Day: October 15, 2020

Recovered songs, recovered stories

Folk songs often bring us to the intersection of place, history, and memory. In certain cases, digging into those songs gives us a chance to recover the true stories, long-hidden, from our past, bringing a reckoning with the history that did happen and a reimagining for our collective future. Recently, The Bitter Southerner posted a thoughtful article which examines how the popular folk tune Swannanoa Tunnel was taken from the wrongfully convicted black community in Western North Carolina. Forced to build the railroad tunnel as convict labor during the Jim Crow era, those convicts originally wrote the tune in the “hammer song” tradition of John Henry. Somebody Died, Babe: A Musical Cover-up of Racism, Violence, and Greed shows how the song was reshaped and romanticized into an English-based folk tune in the 1920s – 1960s to appeal to white audiences. As the site notes, “Beneath the popular folk song…and beneath the railroad tracks that run through Western North Carolina, is a story of blood, greed, and obfuscation. As our nation reckons with systematic racial violence, …