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Folk-Songs of America: The Robert Winslow Gordon Collection, 1922-1932

Band B5

Nellie Galt of Louisville was from a prominent local family and, like some of Gordon's informants in Asheville, was a trained singer who had developed an interest in folksong. A manuscript containing 115 of her songs, obtained about 1928, is in the Archive of Folk Song. Presumably Gordon recorded her at about the same time. Gordon said of ballads:

Ballads are the unquestioned aristocrats of the folk-song world. They have the most poetry, the highest literary values; they represent the culmination of a long period of growing folk technique and artistry.

But for this very reason they are not fully representative. They are true folk-songs, but of a limited and peculiar type, with a special technique all their own. They occupy one tiny corner of an immense field. To the great body of folk-song they stand in much the same relation as does the short story to prose fiction, or the one-act play to drama. (Gordon, p.64)

"Milk White Steed" is a version of Child ballad #75, "Lord Lovel." This is Coffin's type A, the most common version, one which has wide distribution in North America because of its printing as a London broadside (Coffin, pp.72-3). As Coffin and others have noted, the contrast between the tragic story and the sprightly gait of the tune have made the song a popular candidate for burlesque; certainly the repetition in the fourth line of this version lends itself to that interpretation.

Gordon had five versions of this ballad from Adventure correspondents (423, 879, 1795, 2182, 2596), collected a version in California (Cal. 334), and received two other versions in manuscripts sent to the Archive of Folk Song (Newcombe MS. 4, p. 22; Purcell MS., p. 17).

Gordon cyl. D1-1 (G96), Item Galt 3 (Misc.164)
Nellie Galt
Louisville, Kentucky
Ca. 1928 [?]

Lord Lovel he stood at his castle door
A-stroking his milk-white steed.
The lady Nancy came riding by
All looking for Lovel was she, she, she,
All looking for Lovel was she.

"And where are you going, Lord Lovel," she cried,
"Oh where are you going," cried she.
"I'm going away for a year and a day
"Far countries for to see, see, see,
"Far countries for to see."

He'd hardly been gone a year and a day
Far countries for to see,
When languishing thoughts came into his mind
Concerning his lady Nancy, -cy, -cy,
Concerning his lady Nancy.

So he rode and he rode on his milk-white steed
Till he came to London Town;
And there he heard St. Patrick's bell
And the people a-mournin' around, ‘round, ‘round,
And the people a-mournin' around.

"Is anyone dead?" Lord Lovel, he cried,
"Is anyone dead?" cried he.
"A noble lady's dead," the people replied,
"And they call her the Lady Nancy, -cy, -cy,
"They call her Lady Nancy."

So he ordered the grave to be open wide,
And the shroud to be laid aside,
And there he kissed her cold clay lips
While the tears came trickling down, down, down,
While the tears came trickling down.

The Lady Nancy, she died today,
Lord Lovel he died tomorrow;
The Lady Nancy she died of true love,
Lord Lovel he died of true sor-ro-ro-row,
Lord Lovel he died of true sorrow.

And they buried him in St. Patrick's church,
And they buried her in the choir.
And out of her bosom there grew a red rose,
And out of her lover's a briar, -riar, -riar,
And out of her lover's a briar.

And they grew and they grew to the church steeple top,
Till there they could grow no higher;
So there they entwined in a true lover's knot,
For all true lovers to admire, -ire, -ire,
For all true lovers to admire.

Nellie Galt's "Mulberry Hill" is what Gordon called a "Nursery Song." Such songs formed "the child's first conscious introduction to folk-song" and were "sung by mother, father, or nurse to amuse, to divert, or to instruct." Gordon found it "well nigh impossible" to collect examples from children, but noted that "older people can recollect them with greater precision and accuracy than songs they learned later in life." Gordon thought it difficult to assign regional provenance to these songs but stated that "in the course of many years of collecting" he had noted that some songs were "great favorites in one part of the country" and seldom heard elsewhere (Gordon, pp. 85-86).

This song, known most widely under the title "Old Grimes," he listed as one which "the New England child is likely to have heard." Adventure readers sent Gordon four texts of this song (1854, 2626, 3726, 3756). The song has been collected widely and has English ancestors. Belden (pp. 509-11) and Randolph (III, pp. 381-82) collected it in the Ozarks; Newell published a version from New York and indicated that it was used not only as a game but also as a shanty (A, pp. 381-82); and Fowke has collected it in Canada as a children's game (pp. 27, 149).

The phrase "Johnny Cuckoo" appears as well in a separate children's game (Jones and Hawes, pp. 71-73).

Gordon cyl. D1-2 (G96), Item Galt 12 (Misc. 165)
Nellie Galt
Louisville, Kentucky
Ca. 1928

Old Grumble is dead and laid in his grave,
Aha, aha, and laid in his grave.

There grew a ripe apple tree close by his head,
Aha, aha, close by his head.

The apples were ripe and ready to fall,
Aha, aha, and ready to fall.

There came an old woman to gather them all,
Aha, aha, to gather them all.

Up jumped Old Grumble and gave her a knock,
Aha, aha, and gave her a knock.

Which made the old woman go hippety-hop,
Aha, aha, hippety-hop.

She hipped and she hopped to Mulberry Hill,
Aha, aha, to Mulberry Hill.

And there she sat down to make her will,
Aha, aha, to make her will.

The old grey mare to Johnny Cuckoo,
Aha, aha, to Johnny Cuckoo.

The bridle and saddle be laid on the shelf,
Aha, aha, to be laid on the shelf.

If you want anymore you can sing it yourself,
Aha, aha, you can sing it yourself.


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