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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
wes.w Origin: Goodnight Irene (93* d) RE: Goodnight Irene Origin 26 Mar 01


I was puzzled when I responded to this thread earlier, as mention of the Weavers and the early 1950s pointed to the music of a later generation than my parents (born mid 1920s). The song may have become popular in the USA in the 1950s, but I've since spoken to my parents, and some of their friends, and they confirm that 'Goodnight Irene' was a popular song throughout Britain during the Second World War (1939-45), and also as a final closing tune for dance bands, when the dancers would sing along with it for the 'Last Waltz'.

I've found a possible source of introduction of this song into Britain via Leadbelly. Charles Chilton, a pioneering Producer for the BBC, writes in his Foreword to 'The Josh White Guitar Method' published in London in 1956:

'My first association with Josh was early in the war when a half hour programme of Negro folk songs, played and sung by him and Huddie Ledbetter, was broadcast in my Radio Rhythmn Club series. As the programme was recorded in New York, I had no direct contact with him...'

So this song could have been recorded in the early 1940s (Leadbelly was recording in June 1940 in New York) and adapted to a British style of song then, perhaps even being learnt by the American Forces in Europe and bought back to the USA in a completely different guise, as a popular 'British' song. This may help to explain some of the confusion over the origins, and it could also be an interesting theory for the project Jon.
Good Luck .. wes


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