The Ozark Folksong Collection
The Ozark Folksong Collection, originally recorded and compiled between 1949 and 1965, is the largest and most complete collection of traditional music and associated materials from Arkansas and the Ozarks in the nation. The physical collection contains audio recordings of songs, oral histories, anecdotes, and tales from over 700 performers. In addition there are transcriptions of lyrics, and music notations. The contents illustrate a rich diversity of cultures, economic classes, and occupations.
The content of the online collection is constantly growing. The current contents include over 3500 transcriptions of folk songs. Upon completion, the online collection will contain approximately 3800 transcriptions and over 4400 audio recordings.
The recordings and accompanying materials cover topics such as politics, regional conflicts and discord, emotional bonds and relationships both within and outside the family, and the changing roles of family members. Hymns and other church songs document important religious beliefs of that era. The songs cover a range of topics in a number of languages and include traditional songs of English and Scottish origins; event ballads unique to the region—such as “The Brinkley Storm” about a killer tornado in that small Arkansas town; more than 120 songs and tales from the African American tradition; French and Austrian folk songs; recordings in Cherokee of Christian hymns; songs provided by immigrants to an Ozark wine-making community; twelve songs of migrant workers, and other songs from Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, Swiss, and German traditions. The collection contains many unique or hard-to-find songs, including “Bessie Dye,” “Dogs and Her Gun,” and “The Olde and Fading Picture.” Five genres of folksongs are included: fiddle tunes, play parties, square dances, regional versions of early commercial recordings, and songs written by indigenous performers.
The items in this digital collection are a part of the University of Arkansas Folklore Research Project. Begun in 1949 and completed in 1965, the project was a joint activity of the University English Department, the Speech Department, and the University Libraries. The collections from this project were transferred to the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections Department in 1973. Ownership of the collection resides with the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. (For information on accessing the collection on site or duplicating materials from the collection, contact firstname.lastname@example.org .)
The University of Arkansas thanks the Arkansas Humanities Council for their funding for the digitization of the transcriptions. The Happy Hollow Foundation is also thanked for its generous contributions toward digital transfer of the reel-to-reel tapes.
Items in this collection can be identified and retrieved through a large number of access points. A keyword search will retrieve titles from the following fields : title, alternative title(s), common titles, the first line of the song and chorus, performer(s), location (city, county, and state of recording), collectors and transcribers of the song, genre, instrumentation, subjects (Library of Congress and Ethnographic Thesaurus) as well as geographic and personal name subjects. In addition, the complete transcriptions of the lyrics are accessible by keyword. An advanced search allows searching more specifically within a field as well as recording date searching.
To aid researchers, the items have been identified within the following texts. Common titles appearing in these texts as well as ballad numbers are available for advanced searching.
Belden, H. M. (1955). Ballads and songs collected by the Missouri Folk-lore Society. Columbia: University of Missouri.
Child, F. J. (1956). The English and Scottish popular ballads. New York: Folklore Press.
Combs, J. H., & Wilgus, D. K. (1967). Folk-songs of the southern United States: (Folk-songs du Midi des Etats-Unis). Austin: Published for the American Folklore Society by the University of Texas Press.
Laws, G. M. (1957). American balladry from British broadsides: A guide for students and collectors of traditional song. Philadelphia: American Folklore Society.
Laws, G. M. (1964). Native American balladry: A descriptive study and a bibliographical syllabus. Philadelphia: American Folklore Society.
Moore, E., & Moore, C. O. (1964). Ballads and folk songs of the Southwest: More than 600 titles, melodies, and texts. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Owens, W. A., & Owens, J. A. (1976). Texas folk songs. Dallas: SMU Press.
Randolph, V., Shoemaker, F. C., Emberson, F. G., & State Historical Society of Missouri. (1946). Ozark folksongs. Columbia, Mo: State Historical Society of Missouri.
In addition, performances found in the following online collections are also identified:
Max Hunter Papers, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO (http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/).
John Quincy Wolf Ozark Folksongs, Lyon College, Batesville, AR:(http://web.lyon.edu/wolfcollection/).
The primary collector of these works, Professor Mary Celestia Parler, was born in 1904 in Wedgefield, South Carolina. She graduated in 1924 from Winthrop College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, with a degree in English literature, and then earned a master’s degree in English in 1925 from the University of Wisconsin, with a concentration on Chaucer. She came to Arkansas in 1948 for research on her dissertation dealing with southern dialects and soon began teaching in the University of Arkansas’s English Department. In 1949 she undertook the University of Arkansas Folklore Research Project which continued under her supervision and that of her successors, especially Prof. Robert Cochran, director of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies. Mary Parler was a founder of the Arkansas Folklore Society in 1950. In 1962 she married Vance Randolph, generally recognized as the foremost authority on Ozark life. Parler was featured in the 1954 CBS documentary called “The Search,” which depicted her search for the origins of an Elizabethan ballad, “The Two Sisters.” After Randolph’s death in 1980, Parler returned to South Carolina, where she died in 1981.
As a faculty member in the UA English Department from 1948 to 1975, Parler taught classes in Chaucer and folklore. With her field assistant, Merlin Mitchell, and students, she traveled throughout the Ozarks between 1949 and 1965 to make field recordings of Ozark folksongs on reel-to-reel audio tapes.
The University of Arkansas Folklore Research Project also includes a collection of 820 class reports on a variety of topics—from home remedies to butchering hogs (http://libinfo.uark.edu/specialcollections/findingaids/msf16.asp).
Information on other University of Arkansas folklore collections can be found at
Other materials include additional lyrical transcriptions, and photographs from the Mary Celestia Parler Papers and the Mary Celestia Parler Photographs. Collections specific to Prof. Parler also include her scrapbook; 18 unpublished volumes of students’ fieldwork on proverbs, maxims, riddles, and folk beliefs from Arkansas; and the one-volume “Ballads and Songs in the University of Arkansas Folklore Archives: A syllabus.”
The library also maintains materials gathered by Vance Randolph, folklorist and husband of Mary Celestia Parler, including his collection of “Ozark Folksong Transcripts: Lyric and Melodic Transcriptions of Ozark Folksongs” (1926-1950). Research materials on Vance Randolph and his work with Ozark folklore have been gathered and donated by Prof. Robert Cochran, member of the University of Arkansas English Department and director of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies. In addition, the Otto Ernest Rayburn Collection (Mr. Rayburn was a writer, magazine publisher, and collector of Arkansas and Ozark lore) includes the 229 folders of the Ozark Folk Encyclopedia as well as bibliographies, scrapbooks, and other materials on the Ozarks.
Regional and National Resources
Max Hunter Papers, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO: Max Hunter was a protégé of Mary Celestia Parler and Vance Randolph. This collection contains audio recordings and text and music transcriptions for approximately 1,600 songs from the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks (http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/). It includes music and lyrics as well as linked variants and can be browsed by performer name, title, and Child ballad number.
John Quincy Wolf Ozark Folksongs, Lyon College, Batesville, AR: John Wolf covered both Ozark material as well as blues traditions of the Memphis area. This collection contains 1,000 folksong performances and lyrics from 1952-1963 and can be browsed by first word in the title and by performer, and also includes some cross-references to three classification schemes (Randolph, Brown, and Belden)
The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress contains 108 recordings collected by Vance Randolph under the auspices of Alan Lomax and other recordings collected by Irene Carlisle and Merlin Mitchell, both of whom are represented in the Ozark Folksong Collection (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/).