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

Anna Halgash

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)

Posted in I.S. Symposium 2021, Independent Study.

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