Hang Down Your Head

digitizing folk music history: tu 01/10 — the “great folk scare,” part 1.

In the second meeting of Digitizing Folk Music History, our seminar used the many versions of the quintessential 60s folk revival song “Tom Dooley” to dive into the heart of the revival. We will broaden our lens over time, back as far as Herder and forward to the latest alterna-folk, but we start with the song that, as Robert Cantwell shows us, made a strange, unlikely circuit from an actual scandalous murder and hanging after the Civil War to a commercial “hillbilly” old-timey record in the 1920s to lefty ballad collectors in the 30s and 40s to a trio of clean-cut college kids in the late 1950s to a rock star and his band going rootsy and back again to the North Carolina mountains, always hanging its head somewhere between the terrifyingly tragic and wryly macabre, insisting intensely on its locality yet reaching for something like the universal (“throughout history,” as the Kingston Trio put it, thus earning a poor grade if they had been writing a history essay).

We also began to examine the “great folk scare” as a cultural movement using secondary sources (Rahm, Cantwell) as well as primary sources (articles from Time and Mademoiselle magazines): why does it matter to study this phenomenon? How is memory, heritage, modernity, the very meaning of America and Americanness at stake in its music and culture making?

Tu 01/10 The “Great Folk Scare,” Part 1


  • Millie Rahm, “The Folk Revival: Beyond Child’s Canon and Sharp’s Song Catching,” in American Popular Music: New Approaches to the Twentieth Century, eds. Rachel Rubin and Jeffrey Melnick (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 193-210
  • Robert Cantwell, “When We Were Good: Class and Culture in the Folk Revival,” in Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined, ed. Neil Rosenberg, 35-60
  • Susan Montgomery, “The Folk Furor,” Madamoiselle, December 1960, 98-100, 117-119
  • A., “Folk Singing: Sibyl With Guitar,” Time, 23 November 1963



  • Folk Introduction Mix

See post from last year’s seminar as well: Tom Dooley Studies.

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