Garden of Ballads

How varieties of caretakers have nurtured heirloom Celtic music
Episode Trailer

Plants can be carefully cultivated or can spread naturally. Songs can also spread deliberately or accidentally. Here’s a small sampling of just a few of the song collectors who helped preserve gardens of old English, Scottish, and Irish ballads that travelled to North America. Alex Cumming and Catherine Crowe help untangle a few strands of the bountiful musical harvest of folk history and culture preserved by Francis Child,  John Lomax, Helen Creighton, Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf, Anne & Frank Warner…  and Medford, Massachusetts-born Olive Dame Campbell, whose grave I’m determined to find by the end of the episode.


Thanks to everybody for listening. And a special thank you to this month’s underwriters: Gašper Šinkovec, Sheila Worrall, Brian Benscoter, Marc Gunn, Suezen Brown, Paul DeCamp, Paul Grajciar, Elisabeth Carter, Jen and Bob Strom, Rick Rubin, Susan Walsh, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, John Ploch, Benjamin Ruth, Joel DeLashmit, Finian McCluskey, Jon Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss, and Ian Bittle.

Episode 52-Garden of Ballads
How varieties of caretakers have nurtured heirloom Celtic music
This Irish Music Stories episode aired June 8, 2021

Speakers, in order of appearance:

>> Shannon Heaton: flute player, singer and host of Irish Music Stories 
>> Catherine Crowe: Toronto-based traditional singer and enamel artist
>> Alex Cumming: Accordion player, singer, pianist from Somerset, England
>> April Verch: Ontario Fiddler-singer-stepdancer who read Olive Dame Campbell’s diary entry for this episode
>> Olive Dame Campbell: 20th century education and song scholar
>> Len Graham: County Antrim born traditional singer who has collaborated with poets and storytellers
>> Angelo Dornan: New Brunswick born singer who spent much of his life farming in Saskatchewa 
>> Helen Creighton: 20th Century prominent folklorist from Nova Scotia
>> Nigel Heaton: young announcer for Irish Music Stories


>> Shannon: I’m Shannon Heaton. And this is Irish Music Stories. The show about traditional music, and the bigger stories behind it…

[ Music: “Lament for Lost Friends,” from Live at Simpson Street Studios

Artists: Alex Cumming & Nicola Beazley]

Like how sometimes you’re looking for a particular song, as Canadian collector Helen Creighton often was:

>> Catherine: She used to to like coach them. Like “Don’t you have any songs about a white horse?”

That’s Toronto-based traditional singer and enamel artist Catherine Crowe who spoke with me about Helen Creighton and Angelo Dornan, one of Helen’s song sources.

But there are other times that songs find you. Like how Helen came to meet Angelo in the first place

>> Catherine: Helen Creighton did not find him. He heard that Helen Creighton was collecting. And he wrote to her and said, well, if you’re looking for songs, ma’am, well I have a few!

And sometimes you are looking for a particular song collector, as I was when I decided to visit the grave of song collector and fellow Medford, Massachusetts resident Olive Dame Campbell. This proved to be more challenging than finding a ballad about a white horse.

>> Shannon: I have been walking all over this cemetery for an hour and a half. So I’m gonna ask the nice person, caretaker, even though it says closed today.

In this episode I’ll explore the work of just a few song collectors who helped preserve old English, Scottish, and Irish ballads—and all the history bundled into these songs as they adapted in North America. Songcatchers like Helen Creighton and John Lomax, who deliberately and systematically chased songs. And archivists like Francis Child who helped set the stage for 20th century collectors, and folks like Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf, Anne & Frank Warner, and Olive Dame Campbell who kind of just stumbled upon communities and singers.

And hopefully, by the end of this show, I’ll locate Olive’s grave at Oak Grove Cemetery, in this merry and currently hot and humid month of May

[ Music: “Barbary Allen,” from Mountain Ballads

Artist: Jean Ritchie ]

I love this song, Barbara Allen. This is Jean Ritchie singing. It’s the version Ada B. Smith sang for Olive Campbell in 1908.

The version I sing is different. I got my version (and my Moderna vaccine) from Dolly Parton, who recorded it with Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh from Donegal. That’s the melody that I use, with words from several other versions. But like the hundreds of other variants of this old ballad Barbara Allen, Barbara does not rush to young William’s side as he lay dying.

And when he does die, William is buried in the far graveyard. Like Olive Dame Campbell and her family. But unlike the Campbell clan, the song heroine dies of a broken heart. She’s buried beside William. “And from William’s grave grew a dark red rose, and from Barbara’s grave a briar.” 

So the rose and the briar grow into this  true lover’s knot. Destined to twine together in the end.

[ Jean Ritchie sings second part of verse:

“And out of his bosom grew a red red rose

Out of Barbry’s grew a green briar.” ]

It’s a beautiful, tragic song. And it’s wicked old. In 1665 English navy administrator Samuel Pepys wrote about hearing Barbara Allen. So we know it was in circulation back then, passing from singer to singer. (It didn’t appear in print until 1690.)

Later on, the song travelled to Kentucky. One of the many ballads that travelled from England, Scotland, and Ireland to America. And it was the first ballad that Olive Dame Campbell heard on her first visit there in 1908, where she discovered all these other ballads which had been preserved in the mountains since the 1600s, as depicted in the 2000 film Songcatcher (sorta). 

It’s a good movie. And Ada, who sang Barbara Allen to real life Olive Dame Campbell, was played by in the movie Emmy Rossum. This is Emmy singing here. She’s the major badass in the TV series Shameless.

[ Music: “Barbry Allen,” from Songcatcher soundtrack

Artist: Emmy Rossum ]

[ Music: Bb intro from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Anyway, the real  Olive Dame was born in my town of Medford, Massachusetts. I spoke with accordion player and singer Alex Cumming about Olive’s first visit to Kentucky.  

>> Alex: She was down in the Appalachians area with her husband John like working on an education project

>> Shannon: Yeah, she’d gone with her husband John C. Campbell to learn how they could help with education reform in the region we now call Appalachia. And we call it that because of the geographic survey the Campbells did. They defined those boundaries, not a cartographer. 

[ Music: “Across the Water,” from Across the Water

Artists: Alex Cumming & Nicola Beazley]

While Olive was visiting one of the local mountain schools, she heard a local version of Barbara Allen that ignited a 14-year journey of song catching.

>> Alex: Yeah, Yeah. And she collected that song by pure accident, really

>> Shannon: Alex has spent the last couple of years immersed in Olive Dame Campbell’s song collections. He’s been doing shows about her.  I’ll share our convo about Olive. And I’ll trace her connections to several collectors on both sides of the Atlantic. I’m really looking forward to digging in to a few stories of people and unexpected events that have led to an heirloom garden of folk song books and archival recordings.

But first, I really hope to find Olive Dame Campbell’s gravestone, so I can lay down my wilting red, red rose and grab a coconut water…

[ Music: “Chimes,”  from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]


Francis James Child loved antique roses. He was a gardener. And he knew that plants, like songs, can be carefully cultivated. Sometimes they spread naturally: invasive species can take over; birds can spread seeds. Sometimes pollinators can affect cross-breeds. Native or visiting plants can flourish or languish, because of neglect, or care, or disease.

Francis Child was born in Boston in 1825. He excelled in the free public school system and received a scholarship to Harvard. Then he went to Germany where he heard lectures from the Grimms. 

(Sidenote: It’s often said that Einstein believed fairytales were the best ways for parents to foster intelligence and creativity in their kids. Want a smart child? Read them folktales. Fantastical, funny, gory folktales.)

[ Music: “Travel Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Francis believed that folk ballads were also powerful ways to pass on information and preserve history. He valued the different perspectives in folk ballads that travelled to America and survived and adapted here. Songs about poor, young, rich, old, middle, parenting, working people.

After his time in Germany, back in Boston, he began editing an enormous collection of British poetry at Harvard. One of the volumes centered on English and Scottish Ballads. That one really lit him up. He set out to compile a comprehensive, chronological collection of ballads of English and Scottish origin, and their many variants.

He pulled printed broadsides and traditional songs. He worked with linguist historian Frederick James Furnivall to consolidate other early ballad collections. He consulted with scholars in Denmark and Italy to contextualize some of the pan-European, Turkish, and North African elements. 

He also headed the American Folklore Society in 1888 and 1889, which collected African-American and Native American folklore. But his central project was The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. 

In 1860 he published an 8-volume collection

[ Music: “Celtic Grooves,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

By the end of his life he’d organized 305 ballads and their many variants into 10 volumes. But he didn’t have time to write an introduction to explain his methodology. His friend and colleague George Kittredge edited and completed it.

Since the release of The Child Ballads (that’s the shorthand name for the collection), just a few omissions have come to light (like, ‘The Trees They do Grow High’ and its close cousin ‘Young Craigston’ should actually be ‘Child 306 and 307’). But for the most part, his work remains invaluable to scholars and singers today. And it was the industry standard by the time the early 20th century collectors were roaming stretches of North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Newfoundland.

As Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf wrote in the forward to her book Ballads and Sea Songs of Newfoundland, “The first question ballad enthusiasts ask when you return from a collecting trip is ‘How many Child ballads did you get?’”

Barbara Allen is Child Ballad number 84. I asked Alex Cumming about the version Olive Dame Campbell heard, back at the Hindman School in Kentucky 114 years ago. Alex is from Somerset, England and now lives in Medford. He and I had a video chat from our separate corners of town.

>> Shannon: Where do you live, Alex?

>> Alex: I’m in West Medford, on Wyman street.

>> Shannon: We’re near Wright’s Pond. Up in North Medford.

>> Alex: Oh, you lucky ducks!

>> Shannon: Oh, yes. And we have lots of ducks. and new goslings across the street

>> Alex: Yeah. And we’ve got lots of mating turkeys in our garden at the moment. So… lots of baby turkeys soon!

>> Shannon: Hahahaha! Okay. So I’m going to speak to you in the middle of mating turkey season. Amazing!

[ Music: Across the Water reprise ]

>> Alex: That version of Barbara Allen was her first song that she ever collected.

[ Music: “Barbara Allen,” from Kitchen Session
Artist: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon: Now, if I’d been hoping to find a banger version of an old ballad in the wilds of Appalachia, and I heard Barbra Allen, I’d be over the moon.

But when Olive Dame Campbell “landed” her Barbara Allen, she hadn’t set out to collect a bunch of songs. By her own admission, she was polite but unenthusiastic about hearing one of the students sing at the Hindman Settlement School. Here’s fiddle player April Verch reading from Olive’s diary from December 1908.

>> April: “Shall I ever forget it? The blazing fire, the young girl on her low stool before it,

>> Olive: She sat down in front of me, with a banjo across her knee. 

>> April: The soft strange steaming on the banjo—different from anything I’d heard before. And then the song! I had been used to singing ‘Barbara Allen’ as a child, but how far from that gentle tune was this. So strange, so remote, so thrilling. I was lost almost from the first note.

I began at once to pursue ballads whenever I had an opportunity. The search, continued over the years, has proved one of the most illuminating and rewarding experiences of my life.”

>> Shannon: Olive Dame Campbell didn’t have recording gear when she learned the song directly from 15 year old Ada. She was recorded talking about the song and singing it sometime later. Here’s Olive singing the song, with accompaniment recorded by Alex over 100 years later:

[ Music: “Barbara Allen,” from field recording + accordion drones

Artist: Olive Dame Campbell with Alex Cumming ]

So Olive and John Campbell had travelled from Medford to help lift mountain communities from disease, hunger, and poverty. When Olive heard “Barbara Allen,” she recognized it as a window into understanding mountain culture.

>> Alex: You learn a lot from just singing a song. There’s not just music. But you learn language, English literature, you learn poetry, you learn communication, you learn performance skills, you learn mathematics. You know, there’s so much. And that’s not without going into a topic of a song where you might learn the history and the context as well, so…

>> Shannon: Yeah!

>> Shannon: What’s another Olive song that you took to early on that you learned were hers?

>> Alex: Um, one of the first songs she collected, actually. It’s called Young Bichon, a variant of Lord Bateman.

>> Shannon: That’s Child Ballad #53

>> Alex: A very well known, well-traveled ballad. But this version has got a really nice lilt to it. Ah, it goes:

There was a man who lived in England

And he was of some high degree

He became uneasy, broken-hearted

Some fair land, some land to sea

And he sailed East, and he sailed West

And he sailed o’er the Turkish shore

Til he was caught and put in prison

Never to be seen not anymore

The Turkey had but one lone daughter

And she was of some high degree

She stole the keys from her father’s dwelling

And declared Lord Bateman, oh she’d set free


>> Shannon: Hey, hey! More about turkeys! For the mating turkeys in your yard! 

>> Alex: Hahahaha!

[ Reprise: Across the Water ]

>> Shannon: Do they respond to that song?

>> Alex: I haven’t tried actually. But I’m gonna see what happens.

>> Shannon: This is the real spirit of the song!

* * *

>> Shannon: Haha. No mating turkeys at Oak Grove Cemetery. But also… no chance encounter with Olive Dame Campbell’s grave. Unlike Olive’s fortuitous discovery of old ballads in the Southern Mountain States I was gonna need a more deliberate strategy to find the Dame Campbell grave plot.

The cemetery caretaker’s office was closed. But I noticed the dog in the side yard. And she noticed me.

>> Stephen: She wants to play. She won’t hurt you. Because her tail’s wagging as she barks.

>> Shannon: What’s your name?

>> Stephen: Stephen

>> Shannon: Stephen, I’m Shannon. It’s really nice to meet you. And your dog. What’s your dog’s name?

>> Stephen: Mia. Like missing in action. Stop!

>> Shannon: So Stephen and Mia pointed me in the right direction. And back up the hill I went, in search of Olive.

[ Music: “Rose in June,” from After the Morning Live

Artist/Composer: Shannon Heaton and friends ]

Like Olive, New York born Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf also got into song catching organically. She graduated from Vassar College in 1917; taught Stateside for a few years through the flu pandemic of 1918; and then volunteered to teach in Newfoundland. 

[ Music: “ Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist: Matt Heaton ]

In the summer of 1920, Elisabeth landed in Sally’s Cove, this tiny village with just a string of houses along the sea-shore. Her first night there she was entertained by a group of young men singing. 

Here’s the trio Finest Kind singing a verse of Thomas and Nancy, the first song Elisabeth heard.

[ Music: “Thomas and Nancy,” from For Honor & for Gain

Artist: Finest Kind ]

During that first visit to Sally’s Cove, Elisabeth stayed with Fanny Jane and Dan Endacott. Often Uncle Dan would sing. First he’d stand, remove his stubby pipe, spit into the little glowing wood-stove, and say he ‘had the cold’ and he couldn’t sing anyway. This was how he always began. And he’d always end the last line of the song in a speaking voice. This is totally what unaccompanied Irish singers do to this day.

[ Music: “Leonard Payne’s,” from Rufus Guinchard – Words & Music Pt. 2

Artist: Rufus Guinchard ]

From those first days in the village, Elisabeth recognized that music was an important social touchstone, partly because she’d been to folklore lectures by John Lomax, the cowboy song equivalent of Francis Child. John traveled around, eventually with his son Alan, collecting American ballads and folk songs, with special emphasis on the contributions of African Americans. 

More on the Lomaxes later. But that’s probably why when Elisabeth Greenleaf encountered all that singing in Newfoundland, this archival instinct kicked in. She started writing the songs down. And when she returned to the States, Elisabeth told the Vassar President and the head of the Folklore Foundation about her personal collection. They encouraged her to return to Newfoundland. 

[ Music: “Great Big Sea,” from Suffer No Loss

Artist: Keith Murphy ]

She trained herself to notate music, so she wouldn’t have to depend solely on memory. She didn’t have recording gear. And even if she did, carrying heavy wax disc recorders around Newfoundland might have been tougher than documenting music on paper. 

Or tougher than finding an old grave in Oak Grove cemetery…

On her second trip, Elisabeth collected 30 more songs. And then nine years later she went back with a strong Vassar-trained musician, Grace Yarrow Mansfield. She helped with more accurate transcriptions. So, three trips: The Long Way Round, The Long Way Down, and The Long Way Up. From those three trips, Greenleaf with Mansfield published Ballads and Sea Songs of Newfoundland in 1933. 185 songs and ballads with Elisabeth’s substantial introduction about Newfoundland culture and tradition. 

[ Music: “Nancy from London,” from Horizon Lines

Artist: Matthew Byrne ]

That was Keith Murphy lilting that tune. Keith was born in Newfoundland, as was Matthew Byrne. Here’s Matthew singing Nancy from London. That’s in the Greenleaf book.

The original publication wasn’t circulated widely. But as MacEdward Leach acknowledged in his later collection, it really pioneered the way for him, and Kenneth Peacock, and other collectors to preserve Newfoundland’s folk culture.

Elisabeth collected sea-songs about pirates, Turks, and slave-traders. The boys from the Irish settlements apparently loved to sing those (#TikTokSeashanty). There are fishing, and war, and sea disaster ballads. And piles of Irish songs, since so many Irish settled in Newfoundland.

[ Music: Barbara Allen reprise ]

Elisabeth also collected Child Ballads, like Barbree Ellen (that’s #12 in her book). But she thought the way people sang these ballads—and often the subject matter of Newfoundland songs—were really different from the English style. And from the style that Cecil Sharp describes from Appalachia.

Cecil Sharp was born in London in 1859. He went to college in Cambridge, spent a few years in banking, lived in Australia. And then he moved back to London where he worked as a music teacher and lecturer.

[ Music: “Enrico,” from Across the Water

Alex Cumming & Nicola Beazley ]

When he was 45 years old he met Emma Overd, a farm laborer who would entertain drinkers with local songs. Cecil took an interest in her singing—and in other local singers. And began transcribing their songs. He was also keen on traditional English Morris dancing. A totally different career for old Cecil. But at this point it was getting kind of hip to collect folks songs. Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was into it. It was a thing.

Cecil met social worker and dance teacher Mary Neal in 1905. And together they began collecting English folk dances. But by the time John and Olive Campbell were traveling around Appalachia, Cecil had already severed his ties with Mary Neal—because she, along with Cecil’s own sister Helen Sharp had gone and joined the WSPU. The Women’s Social and Political Union. I guess Cecil wasn’t really amused by the women’s suffrage movement. 

In 1911 he co-founded the English Folk Dance Society to promote traditional dances, and that’s when he met folksong collector and dance teacher Maud Karpeles. She began working for Cecil, though she was a formidable teacher and collector in her own right.

A few years later, Olive, who knew of Cecil’s work, got in touch with him about the songs that she’d collected in Appalachia. Cecil was a generation older than Olive. But he’d been at this song collecting for just four years longer than she.

Here’s my neighbor Alex again:

>> Alex: What actually ended up happening was Sharp was coming over to the States as part of the English Folk Dance and Song Society in Massachusetts. 

[ Music: Barbara Allen reprise ]

And he was coming over to visit to teach English folk dance to people here. He didn’t know anything about the songs in the mountains until Olive actually wrote him a letter, when she had found out that he was coming here to teach. Which is kind of interesting. So she got in contact. And they met up. And that’s when she showed him her collection of songs and got him excited. And then the next year he came over to collect in the mountains. 

>> Shannon: After his time in Massachusetts, Cecil went back to London and organized a trip the following year with Maud Karpeles. Because of the groundwork Olive had laid, they were able to travel through the hills of North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky on an efficient and defined mission. 

I wonder how the process was for Maud and Olive. Maybe I’ll ask her at her grave. If I ever find it.

>> Shannon:  [walking noises] OK, so essentially I’m hunting for a bunch of flat stones that I’m not going to be able to see. So I’m looking for a bigger stone near a medium-sized tree, and then there should be a big gravestone somewhere near by that says Morton. Am I getting warmer???

>> Alex: Yeah, I would have absolutely loved to have been in conversations with just Olive and Maud, cuz I think they would have been two awesome women together, having really awesome conversations. 

[ Music: “Hometown Lullaby,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist: Matt Heaton ]

I like to think that they would sort of just be rolling their eyes, or have like a secret signal when Sharp would do something like privileged man, like. They met at the same time as Sharp. And Maud  is also one of these folks that is often underrated for the amount of work she did. She was  an incredible part of the revival in the early 1900s. An amazing folk song collector and folk dance collector as well. And was a really good teacher. 

>> Shannon: The Olive, Cecil, and Maud collaboration resulted in a collection of songs and ballads first published in 1917, just one year before the devastating flu pandemic reduced the population of NC by about 13,000.

[ Music: “Heartstrings Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist: Matt Heaton ]

Here’s how the title page of the first edition reads:

English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians

Comprising 122 Songs and Ballads, and 323 Tunes

Collected by Olive Dame Campbell and Cecil J. Sharp

Olive’s name is listed first. And there’s no mention of Maud on the title page.

When you read Cecil’s introduction, he seems like a pretty gracious team player. He writes respectfully of all the local singers. He praises their stellar vocabulary, quick wit, and culture. He shows affection and admiration for all those he met during his  nine week visit to the mountains. And he marvels at this community in which singing is almost as universal and common as speaking.

But all the singers and songs that he describes are only the ones that he chose to include in the book.

>> Alex: I know from Cecil Sharp’s diaries that he was pretty racist, actually. And not very nice. And he had this very kind of unhealthy opinion that he was only going to be collecting from white folks. And the black communities were not what he was looking for. Which is crazy, because they were all singing and making music. And I mean, we all know like the banjo grew from those traditions. And there were certainly moments in his diaries where he was referring to these black communities as not being the type or sort he would like to have been with, or referring to them in a derogatory way.

And there’s a stark contrast where Sharp was going into collecting partly for self glory. And partly to sort of preserve Englishness and nationalism. And obviously, there must’ve been an element of fascination and interest as well. Whereas Olive went at it as ‘this is important for the community. And while we’re working on improving the communities, this is just part of how people live and express.’ which is great.

[ Music: “Abbey Reel,” from Kitchen Session

Artist: Matt Heaton ]

>> Shannon: So, over the course of  say 14 years., she collected 216 songs?

>> Alex: Yep. She had a lot of songs by the time she met with Sharp. And he selected what he deemed suitable. Sharp’s opinion on what was suitable is interesting. He changed tunes to fit his idea of how it should go. And also changed the lyrics a lot to make it more PC. Because his idea was to use these songs in schools. So a lot of these songs were edited as well. Which I don’t think Olive did at all. She just collected as best she could.

>> Shannon: She wasn’t as big on compression and auto tuning?

>> Alex: No, no!

>> Shannon: She was too busy with the mating turkeys….

>> Alex: Haha.

[ Reprise: Across the Water ]

>> Shannon: The second edition of English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians was published 15 years later. And on the title page it says music 

Collected by Cecil J. Sharp

Comprising 273 Songs and Ballads with 968 Tunes

including 39 Tunes contributed by Olive Dame Campbell

Edited by Maud Karpeles

There’s more material in this edition, from a second trip that Maud and Cecil took to the mountains. So it’s nice that Maud gets an editing credit. But Olive is demoted in the byline, even though she instigated the whole collection in the first place.

[ Music: Lament reprise ]


>> Alex: That’s kind of it, isn’t it. And that’s such a big thing of history. Yet in some ways it was better than it had been, in that the women were getting acknowledgment in the first place. But at that point in history it was because they were tied to a particular person who happened to be white, privileged, and male. And all these amazing women did so much more than what they did with Cecil Sharp that actually were probably more influential over time. I mean, Mary Neal, for example, is pretty damn responsible for Morris dancing surviving the war times. In a similar way that Maud Karpeles does with Morris and country dance and song as well. Um, because they were much more adamant on their teaching than the publications in some ways. I think in a similar approach to Olive — in that these are living traditions that, you know, deserve to be taught, and sung, and played with. And experienced rather than published in a book for glory, you know?

>> Shannon:  That’s what the John C. Campbell Folk school is all about to this day. After John’s death, Olive founded the school in Brasstown, North Carolina with Marguerite Butler.  Alex will be teaching there in this summer of 2021 — teaching some of Olive’s songs (and maybe some turkey warbles).

[ Music: “Raw Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist: Matt Heaton ]

Olive was the director of the John C. Campbell Folk School from 1925-1947. When she retired, she went home to New England, and died in 1954.

The third edition of English Folk Songs f  rom the Southern Appalachians was published in 1960. Olive isn’t even mentioned on the front cover.

>> Alex: What seems to be a big thing about Olive that I’ve learned is that she’s always been a really big collaborator. She was in it for were for getting the songs preserved, and looked after, and out in the community. And sort of like living and thriving. And so she didn’t mind how that happened. And so she effectively was like. I’m just collecting these songs. I want these songs to be out there, you know. Go for it.” 

>> Shannon: Did she ever publish another book under her own name?

[ Music: Barbara Allen reprise ]

>> Alex: Not of folk songs. She did publish folk songs in journals. Mountain Life and Work is the name of the journal she published some songs in.

>> Shannon:  That’s another approach. County Derry native Sam Henry spent the years between world wars publishing folk-songs in the weekly newspaper, the Coleraine. Sam was a writer and folklorist, and also an Irish pension worker. For one year he worked in England as a customs and excise officer.

Ulster singer Len Graham spoke about Sam Henry in Irish Music Stories Episode 32:

>> Len: A man called Sam Henry published a song every week in the local paper from 1923-1939. So my uncle, my mother’s older brother, he gave me a shoebox of cuttings that he had made. Not the whole collection, but a good number of them. 

>> Shannon:  All of Sam’s ballads and songs were eventually published in a book called Songs of the People—almost 700 songs from Northern Ireland. Len used that book to fill in bits and pieces of songs he’d learned from his neighbors

>> Len: Cuz a lot of the singers I’d be calling on were elderly. MIghtn’t remember a whole song, but they might have a verse or two verses. I could go to Sam Henry, and with a bit of luck it might be in there.  And be able to fill out the versions. 

>> Shannon: For a while it was hard to get a copy of Songs of the People. When the new edition came out, I got to get my own copy. I love everything about it. Including the assorted photos of singers on the cover.

>> Len: Yeah, There’s a collage in it. and there’s a man with a horn. That’s John McGrath, a neighbor of ours. Sam got one song from him, a land league song from the 19th century called the Moneygran Pig Hunt. And I said to John, “Geeze, you didn’t give any more songs to Sam Henry?”

“Oh, Jesus, when I found out what Sam’s real job was?”

“What was his real job?” says I.

“He was an excise man! Working for the government. And at that time my dad was making poitin in the barn, and we didn’t want to bring him around the place. No, one song was enough.”

[ Music: Bb Intro Groove Reprise ]

>> Shannon: So this is part of it, right? The song collector establishes rapport—or mistrust. And that’s gonna affect what songs do, or don’t get shared. 


Olive Dame Campbell collected many more songs than appeared in the collection with Cecil Sharp.

>> Alex: I have a fabulous dissertation from Douglas Turner. It’s called In the World of my Ancestors, the Olive Dame Campbell Collection of Appalachian Folk Song. And what he’s done is he’s gone through the archives and basically categorized all the songs that she collected. My dream would be to have these very easily accessible in some form. At least a website to direct you to all the places you can find these, you know would be really cool. I’ve done a lot of digging. And I’ve had to do a lot of searching and pleading to get things. And it will be great for her to have the glory that she deserves. And be remembered in history. Even though she maybe didn’t want to be,

>> Shannon: Yeah!

[ Music: “Barbara Allen,” from Paddy Keenan

Artist: Paddy Keenan ]

>> Shannon: My dream was to find Olive Dame’s grave and lay my dark red rose upon it. And get some Gatorade. I had to be close to this damn family plot.

( Shannon walks up the hill: Whew, I totally believe in you Olive. And I do like a healthy hike. But if I had known that it would have been this much walking around, I would have brought some water!)

>> Shannon: What’s another Olive song that you enjoy singing?

>> Alex: Oh, um one of them is Three Jolly Huntsman of Cape Ann. Cape Anne being a lovely coastline up here in Massachusetts. So that kind of caught me straight away. And quite a lot of these don’t have any melodies attached to them. They’re just texts. Which also on the creative part is quite fun to try and find a tune that works. And so I ended up with this:

[Alex sings the first verse of Three Jolly Huntsman]

>> Shannon: Olive’s words, sung to the traditional tune Star Above the Garter. Here’s Alex singing it with his trio Teacups

[ Song: “Three Jolly Huntsman,” from In Which

Artists: The Teacups ]

[ Music: “Piano Meditation,” from Lounge Session

Artist: Agnes Murphy ]

>> Shannon: For their early song collecting expetditions, Olive, Cecil, and Maud were collected these texts and this music without any recording gear. That’s how Canadian collector Helen Creighton published her first collection of songs and ballads in 1932. 

By the time Angelo Dornan contacted Helen Creighton about his songs in the late 1960s, she—and many other song collectros—had portable recording gear. She wrote about what a joy it was in 1943 to receive recording equipment from the Library of Congress, and how this made collecting songs so much easier.

When she recorded Angelo Dornan singing, she documented his singing. But also some of the collecting process. Here’s singer and artist Catherine Crowe again:

>> Catherine: One of the things I loved about the recordings that Helen made was that there was a little bit of talking on them. So there was a little bit of his conversation, him talking about, you know, he was like so surprised that he was remembering all these songs. And you know, it was just really, really nice.

>> Shannon: Like this song, Drive the Cart. Helen asks Angelo about it, and he says the song is about a guy who wouldn’t get married. 

>> Angelo: He wouldn’t get married, and they were gonna hang him. 

>> Helen: Yeah.

>> Angelo: They had him in a cart. And so they stopped the cart and gave him another chance. They told him he either had to take a wife or be hanged. He answered them this way

[ Song: “Drive the Cart,” from Field Recording by Helen Creighton

Artist: Angelo Dornan ]

>> Catherine: He actually had a version of the True Lovers Discursion!

>> Shannon: Does Elizabeth Cronin have a version of that?

(Shannon sings… then Elizabeth Cronin finishes the verse)

>> Catherine: That’s the one. 

>> Shannon: Elizabeth Cronin in Cork sang songs for Alan Lomax, Seamus Ennis, and Jean Ritchie. (Jean Ritchie sang Barbara Allen at the top of this episode.) Bess Cronin’s son and then her grandson pulled all the recordings together in the Songs of Elizabeth Cronin. A lot of these are flowery songs with lots of verses: hedge schoolmaster ballads, the kind that were sung and taught in secret outdoor schools that popped up in 17th century Ireland, when it was illegal for Catholics to teach. Maybe Angelo got these kind of songs from his Irish parents, or from the time he spent in Ireland. 

>> Catherine: And I believe that with that song, apparently he only remembered fragments of it. But he and another singer from Elgin sat down together and kind of put together, you know, the different things that they had. And they filled it out.

>> Shannon: Oh, cool!

>> Catherine:  I know, I thought it was just such a great story.

[ Music: “Chin Music,” from Field Recording by Helen Creighton

Artist: Angelo Dornan ]

>> Catherine: Helen Creighton talks about the fact that his wife didn’t know he could sing! And she was sitting there, like, listening to him, singing these songs for her. And just getting prouder and prouder of him. And like, not having any idea! Except she said he used to sing in his sleep. And he talked about having, he would go through the songs in his head while he was plowing or, you know. His connection with song was just so magical. Even without singing it out loud, it sustained him, you know, throughout his whole life.

[ Music: Raw Chimes Reprise ]

When I started this whole journey (this was back in 84 when I first went to the Willie Clancy school), and it was really my first introduction to the real kind of traditional Irish stuff. And it just blew me away. And I had my little tape recorder, you know, and I was taping everybody.

So when I went home, I had all these tapes. And I kind of had to make sense of them myself. And quite a number of them I had missed the first few words, you know, or whatever, cause they hadn’t got my tape recorder out in time. Or my tape recorder had run out. And one of the songs I only had a verse. And I thought, well, that’s okay.  I’ll be able to find. Of course this was the days before the internet, so there was no Google, there was no Mudcat cafe. There was none of that stuff.  So eventually I made it to the Museum of Civilization here. And it was in a book of folk songs of New Brunswick. And it was on a floppy, you know, those floppy little records they had in the back. And it was, and it was Angelo Dornan singing it. The song was called Jolly Roving Tar.  

[ Music: “Jolly Roving Tar,” from Field Recording by Helen Creighton

Artist: Angelo Dornan ]

>> Shannon: Folk Songs of Southern New Brunswick was Helen’s 7th book. 

[ Music: “Grupai Ceol Theme,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

Over the course of her life, she collected over 4,000 traditional Gaelic, English, German, Mikmaq, African, and Acadian songs and ghost stories that she’d encountered in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where Angelo was born.

>> Catherine: Both of his parents were Irish. And they used to have song sessions at their house. I mean, as you know, great deal of poverty in the East coast of Canada. So he moved West. And there wasn’t any song sessions going on out West. But he got married and he had a farm. And then when he retired he really wanted to go back to New Brunswick, to Elgin, which is where he was from. And being immersed in this society that sang so much, he remembered 125 songs that his parents had sung when he was a child!

>> Shannon: Most of the songs in Helen’s New Brunswick book came from Angelo. The recordings are housed at The Museum of Civilization, which is now called The Canadian Museum of History.

 >> Catherine: The first time I went to the Museum of Civilization and I spent the three days there, they set me up with the reel-to-reel tape recorder and a cassette tape recorder. So I could tape anything I wanted. So I made all these recordings. I mean, they’re terrible recordings, of course. And some of them were tapes that had been made from the cylinders. And those were like incomprehensible. You might as well have been listening to a dolphin. 

>> Shannon: So… dolphins, do they use a lot of melisma?

>> Catherine: Hahahaah!

Anyway, so they gave me all this equipment and they, they let me record everything that I wanted. I recorded songs that had specific melodic or lyrical interest for me. But there was lots of other stuff there. And I thought I have to go back sometime. And it was 10 years later. But there was a new person in charge of the collection, and a little suspicious. And was not willing to have me record anything at all. And he said, no, we don’t allow recording anymore, he said, because we found that the music was being used for unauthorized purposes. 

And I thought for a minute, and I thought, really? You know, recordings of 90 year olds, singing traditional songs? Like, what unuthorized purposes exactly were these being used for??

>> Shannon: Toyota ad!

>> Catherine: No! They were being used in schools. Shocking. I mean, it just goes to show you that that archival attitude that some people have is that they’re protecting these from people, instead of protecting them for people. 

>> Shannon: Yes

>> Catherine: After I came back from the Museum of Civilization the second time and they told me the recordings were being used for ‘unauthorized purposes,’ I thought, okay, I’m going to be unauthorized, too. And I’mputting all of these on the internet so everybody can access them. So I got a SoundCloud account, and I put all of Angelo Dornan’s stuff on it. But Angelo Dornan’s grandson, who lived in Ottawa at the time, read it and was really delighted. So,,,

>> Shannon: You can hear the recordings of Angelo that Catherine had been permitted to make, during her first visit to the museum, at (with an e on the end).

Catherine recently sang one of Angelo’s songs for the An Góilín Traditional Singers. It’s a long-running Dublin singing session which moved online during Covid times. It’s a big group, so you get to hear a lot of songs before your turn comes up to share. 

>> Catherine: So when I did get a chance to sing, I told Angelo’s story, you know. And I sang one of my favorite songs of his. It’s called the Rambling Boys of Pleasure. 

[ Music: “Rambling Boys of Pleasure,” from Studio Session

Artist: Catherine Crowe ]

>> Shannon: After Catherine sang Rambling Boys of Pleasure, another session participant connected with her. It was John Moulden in Ulster.

[ Music: “D Chimes,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]


>> Catherine: He said did you know Angelo came to Ireland? And I said, no! I had no idea!!

>> Shannon: John Moulden is a living encyclopedia of traditional song. He helped with the Sam Henry index. And like so many who’ve gotten into the archivist game, he fell into it inadvertently. His Irish songs website,, is an amazing resource of traditional singing in Ireland and North America. It’s a much more comprehensive analysis than this short episode. Though even this small sampling has branched out quickly, despite my pruning efforts. 

Well, we still have a few more short tales—about Anne and Frank Warner and the Lomaxes. But before we continue this cultivated survey, here’s my son Nigel to thank this month’s supporters.

[ Music: “D Mutey Big Build,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

>> Nigel: Thank you to Gašper Šinkovec, Sheila Worrall, Brian Benscoter, Marc Gunn, Suezen Brown, Paul DeCamp, Paul Grajciar, Elisabeth Carter, Jen and Bob Strom, Rick Rubin, Susan Walsh, Ken Doyle, Chris Armstrong, John Ploch, Benjamin Ruth, Joel DeLashmit, Finian McCluskey, Jon Duvick, Gerry Corr, Mike Voss, and Ian Bittle.

[ Music: “The Blackest Crow,” from The Blackest Crow

Artists: Atwater-Donnelly ]

In 2021, I was in search of Olive Dame Campbell’s gravestone. And in 1938, Anne and Frank Warner had decided to chase down a mountain dulcimer.

Frank was born in Alabama. He grew up playing local Southern songs in North Carolina, and he met Anne Locher in New York City. They got married. And living in Greenwich Village in the late ‘30s. Anne and Frank got into traditional music together. They ordered a mountain dulcimer from an instrument builder in North Carolina. But the luthier, Nathan Hicks, wrote back to say he couldn’t manage it. He had a lot of kids, times were tough. He couldn’t get supplies to make instruments. Sorry.


Meanwhile, John Lomax was travelling around collecting songs for the Library of Congress. John was the guy whose lectures inspired Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf to write down those songs in Newfoundland.

John Lomax came from Mississippi and Texas. He’d collected songs as a kid—he got a bunch of them from his childhood friend Nat Blythe (a former slave). It wasn’t until John got to Harvard that somebody told him to pursue more of those songs. It was Professor George Kittredge, the guy who was completing the Child Ballads. He told John “Go and get this material while it can be found. Preserve the words and music. That’s your job.” 

John ended up publishing Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. And traveling around the U.S. to help form folklore societies, which inspired young students like Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf to recognize value in ballads.

John’s wife Bess helped him organize tours. 

[ Music: “Celtic Grooves,” from Production Music Made for Irish Music Stories
Artist/Composer: Matt Heaton ]

And when she died, his two sons pushed him back on the road to pursue an anthology of American folksongs. They weren’t looking for Barbara Allen, or other songs of British origin. The Lomaxes wanted to show what American singers had created, not what they had preserved.

 The Library of Congress gave them a ‘portable’ (a 315 pound) aluminum disk recorder. They installed in the trunk of their Ford sedan. 

Imagine Elisabeth Greenleaf trying to cart that thing around Sally’s Cove in Newfoundland.

While the Lomaxes traipsed through 33 states, and also the West Indies, the Bahamas, and Haiti to create their Archive of American Folk Song, Anne and Frank Warner hadn’t forgotten about Nathan Hicks and the dulcimer. They were concerned about his hard luck. They packed their car full of food and clothing to share with Nathan and his family in North Carolina, 20 years after Olive, Cecil and Maud had combed those hills chasing songs.

Anne and Frank had an amazing visit with the Hicks family. And they met Nathan’s nephew Frank Proffitt who sang a pile of songs. This chance meeting shaped their life’s mission to learn and share songs. They’d spend every vacation with the Hicks, the Proffitts. Eventually they got to know Yankee John Galusha in the Adirondacks, and Lena Bourne Fish in NH. Frank dedicated himself to learning these songs—not just the melodies and words, but also their style. Their sons Jeff and Gerret also got into the music. And Anne kept notes about all their travels. And about everybody they’d met.

Like the Lomaxes,  Anne and Frank got recording gear early on. They recorded 1,000 work songs, spirituals, and ballads. And in 1984, Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne & Frank Warner Collection came out,  six years after Frank had died. Anne and her son Jeff finished it together. And it was full of Anne’s extensive biographical portraits of the singers and their families.

Alan Lomax wrote about the Warners. He said “For many years they spent every vacation and every scrap of spare cash on their recording trips. It was a continuous act of unpaid, tender devotion to American folk song and a life-long love affair with the people who remembered the ballads. 

>> Shannon: Anne and Frank were pretty righteous, huh? 

>> Alex: Aye, aye, aye!

>> Shannon: That seems like a very, um, balanced duo there. Yeah. The Warners

>> Alex: If all of them were like that, that would be great.

>> Shannon: If all of them were like that, that would be great. They obviously were a lovely people.

>> Alex: Yeah. Oh I can’t imagine them not being.

>> Shannon: Yeah.

[ Music: “The Praties Are Dug and the Frost is All Over,” from Forty Years of Irish Piping

Artist: Seamus Ennis ]

In 1965, uilleann piper and collector of Irish street ballads Colm Ó Lochlainn wrote  “Let all thank God for the ballad-maker, the ballad-singer, and the ballad monger.”

And thank God for the cemetery caretakers. Because of Stephen and Mia, I finally found the rock. And all the tiny flat gravestones of the Campbell family.

Shannon: I found it! Thanks a lot for your help!

Stephen: This is the old section. So unless you know the area it’s almost impossible.

Shannon: Yeah, take care. Bye, Mia!


[ Music: “Mrs. Violet Eunson” (first tune in the track titled Belle), from B&B

Composer: Jennifer Wrigley

Artist: tricolor ]

Shannon: Because Olive Dame Campbell met with Cecil Sharp when he visited Lexington;

Because Frank and Anne Warner reached out to a dulcimer maker in North Carolina;

Because Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf billeted with musical hosts in a Newfoundland fishing village;

Because Angelo Dornan reached out to Helen Creighton;

Because of Francis Child, John and Alan Lomax, Sam Henry, Colm Ó Lochlainn, the Cronin Family, John Moulden, and so many other collectors and archivists and libraries;

And because of all the original singers with heads and hearts full of songs;

We have this bountiful (and sometimes unruly) musical harvest of folk history and culture to continue to share. Sure, it’s a real mixed bag: some collectors have been criticized for their editing choices. Some collecting teams seem to have been more fair and balanced than others.

But as John Moulden told me, “tradition is about sharing, about passing it on. So any effort we make to understand it better may help overcome misconceptions of the past.”

There’s still a lag between our digital age and the astonishing backlog of material that modern day archivists face (including those underwater, dolphin-esque old recordings). Christopher Greenleaf, grandson of Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf, is hopeful that additional materials may still surface from the trips his Granny Greenleaf took to Newfoundland back in the 1920s.

>> Christopher: “In the summer of 1929, Mimi, Grandma Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf took down music from living Newfoundland sources. People  for whom the songs and long involved ballad text were visceral, personal heritage. A century on, in our own stretch of the marching calendar, many a delightful surprise and some startled recalculations await us as Sally’s Cove, those compendious New England-Newfoundland archives, and smugly time-biding attics up North cough up new songs, names, happenings, and perhaps eyebrow-raisingly detailed chronicles. Once online, these new sources will rekindle light many have long thought to have gone out for good. Indeed, we can count ourselves lucky.”

[ Music: “Belle of the South Shore,” from B&B

Composer: Shannon Heaton

Artist: tricolor ]

This episode of Irish Music Stories was produced by me, Shannon Heaton. Special thanks this month to my guests Alex Cumming and Catherine Crowe. To April Verch for reading Olive’s diary notes. To Christopher Greenleaf for the beautiful closing words. To Keith Murphy, John Moulden, and Sol Foster for helping me make more musical connections; to Aubrey Atwater and Matthew Byrne for the music and thoughtfulness; to Matt Heaton for input on the story and for all the production music; to Nigel Heaton for acknowledging our sponsors, who made this episode possible. Thanks a lot everybody. And thank you, Dolly Parton, for Barbara Allen—and for the financial help with a Covid-19 vaccine. And thank you, Stephen the cemetery caretaker, Mia the dog, and Alex’s turkeys.

[ Music: Across the Water Reprise ]


>> Alex: Oh, the turkeys are the bane of my life. It’s not very soundproof, because it’s a spare bedroom I’m in. When I’m trying to do a recording project, you can hear it through the windows and hear it on my microphones. And then you hear gobble-gobble-gobble-gobble!

>> Catherine: It was kind of that underwater sound. Bloop, bloop, bloop.

>> Shannon: Hahahaha! There’s a lot of rhythm in tha’!

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Cast of Characters

Episode guests in order of appearance

Catherine Crowe


Toronto-based traditional singer and enamel artist

Alex Cumming


Accordion player, singer, pianist from Somerset, England

April Verch


Ontario Fiddler-singer-stepdancer who read Olive Dame Campbell’s diary entry for this episode

Olive Dame Campbell


20th century education and song scholar

Len Graham


County Antrim born traditional singer who has collaborated with poets and storytellers

The Heaton List