folk and cotton farmers, these songs endure as a living part of the state’s varied past.
In the mid 1940s Byron Arnold, an eager young music professor from The University of Alabama, set out to find and record as many of these songs as he could and was rewarded by unstinting cooperation from many informants. Mrs. Julia Greer Marechal of Mobile, for example, was 90 years old, blind, and a semi-invalid, but she sang for Arnold for three hours, allowing the recording of 33 songs and exhausting Arnold and his technician. Helped by such living repositories as Mrs. Marechal, the Arnold collection grew to well over 500 songs, augmented by field notes and remarkable biographical information on the singers.
An Alabama Songbook is the result of Arnold’s efforts and those of his informants across the state and has been shaped by Robert W. Halli Jr. into a narrative enriched by more than 200 significant songs-lullabies, Civil War anthems, African-American gospel and secular songs, fiddle tunes, temperance songs, love ballads, play-party rhymes, and work songs. In the tradition of Alan Lomax’s The Folk Songs of North America and Vance Randolph’s Ozark Folksongs, this volume will appeal to general audiences, folklorists, ethnomusicologists, preservationists, traditional musicians, and historians.
Robert W. Halli Jr. is associate professor of English and Director of the University Honors Program at The University of Alabama. *
“An Alabama Songbook is a wonder—a work of fine scholarship that entertains as it instructs. One can (and does) sing along while sharing joys, hopes, and disasters of a proud people whose contribution to their region is timeless. In a monumental undertaking, Byron Arnold collected these songs; with perfect pitch as editor, Robert Halli has made them ours forever.” —Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird
“This is a superb work—a major contribution to folk music scholarship and to our knowledge of southern culture.” —Charles Wolfe, author of A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry
“Halli’s volume is a welcome addition to the preservation of folk music.” —Gulf South Historical Review
“A bountiful collection of Alabama folksongs of many types from the white and black traditions. . . . This book will provide the general reader with many interesting songs to be enjoyed and resung, along with some insights into folksong and folk-singing; the general and more specialized reader will be interested in the background on Arnold's work and in some of the more unusual songs included in the collection.” —Art Rosenbaum, author of Folk Visions and Voices: Traditional Music and Song in North Georgia