"Lily of the West" is a traditional British and Irish folk song, best known today as an American folk song,listed as number 957 in the Roud Folk Song Index. The American version is about a man who travels to Louisville and falls in love with a woman named Mary, Flora or Molly, the eponymous Lily of the West. He catches Mary being unfaithful to him, and, in a fit of rage, stabs the man she is with, and is subsequently imprisoned. In spite of this, he finds himself still in love with her. In the original version, the Lily testifies in his defense and he is freed, though they do not resume their relationship.
The lyrics to the first verse, as famously sung by Joan Baez:
When first I came to Louisville, some pleasure there to find
A damsel there from Lexington was pleasing to my mind
Her rosy cheeks, her ruby lips, like arrows pierced my breast
And the name she bore was Flora, the lily of the West
- and every verse ends with a repetition of the phrase, Flora, the lily of the West.
Many broadsides of the song were collected in England and Ireland around 1820-50; the English and Scottish versions generally begin "It's when I came to England some pleasure for to find",whilst the Irish broadsides began "When first I came to Ireland some pleasure for to find". Sabine Baring-Gould collected several versions from traditional singers in the English West Country in the 1890s, and George Gardiner and Charles Gamblin collected another in Dummer, Hampshire in 1906. The traditional tune is a variant of that also commonly used for the Irish folk song The Lakes of Pontchartrain and it belongs to the same Irish melody-family as a song variously known as On the Trail of the Buffalo / Buffalo Skinners / The Hills of Mexico / The State of Arkansas / Boggus Creek.
Below is the first verse of a version printed in 1857 in Glasgow, Scotland, described as a "highly popular song":
It's when I came to England some pleasure for to find,
When I espied a damsel most pleasing to my mind,
Her rosie cheeks, and rolling eyes like arrows pierced my breast,
And they called her lovely Flora the Lily of the West.
In "The Collected Reprints from Sing Out! the Folk Song Magazine Volumes 7-12, 1964-1973" (on page 6, preceding the song's notation and lyrics), it is stated that:
“This old ballad has been kept alive over the centuries by both print and oral tradition. Originally an English street ballad (or broadside), the song became particularly popular in the United States by parlor singers and ballad-printers. During the 19th century it was known throughout the country and, in time, became part of the folk heritage. Its popularity was such that in Kansas, local versifiers used the song for a parody:"
Come all you folks of enterprise who feel inclined to roam
Beyond the Mississippi to seek a pleasant home;
Pray take a pioneer's advice, I'll point you out the best
- I mean the state of Kansas, the lily of the West
The song survived long enough in North America for audio recordings to be made of traditional versions, particularly in the Ozark region of the United States. Recordings collected by Max Hunter and performed by C.W. Ingenthron of Walnut Shade, Missouri (1958)and Fred High of Arkansas (1959) are available online via the Max Hunter Folk Collection. Irene Sargent of West Fork, Arkansas was recorded performing a version in 1960, and Lowell Harness of Leslie, Arkansas was recorded performing another in 1962. The song also had a presence in Appalachia, where Alan Lomax recorded a version performed by Eliza Pace of Hyden, Kentucky in 1937, and Evelyn Ramsey of Sodom Laurel, North Carolina had her version recorded by Mike Yates in 1980. Several Canadian versions were recorded in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the 1950s and 60s by Helen Creighton, Herbert Halpert and Kenneth Peacock.
Joan Baez recorded the song in 1961, including it on her second album; her live concerts have frequently included performances of the song well into the 2010s. Bob Dylan,The Chieftains, Bert Jansch - Live At The 12 Bar, Josh Andrews, The Flash Girls, Caroline Groussain, Sheri Kling, Show of Hands, Peter, Paul and Mary (as "Flora"), Mark Knopfler, Crooked Still, Dirty Linen, Branimir Štulić (in Croatian, titled "Usne Vrele Višnje" ) and Pat Gubler (PG Six) on the album Slightly Sorry (Amish Records 2010) among others. The "Green Mountain Bluegrass Band" does a version of this song as well. Arizona road band Major Lingo performed a long jam version of the song using an electric slide guitar and slightly different lyrics. Holly Near recorded a parody of the song about the lesbian scene in which the singer, a woman, was obsessed with Lily, the flora of the West.
The song is often interpreted as a metaphor for the English, Scots-Irish and general British and Irish experience in western early and colonial America, with nods to their earlier experiences on the margins of Ireland, Scotland, and the Borders.
The first Chieftains recording of the song, from their mid 1990s album The Long Black Veil and sung by Mark Knopfler, is set in Ireland. A later recording by The Chieftains and Rosanne Cash from The Chieftains' album Further Down the Old Plank Road, ends with the man's being released and traveling across the Atlantic to "ramble through old Ireland/And travel Scotland o'er". Despite leaving America, he finds that he is still in love and mentally fixated on the woman, known in this version as Flora.
"Hush, Little Baby" is a traditional lullaby, thought to have been written in the Southern United States. The lyrics promise various rewards to the child if they are quiet. The simple structure allows more verses to be added ad lib.
"Barbara Allen" is a traditional folk song once popular throughout the English speaking world. It tells how the eponymous character denies a dying man's love then dies of grief soon after his untimely death. The song began as a Scottish ballad in the seventeenth century before quickly spreading throughout the British Isles and later North America. Ethnomusicologists Steve Roud and Julia Bishop described it as "far and away the most widely collected song in the English language—equally popular in England, Scotland and Ireland, and with hundreds of versions collected over the years in North America."
"Lord Randall", or "Lord Randal", is an Anglo-Scottish border ballad consisting of dialogue between a young Lord and his mother. Similar ballads can be found across Europe in many languages, including Danish, German, Magyar, Irish, Swedish, and Wendish. Italian variants are usually titled "L'avvelenato" or "Il testamento dell'avvelenato", the earliest known version being a 1629 setting by Camillo il Bianchino, in Verona.
"Christmas Is Coming" is a nursery rhyme and Christmas song frequently sung as a round. It is listed as number 12817 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
"The Daemon Lover", also known as "James Harris", "James Herries", or "The House Carpenter" is a popular Scottish ballad dating to around 1685. Roud records the title as A warning for married women and identifies the woman in the song as "Mrs. Jane Reynolds born near Plimouth who having plighted her troth to a Seaman, was afterwards married to a Carpenter, and at last carried away by a Spirit."
"Foggy Dew" or "Foggy, Foggy Dew" is an English folk song with a strong presence in the South of England and the Southern United States in the nineteenth century. The song describes the outcome of an affair between a weaver and a girl he courted. It is cataloged as Laws No. O03 and Roud Folk Song Index No. 558. It has been recorded by many traditional singers including Harry Cox, and a diverse range of musicians including Benjamin Britten, Burl Ives, A.L. Lloyd and Ye Vagabonds have arranged and recorded popular versions of the song.
"Matty Groves", also known as "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" or "Little Musgrave", is a ballad probably originating in Northern England that describes an adulterous tryst between a young man and a noblewoman that is ended when the woman's husband discovers and kills them. It is listed as Child ballad number 81 and number 52 in the Roud Folk Song Index This song exists in many textual variants and has several variant names. The song dates to at least 1613, and under the title Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard is one of the Child ballads collected by 19th-century American scholar Francis James Child.
The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (VWML) is the library and archive of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), located in the society's London headquarters, Cecil Sharp House. It is a multi-media library comprising books, periodicals, audio-visual materials, photographic images and sound recordings, as well as manuscripts, field notes, transcriptions etc. of a number of the most distinguished collectors of folk music and dance traditions in the British Isles. According to A Dictionary of English Folklore, "... by a gradual process of professionalization the VWML has become the most important concentration of material on traditional song, dance, and music in the country." It is named after Ralph Vaughan Williams, the composer, collector and past president of the EFDSS, who died in 1958.
The Roud Folk Song Index is a database of around 250,000 references to nearly 25,000 songs collected from oral tradition in the English language from all over the world. It is compiled by Steve Roud, a former librarian in the London Borough of Croydon. Roud's Index is a combination of the Broadside Index and a "field-recording index" compiled by Roud. It subsumes all the previous printed sources known to Francis James Child and includes recordings from 1900 to 1975. Until early 2006 the index was available by a CD subscription; now it can be found online on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website, maintained by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). A partial list is also available at List of folk songs by Roud number.
"The Twa Sisters" is a traditional murder ballad, dating at least as far back as the mid seventeenth century. The song recounts the tale of a girl drowned by her jealous sister. At least 21 English variants exist under several names, including "Minnorie" or "Binnorie", "The Cruel Sister", "The Wind and Rain", "Dreadful Wind and Rain", "Two Sisters", "The Bonny Swans" and the "Bonnie Bows of London". The ballad was collected by renowned folklorist Francis J. Child and is also listed in the Roud Folk Song Index. Whilst the song is thought to originate somewhere around England or Scotland, extremely similar songs have been found throughout Europe, particularly in Scandinavia.
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The Lark in the Morning is an English folk song. It was moderately popular with traditional singers in England, less so in Scotland, Ireland and the United States. It starts as a hymn to the ploughboy's life, and often goes on to recount a sexual encounter between a ploughboy and a maiden resulting in pregnancy.