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Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair

DigiTrad:
BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR (1)
BLACK IS THE COLOUR (2)


Related threads:
Tune Req: Black is the color sung by Nina Simone (19)
Lyr Add: Black Is the Colour (A Marital Dirge) (1)
Black is the Color of My True Love's Eye (34)
Irish pronunciation 'Black is the Color' (21)
Black is the color (30)
Lyr Req: Black is the Colour (8)
Chords: Black is the colour (8)
Tune Req: Irish Black is the Colour (38)
Tune Req: Black Is the Colour of My True Love's... (21)
Lyr Req: Black is the Colour as Gaeilge? (8)
Help: Copyright: Black is the Colour (11)
Tune Req:Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair (5)
Lyr Add: Parody-Black Is The Colour (7)
Help: 'Black is the color' verse question... (16)


GUEST,kilshannig 21 Mar 01 - 03:38 PM
dick greenhaus 21 Mar 01 - 03:49 PM
MMario 21 Mar 01 - 03:53 PM
Grab 22 Mar 01 - 06:20 AM
GUEST,Dita (at work) 22 Mar 01 - 09:53 AM
alison 22 Mar 01 - 09:55 AM
Mary in Kentucky 22 Mar 01 - 10:06 AM
Mary in Kentucky 22 Mar 01 - 10:08 AM
Noreen 22 Mar 01 - 01:07 PM
dick greenhaus 22 Mar 01 - 02:58 PM
wes.w 23 Mar 01 - 10:25 AM
catspaw49 23 Mar 01 - 10:37 AM
GUEST,Karen in California 23 Mar 01 - 02:01 PM
Malcolm Douglas 23 Mar 01 - 03:33 PM
Noreen 23 Mar 01 - 04:23 PM
catspaw49 23 Mar 01 - 05:06 PM
wes.w 26 Mar 01 - 06:58 AM
Malcolm Douglas 26 Mar 01 - 07:16 AM
catspaw49 26 Mar 01 - 08:15 AM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 26 Mar 01 - 08:32 PM
Malcolm Douglas 26 Mar 01 - 10:56 PM
Noreen 06 Nov 01 - 08:54 AM
Allan C. 06 Nov 01 - 08:57 AM
GUEST,noreen 06 Nov 01 - 09:02 AM
Noreen 16 Nov 01 - 07:46 PM
Malcolm Douglas 16 Nov 01 - 08:30 PM
Noreen 16 Nov 01 - 08:39 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 02 Aug 02 - 06:54 PM
Noreen 02 Aug 02 - 07:03 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 02 Aug 02 - 08:50 PM
Malcolm Douglas 02 Aug 02 - 11:14 PM
John Minear 03 Aug 02 - 06:39 AM
Paddy Plastique 03 Aug 02 - 06:49 AM
John Minear 05 Aug 02 - 08:02 AM
John Minear 06 Aug 02 - 05:40 PM
Joe Offer 07 Aug 02 - 12:23 AM
John Minear 17 Aug 02 - 10:30 AM
GUEST,Crazy Little Woman 18 Aug 02 - 12:29 AM
John Minear 26 Oct 02 - 10:09 AM
GUEST,catherine m 13 Nov 05 - 01:36 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 13 Nov 05 - 02:10 AM
GUEST 13 Nov 05 - 02:28 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 13 Nov 05 - 02:59 PM
Kaleea 13 Nov 05 - 04:16 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 13 Nov 05 - 06:10 PM
GUEST,Art Thieme 13 Nov 05 - 06:18 PM
GUEST,george_mcarthur@hotmail.com 22 Nov 05 - 10:59 AM
GUEST,robinia@eskimo.com 22 Nov 05 - 11:35 AM
Cluin 22 Nov 05 - 11:43 AM
GUEST,robinia 22 Nov 05 - 12:19 PM
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Subject: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,kilshannig
Date: 21 Mar 01 - 03:38 PM

ofcourse, Christy Moore did a fine job by singing this song (as did Luka Bloom, Nina Simone, Jo Stafford e.o.)
But where does it come from? I know (or suspect) it is old english and the came to the states...?
Please help me out on this one.

Black Is the Color of my True Love's Hair in the Digital Tradition

Black Is the Colour (2) in the Digital Tradition


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 21 Mar 01 - 03:49 PM

The version usually sung is that written by John Jacob Niles. There are antecedents collected in Appalachia by Cecil Sharp (1918)


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: MMario
Date: 21 Mar 01 - 03:53 PM

click me

Black Is the Color

DESCRIPTION: "(Black, black,) black is the color of my true love's hair...." The singer describes the beautiful girl he is in love with. (He regretfully concedes that they will never be married)
AUTHOR: unknown (see NOTES)
EARLIEST DATE: 1916 (Cecil Sharp collection)
KEYWORDS: love courting hair beauty separation nonballad
FOUND IN: US(Ap,SE,So)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Lomax-FSUSA 16, "Black Is the Color" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax- FSNA 100, "Black Is the Color" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ritchie-Southern, p. 88, "Black is the Color" (1 text, 1 tune, with several floating lines including some that appear to be from "Lady Mary Anne" or something related)
SharpAp 85, "Black is the Colour" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 41, "Black is the Colour" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 267-268, "Black is the Color" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 145, "Black Is The Color" (1 text)
DT, BLACKCOL* BLACKCO2*

Roud #3103
RECORDINGS:
Dellie Norton, "Black is the Colour" (on OldTrad1, FsrMtns4)
Pete Seeger, "Black is the Color" (on PeteSeeger18)

ALTERNATE TITLES:
Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair
NOTES [54 words]: John Jacob Niles, who is largely responsible for popularizing this song, also claims to have written it. For a recently composed song, however, it exists in unusually diverse and widespread forms. Randolph notes connections with English pieces, and Lomax correctly observes that the tune resembles "Fair and Tender Ladies." - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
File: LxU016

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Grab
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 06:20 AM

Is there a "Clyde" river in the Appallacians?

Grab.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Dita (at work)
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 09:53 AM

Chirsty learned the song from Hamish Imlach, who recorded it on his first Xtra album (mid 60s, same album as "cod liver oil & the orange juice"), and I understand, that was Hamish's reworking of the J.J. Niles version, (i.e. Hamish could not remember the words or tune precicely - the folk process at work.
Hamish carried on performing it regularly right up to his death. (I sang it at the post funeral tribute).
love, john.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: alison
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 09:55 AM

Isn't it Scottish? just always assumed it wsa because of the reference to the Clyde (which runs through Glasgow).....

slainte

alison


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 10:06 AM

I just found this link last night: The Appalachian Center (at the University of Kentucky, Go Big Blue!)

I think this gives more info along the lines that Dick was explaining.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 10:08 AM

Sorry, that's the John Jacob Niles Center, part of the music department, and it's separate from the Appalachian Center.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 01:07 PM

Thanks, Mary- there is also a link on that page to an audio clip of JJ Niles singing this song- very interesting.

For what it's worth, it seems likely to me that Mr Niles wrote his song based on a song he had collected.

Evidence: I have a recording of Sean 'ac Donncha from Connemara singing Dark is the colour of my True Love's Hair, the words of which are very similar to 'Black is the Colour…' in the DT. It always sounded to me to be a translation from the Irish, but I have no direct evidence for that.

The mention of the Clyde would also likely put the origin of the song back on these islands.

Noreen


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 02:58 PM

Or the Irish or Scottish singer added the Clyde to bring it closer to home.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: wes.w
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 10:25 AM

Peter Bellamy told a story about the air for this on one of his LPs, where he plays it on whistle:

It seems that it was an old English air that went over to Ireland, where Jean Ritchie (he thought) recorded it from Willie Clancy in the 1950s, and took it back to the US. There Folkways released it on an LP. In due course the LP was exported to England and Peter bought it and learned the air.

Is KYTrad still on her cruise? Pethaps she might be able to shed a bit more light.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: catspaw49
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 10:37 AM

Whether Niles based it on a song he had actually collected is open to conjecture I'm sure. He had an interesting habit of writing songs that sounded as if they may have been trad but were in fact his own creation. No problem there except for some reason he also attributed them as traditional! It certainly makes researching some of the stuff real intersesting too.

I hope Jean posts here with her observations/comments.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Karen in California
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 02:01 PM

Since a large portion of the Appalachian area was settled by Scots it's possible they brought the song with them and tweaked it over the years.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 03:33 PM

Niles himself said, à propos his 1958 recording of the song:

"Black is The Color of My True Love's Hair as sung here was composed between 1916 and 1921.  I had come home from eastern Kentucky, singing this song to an entirely different tune--a tune not unlike the public-domain material employed even today.  My father liked the lyrics, but thought the tune was downright terrible.  So I wrote myself a new tune, ending it in a nice modal manner.  My composition has since been "discovered" by many an aspiring folk-singer".

Between 1916 and 1918, Cecil Sharp got a variant from Mrs. Lizzie Roberts of Hot Springs, N.C ., which is in the DT:  BLACK IS THE COLOUR (2)  He himself considered it to be of English origin; the verses are all "floaters" which appear in other songs, too, in Britain and Ireland as well as America, so I doubt if it's a translation from any other language.   The melody is undoubtedly a very close relative of the one which Niles said that he composed a few years later.  Clearly, Niles' "new" tune was no more than a modification of an existing, traditional one; the same is of course true of his text.

The DT text at  BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR  is described as "From Sharp", but no useful details are given.  "Clyde" appears in both; I don't have Niles' text, and most references on the net are confused and unattributed, but those from Sharp, at least, pre-date his.  I believe I've seen "Troublesome" (glossed as "the name of a town") substituted for Clyde somewhere.

You might like to have a look at these two at the  Max Hunter Collection:

Black, Black, Was The Color Of My True Loves Hair  As sung by May Kennedy-McCord in Springfield, Missouri on September, 23, 1958.  This is a variant of A Sailor's Life, but compare:

Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair  As sung by Mrs. "Bobbie" Barnes, Eureka Springs, Arkansas on June 21, 1958.  The editors categorise this one-verse fragment as belonging to the same group, possibly on the strength of the correspondence of some lines in the foregoing.  The tune, however, shows a distinct resemblance to the Niles one.  Of course, Mrs. Barnes may have learnt it from him, but that still wouldn't explain Mrs. Roberts.  It might be worth comparing some more Sailor's Life tunes.

Willie Clancy is supposed to have picked up Dark is the Colour from an American singer in Warsaw in the late 1950's, and started playing it himself; that may be as Irish as it ever was.

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 04:23 PM

Thanks, Malcolm. I'll have a good look/listen to those links.

Noreen


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: catspaw49
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 05:06 PM

Good stuff Malcolm.......The tune is quite close on the one to the Niles tune. Really not enough to make it a variant, more perhaps an interpretation. I really found the Barnes recording pretty poor, not for quality of recording, but it is a bit, shall we say, out of tune?? In any case, it makes a case for being a virtual match with JJN (who I also have always found hard to listen to). You're probably right on "Sailor's Life" which may have provided the original in some form, also lending credence to English origins of course....and does the tune and the Clyde refersnce make it more likely Scots?

Thanks,

Spaw


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: wes.w
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 06:58 AM

I've found a reference to this in James F. Leisy, Folk Song Fest, 1964: (my italics)

John Jacob Niles wrote a melody for the traditional words to 'Black is the Color' and came up with a version that has given the song great popularity amoung folk song revivalists. His possesion of the most used version almost moved the song out of the the folk song class in this day of copyright exclusives for folk song arrangements - until performers began coming up with their own melodies and versions.

He then lists 'essential' recordings by Niles, Susan Reed, Pete Seeger, Bob Ross, and (surprise, surprise) Jean Ritchie.

The air played by Peter Bellamy attributed to Willie Clancy, I mentioned earlier, is in fact a family tune of Jeans. I'd muddled the story, which I'll try to give in Pete's own words:

This is an Irish whistle tune that I learnt from the playing of Willie Clancy. This is a fascinating tune, not just for its beauty, but for the fact that I'd heard exactly the same tune with the same name from Jean Ritchie. In fact, this is not an Irish tune that got taken out unchanged to America. This is an English song that went out to America so long ago that everyone has forgotten about it, and the Americans changed it, as they do, and it became part of the Ritchie Family repertoire. Jean Ritchie sang it to, I believe, Shirley Collins, who came back to England where she sang it to Willie Clancy who thought 'Thats a lovely tune' and went back to Ireland playing it. Meanwhile Folkways Records from America turned up and said 'Play us an Irish tune, Mac!' and Willie played them 'Black is the Colour'. They rushed back to America, released it on an American label, which got exported to England, where Muggins bought it.

This air is similar to the song Sharp collected from Mrs Lizzie Roberts, Hot Springs, N.Carolina in 1916. That also has the Clyde in the lyrics, as Malcom says.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 07:16 AM

I had wondered if the unnamed American singer in the reference I found might have been Jean.  To say that Niles wrote the tune that he copyrighted is stretching things a little, I think, but of course Leisy was writing nearly 40 years ago, and research has moved on since then.

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: catspaw49
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 08:15 AM

I sent a PM to 'kytrad' the other day asking if she might check in on this thread.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 08:32 PM

Well yes, I'm back, and have enjoyed reading all about "Black is the Color." Thanks, Spaw, for clarifying the Peter Bellemy story...I had been about to tell you-all I've never met Willie Clancy, unfortunately (know Liam, but that's a different person, no?). I have sung the song, which we always called, "But Black," to tell it apart from the Niles, "Black, Black, Black", almost all my life. I think my older sisters brought it home from Berea College where they had sung it in the chorus, so it is probably the Sharp NC version. That would be in the late 20s/early 30s, so I HAVE known it a long time. Have always thought it Scots because of the Clyde. Among his many other changes in melody & lyrics, JJ Niles substituted "Troublesome" for "Clyde." That refers to Troublesome Creek, in Knott County, KY where my dad was born & raised, so I sometimes (not always) used "Troublesome" in my performances. Just tickled me to do that.

The other song mentioned is I believe NOT a variant of "But Black," someone just dragged in a verse of "Black" to round out the "Sailors' Life" song. The FOLK do that all the time... there's a great old banjo song from my family/community that does it, sung there long before they ever knew the "But Black" that I recorded in 1950(EK-L-2, released in 1952). One of the verses:

O that pretty little girl, sixteen years old
Hair j'st as yaller as the flamin gold,
Well the prettiest hair and the neatest hands-
God bless the ground onwhere she stands!

Lord, I hope those worked...Joe'll kill me if they don't! Jean


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 10:56 PM

Many thanks for the information, Jean.  I wasn't suggesting that "Black" and "Sailor's Life" were particularly related -as songs- (apart from shared floating verses in some versions), but that there seemed to be a close relationship between the melody Sharp found in Hot Springs, which, if I've understood properly, may be the source of your family's set, and the one Max Hunter got in Eureka Springs, both of which also show a strong connection to the tune Niles claimed for his own.  I'm still thinking that the "Sailor's Life" and "Died For Love" tune families might bear more examination for correspondences, but so far it's only a thought.  For what it's worth, and for anyone who might like to hear, here are some sound files:

DT: Black is the Colour (2)  (Lizzie Roberts, 1916)
Black, Black is the Color   -Short Real Audio sample of J.J. Niles.
DT: Black is the Color  No clear indication as to where this tune came from; it doesn't seem to be from Niles or Sharp.
Black is the Color  -Borrowed temporarily from the Max Hunter Collection (see above) and played at nearly double speed for (relative) ease of comparison.  The audio files on-site referred to above give a better picture, mind.
Died For Love  Noted by Percy Grainger, from Joseph Taylor of Lincolnshire.
There also seems to be some relationship to some of the Water Is Wide/ Waly Walytunes, but that's not so clear, and is certainly beyond my abilities to analyse.  Worth mentioning, just as a p.s., that another "Sailor's Life" variant at Max Hunter,  Sailor Boy  As sung by Mr. Harrison Burnett in Fayettville, Arkansas, June 15, 1959,also contains the lines

Oh [h]it's dark is th(e) color of my true love's hair
His cheeks is of a lily fair

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 06 Nov 01 - 08:54 AM

Thought I'd refresh this thread as the various versions of the song came up in a discussion yesterday.
Also serves to link a couple of related threads together:
Help: 'Black is the color' verse question...

and a relevant bit on John Jacob Niles authenticity?

(that was his name, Allan!)

Noreen


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Allan C.
Date: 06 Nov 01 - 08:57 AM

Thanks, Noreen!


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,noreen
Date: 06 Nov 01 - 09:02 AM

Made me jump!


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Subject: Lyr Add: DARK IS THE COLOUR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR
From: Noreen
Date: 16 Nov 01 - 07:46 PM

I was reminded that I haven't posted the version that I got from Sean 'ac Donncha, as mentioned earlier in this thread.

DARK IS THE COLOUR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR
Trad, as sung by Sean 'ac Donncha

Dark is the colour of my true love's hair
Her face is like some rose so fair
The slenderest waist and the neatest hands
I adore the ground whereon she stands

I went to the Clyde for to mourn and weep
But satisfied I ne'er could sleep
I sent her a letter in a few short lines
I suffered death a thousand times

I kneeled down and I wrote a song
I wrote it neat and I wrote it long
At every line I shed a tear
And the last line said, "Farewell my dear."

So fare thee well my own true love
I thought you were true as the stars above
But if pleasure on earth no more I'll see
I'll never treat you as you treated me

The winter is past and the fields are green
The time is past that we have seen
But still I hope the day will come
When you and I shall be as one

V similar to 'Black is the colour of my true love's hair' in the DT, the version from Cecil Sharp as recorded by Jean Ritchie. Major differences I have put in italics, and one of Sharp's verses is missing in this version.

Tune is virtually identical to BLACKCO2 which is attached to the other version in the DT.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 16 Nov 01 - 08:30 PM

Did Sean 'ac Donncha say where he got that one?


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 16 Nov 01 - 08:39 PM

No, sorry, Malcolm. I assumed until this thread came up, that it was a local song- hadn't heard it from anyone else.

It might be on an LP of his (from the '60s?), which might have more information... long shot. Trying to think who I knew who had the LP...


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 02 Aug 02 - 06:54 PM

No wonder I couldn't find Black Is The Color, coll. from Lizzie Roberts by Sharp, in the DT. It took me awhile to find that the English spelling is used by mistake. Enter -black is the color- and only the Ritchie?-version comes up. Colour should only be used for UK-Ireland versions.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Noreen
Date: 02 Aug 02 - 07:03 PM

But surely Cecil Sharp would have written it as colour when he collected it, Dicho? *smile*


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Subject: Lyr Add: MOMENT'S RIVER SIDE
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 02 Aug 02 - 08:50 PM

Noreen, if he did, he mis-spelled it since the Sharp-Campbell volume of 1917 was published in New York (Putnam). Of course he may have changed it in the later Oxford edition for the English reader. Harrumph! (Now as a pennance, I will have to add another version).

The song was collected by Cox about the same time (1917), obtained from a Miss Lucretia Collins of West Virginia by a Fred Smith, but as "Moment's River Side." Cox published it as "Sweet William (The Sailor Boy)," which could cause confusion for the careless with Child 74 (Fair Margaret and Sweet William) and Child 77 (Sweet William's Ghost). Here 'tis:

MOMENT'S RIVER SIDE

Way down on Moment's River side
The wind blew fair with gentle guide;
A pretty maid that sat and mourned;
"What shall I do? My true love's gone.

"His rosy cheeks, his coal-black hair,
Has drawn my heart all in a snare;
His ruby lips so soft and fine,
Ten thousand times I've thrust in mine.

"And if ten thousand were in a row,
My love would make the brightest show,
The brightest show of every one;
I'll have my love or I'll have none.

"I'll build myself a little boat,
And on the ocean I will float,
And every ship that I pass by,
I'll enquire for my sweet sailor boy."

She had not sailed far upon the deep,
Until a ship she chanced to meet:
"O captain, captain, tell me true,
Does my sweet Willie sail with you?"

"O no, kind miss, he is not here;
He lies in yonder deep I fear."
She wrang her hands, she tore her hair,
Just like a lady in despair.

The wind did blow and the waves did roll,
Which washed her body to the shore;
She viewed him well in every part,
With melting tears and bleeding heart.

With pen and ink she wrote a song,
She wrote it large, she wrote it long;
On every line she dropped a tear,
And every verse cried, "O my dear!"

Six weeks from then this maid was dead,
And on her breast this letter laid:
"Go dig my grave both wide and deep,
And strew it well with roses sweet.

"Plant by my side a willow tree,
To many years wave over me,
And on my breast a turtle dove,
To tell the world I died for love."

Cox, J. H., 1924, Folk-Songs Of The South, pp. 353-354. In another version, also communicated in 1917, "brought into the community in 1901," Willie was left on "Greenland's isle."

Noreen, note that I changed inquire to enquire just for you!


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 02 Aug 02 - 11:14 PM

The UK/USA spelling issue leads to quite a lot of problems in a database such as this. Sharp, being English, used the standard English spelling of colour when he noted the song; it was published as such here. Evidently the American publication used the American spelling. In the main, the difficulty works in the opposite direction; people post songs here that were noted and published in Britain or Ireland but change the spelling of words to the American forms. As a rule, the spelling used in the published source should be retained, wherever it comes from.

In this particular case, of course, the spelling difference is more than usually liable to lead to confusion, and I, too, forgot that there were two separate, differently spelled sets in the DT when Dicho asked about it in another thread, recently revived by a visitor who had failed to find this, more substantive one. If only people would stick to one discussion on any particular song, we could avoid a lot of unnecessary duplication and confusion.

Black is the Colo[u]r is number 3103 in the Roud Folk Song Index; all entries so far relate to American examples, except for two sets from Sean 'ac Donncha and Joe Heaney, both dating from the early 1970s (though presumably in their repertoires earlier than that). Whether or not this indicates an Irish origin for either song or tune remains to be seen, as does whether or not there is a significant connection between this and the Sailors's/Soldier's Life group (Roud 273, Laws K12); as I mentioned earlier, I think that the latter question merits further investigation, but a direct connection should not yet be taken as read.

The former question would in large degree depend on deeper investigation of the latter; that song having been found far more widely in tradition in the USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Canada (roughly in order of frequency). In particular, examination of correpondences between the recorded tunes might be helpful.


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Subject: Lyr Add: Dark Is the Color of my Sweetheart's Hair
From: John Minear
Date: 03 Aug 02 - 06:39 AM

I've already posted this in the thread "Black is the color of my true love's eye" because I thought maybe the discussion was going on over there and I had been out of town for awhile. Forgive a double posting, but I decided to repost it here as well, since I think it fits here.

The version, which goes back at least to Lizzie Roberts of Hot Springs, is a favorite of mine. In the early 1950's Maud Karpeles made a return trip to the Southern Appalachians to see if she could find any of the singers that she and Cecil Sharp had visited earlier. This time she took a recording machine. She found Lizzie Roberts and recorded her singing "Black is the Color". Her collection is in the Library of Congress. Some of it was released commercially on cassette. If you can find them, Lizzie Roberts' song is on BLACK IS THE COLOUR, by Folktracks Cassettes (UK), 1980. I was able to obtain this through Interlibrary Loan. The second tape is CUMBERLAND GAP.

In August of 1929, Mellinger Henry collected a version of this song from Mary E. King, in Gatlinburg Tennessee. He published it in his FOLK-SONGS FROM THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS,p. 266. There is no tune.

DARK IS THE COLOR OF MY SWEETHEART'S HAIR

Dark is the color of my sweetheart's hair;
His cheeks are like some roses fair;
The prettiest face and neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon he stands.

My dear sweetheart, my harmless love,
I hope we'll meet in heaven above;
And there to dwell with Christ forever;
My dear sweetheart, you are so clever.

I go to cry, to mourn, to weep;
But satisfy I never can sleep;
You have turned me away and broke my heart;
Oh, how can I from you depart?

Yes, you are all for this to blame;
That I must die in grief and shame;
And after death I will go home
And think of what you've done for me.

Many an hour have I spent with you;
But never knew that you wasn't true.
I found it out and cried aloud;
I must, I did, in all this crowd.

But if it be God's will, I'd rather
For us to llive in this world together;
For I have said and done my part;
I love you,, mister, with all my heart.

As you do pass me by so brave,
Look at the tomb-stone on my grave;
And read this there that you may see;
And think of what you have done to me.

This was also known, according to Henry, as "My Dear Sweetheart."


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Paddy Plastique
Date: 03 Aug 02 - 06:49 AM

Noreen, Joe Heaney, Seán 'ac Donncha's neighbour, sings that version too - with
the slight variation that he says 'the river' instead of 'Clyde'. He lived
part of his life in Scotland - not sure if that might explain the provenance...
Is the melody the same as the DT one ??


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Subject: ADD Version: Black Is the Colour
From: John Minear
Date: 05 Aug 02 - 08:02 AM

On Volume IV of the recently released CD set

Far in the Mountains : Volumes 3 & 4 of Mike Yates' 1979-83 Appalachian Collection

which is available from CAMSCO and a wonderful collection, finally available on CD, Dellie Norton sings the following version of "Black is the Color". What follows is taken from the excellent liner notes, which can be found on the web at Far On The Mountain.

6. BLACK IS THE COLOUR (Roud 3103)
(Sung by Dellie Norton at her home in Sodom Laurel, Madison County, NC. 26.8.80)

My pretty little pink, so fare you well.
You've slighted me, but I wish you well.
If never on earth I no more see,
I cain't slight you like you've slighted me.

The winter have broke and the leaves are green.
The time has passed that we have seen.
But I hope the time will shortly come,
Never you and I will be as one.

Black is the colour of my truelove's hair.
Her home is on some island fair.
The prettiest face and the neatest hands.
I love the ground whereon she stands.

Off to Clyde for a weep and mourn.
Dissatisfied, I never can sleep.
I'll write to you in a few short lines.
I'd suffer death, ten thousand times.

One of the most beautiful of the Appalachian lyric songs, which Dellie begins with a verse from the separate song Come My Pretty Little Pink. According to Roger deV Renwick (Recentering Anglo/American Folksong. 2001. pp. 51 - 52), the song is similar, in parts, to versions of The Week Before Easter and to the song The Rambling Boy, which contains verses such as:

The rose is red, the stem is green
The time is past that I have seen
It may be more, it may be few
But I hope to spend them all with you.

Or

Oh my pretty little miss sixteen years old
Her hair just as yeller as the shining gold
The prettiest face and the sweetest hands
Bless the ground on where she stands.

Cecil Sharp noted a single set from Mrs Lizzie Roberts of nearby Hot Springs, NC, in 1916 (see English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (1932) vol.2 p.31). The reference to the river Clyde suggests that it may be based on an older Scottish song."


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Subject: ADD Version: Black Is the Color
From: John Minear
Date: 06 Aug 02 - 05:40 PM

Betty Smith, on her Folk-Legacy cassette (C-53), has a very nice rendition of Lizzie Roberts' version of "Black is the Color". Cecil Sharp collected Roberts' version in Madison County, North Carolina. Today, another ballad singer (seventh generation!) from Madison County carries on this tradition. Her name is Sheila Kay Adams. I heard her sing "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" at the Swannanoa Gathering a few weeks ago, and it was powerful! Sheila is the grand-niece of Dellie Norton, whose version I posted earlier. While Sheila learned many of her songs from her "Granny Dell", she learned "Black is the Color" from Evelyn Ramsey. You can hear Sheila sing this song on her first recording "Loving Forward, Loving Back". And you can see/hear her sing part of it (as Sheila Barnhill) on Alan Lomax's "Appalachian Journey" video. Find out more about Sheila and her music on her website Sheila Kay Adams. Here are the lyrics to her version:

BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR

Black is the color of my true love's hair.
His face is like some rosy fair,
With the prettiest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon he stands.

I love my love and well he knows,
I love the ground whereon he goes.
If you no more on earth I see,
I can't serve you as you have me.

The winter's past and the leaves are green.
The time is past that we have seen.
Still I hope the day will come,
When you and I shall be as one.

I go to the Clyde for to mourn and weep.
But satisfied I never could sleep.
I'll write for you a few short lines,
And I'd suffer death ten thousand times.

So fare thee well, my own true love.
The time has passed, but I wish you well.
Still I hope the day will come,
When you and I shall be as one.

I love my love and well he knows,
I love the ground whereon he goes.
If you no more on earth I see,
I can't serve you as you have me.


Another traditional ballad singer, from Lenoir, North Carolina, is Bobby McMillon. He sings a very interesting version of "Black is the Color" on his recording "A Deeper Feeling" from Ivy Creek Recordings (ICR 401). Bobby learned a lot of his songs from his Maw Maw Phillips of Cosby, Tennessee. He was also influenced by all the folks over in Sodom, in Madison County, such as the Wallins and the Chandlers and Dellie Norton. Bobby is a close friend of Sheila Kay Adams. Here is his version:

DARK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR

Dark is the color of my true love's hair,
Her home is on some island fair.
The sweetest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon she stands.

It's I love my love and well she knows.
I love the ground whereon she goes.
If you no more on earth I see,
It's I wouldn't serve you like you have me.

The winter's past and the leaves are green.
The time has past that we have been,
But yet I hope the time will come,
When you and I shall be as one.

I go to cry, for to moan and weep,
But satisfied I never can sleep.
It you no more on earth I see,
It's I wouldn't serve you as you have me.

The pain of love no tongue can tell,
No heart can think no mind can sell.
But I'll tell you in a few short lines,
It's worse than death ten thousand times.

So fare you well, I'd rather make,
My home upon some icy lake,
Where the southern sun refused to shine,
Then trusting love as false as thine.

Bobby has some interesting variations with regard to lyrics, and his tune is a little different, too. He says "this song has two different tunes, one in a minor key and theother in a major key." Bobby is a ballad singer worth finding out about. Sheila says "he's the walking encyclopedia of all things Appalachian" and "he knows more than 800 of the old love songs (ballads)".


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Subject: ZDTStudy: Black Is the Color
From: Joe Offer
Date: 07 Aug 02 - 12:23 AM

Looks like this is the primary thread on this song, so I'll tag it for DTStudy indexing.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: John Minear
Date: 17 Aug 02 - 10:30 AM

In Dellie Norton's version above, she picks up a verse from "Pretty Little Pink". Mellinger Henry collected a version of "My Pretty Little Pink" from Austin Harmon of Varnell, Georgia, in 1929, that has overtones of "Black is the Color". The last several verses then switch over to a "final testimony" situation.

My pretty little pink, so fare you well.
You slighted me, but I wish you well.

The prettiest face, and the meanest hand;
I love the ground whereon she stands.

I saw you the other day; you looked so loving
And you were so gay; you fooled and trifled your time away.

If on earth no more shall see,
I can't serve you as you serve me.

I love me love and well she knows
-----------------------------------

I would rather build my home on some icy hill
Where the sun refuses to shine; a trusting girl is hard to find.

But when you find one just and true,
Forsake not the old one for the new.

On the twenty-ninth of May the prison doors flew open wide
With guns and guards on ever side, and on my coffin made ride.

Come, welcome, death, I will go with you;
The roads are dark and lonesome too.

Come on, my dear, and see me die,
And meet sweet Jesus in the sky.

The rope is bought, the bolt is swung,
A innocent man, you all have hung.

Before they thought he was quite dead,
Down came a little dove, hovered around his head,
And they thought it was the Saviour dear.

Henry does not print a tune. Austin Harmon was the son of Sam Harmon of Cades Cove, Tennessee.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Crazy Little Woman
Date: 18 Aug 02 - 12:29 AM

Re: "I go to Troublesome to mourn and weep," which someone thought might refer to the name of a town, many postings back. In fact,Troublesome was a name which was often given to a flood-prone creek.

There is a wildlife refuge, the Flint Hills NWR, about 60 miles SE of Kansas City, and it has a creek called Troublesome. Since most refuges were purchased in the 1930's as the government bought up flood-prone, failing farms, this all makes sense.

It gave me a tingle to see that name on small, smudgy printing on the refuge's map of long-forgotten places.


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Subject: ADD Version: Black Is the Color
From: John Minear
Date: 26 Oct 02 - 10:09 AM

Here is another version that refers to "Troublesome". It comes from Evelyn Ramsey of Sodom Laurel in Madison County, North Carolina. Sheila Adams says that she learned her version from Evelyn. When you listen to Sheila's version and Eveyln's version back to back you can definitely see the relationship, especially with regard to the tune and the delivery.

Evelyn Ramsey's version can be found on a CD that accompanies the very recently published book by Rob Amberg called SODOM LAUREL ALBUM, published by the University of North Carolina Press at Chapel Hill, NC. It is an account in pictures and text and song of Amberg's time at Sodom Laurel, especially with Dellie Norton and her family. The CD adds significantly to the body of recorded material by the "Sodom Laurel Ballad Singers". Here is Evelyn Ramsey's version of "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair":

BLACK IS THE COLOR OF MY TRUE LOVE'S HAIR

Black is the color of my true love's hair,
Her cheeks are like some rosy fair,
With the prettiest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon she stands.

I love my love and well she knows,
I love the ground whereon she goes,
If I no more on earth shall see,
I won't serve you as you have me.

I go to Troublesome to mourn and weep,
But satisfied I can never be,
I write to you a letter in a few short lines,
I'll suffer death ten thousand times.

I love my love and well she knows,
I love the ground whereon she goes,
If I no more on earth shall see,
I won't serve you as you have me.

My love, she's sixteen years old,
Her hair is like some glittering gold,
With the prettiest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon she stands.

The last verse is unusual and is the same as the one mentioned by Jean Ritchie above:

"The other song mentioned is I believe NOT a variant of "But Black," someone just dragged in a verse of "Black" to round out the "Sailors' Life" song. The FOLK do that all the time... there's a great old banjo song from my family/community that does it, sung there long before they ever knew the "But Black" that I recorded in 1950(EK-L-2, released in 1952). One of the verses:

O that pretty little girl, sixteen years old
Hair j'st as yaller as the flamin gold,
Well the prettiest hair and the neatest hands-
God bless the ground on where she stands!

It is also mentioned by Mike Yates above in his discussion of Dellie Norton's version. I think he attributes this verse to "The Rambling Boy":

Oh my pretty little miss sixteen years old
Her hair just as yeller as the shining gold
The prettiest face and the sweetest hands
Bless the ground on where she stands.

The apparent contradiction of hair color doesn't seem to have been a problem for Evelyn in her version. Also, if you compare Sheila Adams' version, posted above, with Evelyn's version you can see that Sheila has gone beyond this single source and gotten some verses from others besides Evelyn.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,catherine m
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 01:36 AM

I must admit I have only heard one version of this song, and was wondering if anyone could give me some context for it.

It's from Joan Baez's (technically) first album, the one that was all bootlegged and everything, which she recorded with Bill Wood & Ted Alevizos(sp?). I have it on vinyl (got it for $1!!) Even though it's the only version of this song that I have ever heard and I have no comparison, I will still defend it as a simply heart-stopping recording, along with her rendition (on that same album) of "Virgin Mary Had One Son".

Anyway, what I want to know is, where did she get these (slightly) altered lyrics? (see below) For those of you familiar with the recording, is the arrangement the same as JJN's? I'm just interested in the process of change, etc.

Lyrics as I can hear them:

Black, black, black
Is the color of my true love's hair
His lips are something wondrous fair
The brightest eyes and the bravest hands
I love the ground where on he stands
I love my love and well he knows
I love the ground where on he goes
On earth (and if?) my love no more I'll see
My life would quickly fade away
Black, black, black
Is the color of my true love's hair

Did others ever record such an abbreviated version? Just to reiterate, all I know about other versions of this is from reading this thread. Thanks in advance!


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Subject: Lyr Add: BLACK IS THE COLOR (from Joan Baez)
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 02:10 AM

In "The Joan Baez Songbook," 1964 Ryerson, and 1989 Amsco, p. 28-29, she prefaces the song with acknowledgements to John Jacob Niles [the author??] and Jean Ritchie.
Yes, the Baez lyrics are brief. From the music in her book:

BLACK IS THE COLOR (Baez)

Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.
His lips are something wondrous fair,-
The purest eyes and the bravest hands,-
I love the ground whereon he stands.-

Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.

I love my love and well he knows,
I love the ground whereon he goes
And if my love no more I see,
My life would quickly fade away.

Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.

"Interested in the process of change" The material put together here pretty well covers it. I think the song is typical JJN, but make up your own mind.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 02:28 AM

Thanks for the info, Q. I mean, JJN didn't say "bravest hands", did he? Or "wondrous fair"? I'm just wondering, specifically, who first made those alterations.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 02:59 PM

The Niles original lyrics do not seem to be available on a website. I can only suggest that someone who has the book issued by his music publisher please post the words here.
G. Schirmer, publisher. "The Songs of John Jacob Niles." Piano and vocal. $US 15.00

I do recall that his version, on an old RCA Red Seal (1940s) set of folk, was brief, but I can't recall any of the words now. In the following note, Niles refers to his 1958 recording- same words??

""Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair" as sung here was composed between 1916 and 1921. I had come home from eastern Kentucky singing the song to an entirely different tune- a tune not unlike the public domain material employed even today. My father liked the lyrics but thought the tune was downright terrible. So I wrote myself a new tune, ending in a nice modal manner. My composition has since been discovered by many an aspiring folk-singer." John Jacob Niles. Music

Posts above show that there was an older song with a different tune. The Niles version and its copies have taken over, however.

I like the Ellis Peters version from her murder mystery:
Black, black, black is the color of my true-loves heart!
His tongue is like a poisoned dart,
The coldest eyes and the lewdest hands...


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Kaleea
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 04:16 PM

I sang the Niles version when I was a voice major in college. My voice prof was fond of several of the "Niles" songs, but always poked fun at Niles for listing his name as composer/lyricist.
   One sings a variety of "literature" as an edjumacated vocalist, most of which is composed "literature," such as from operas & other works. When one wants to sing a folk song, however, one must have an "arrangement" by a proper source, and then it is considered an "Art Song." I frequently have voice students sing Folk Songs in performances, or in competition. I rarely have any printed "Music" of Folksongs/Spirituals for competition judges-which is normally a requirement-as I teach the Folksong as I learned it from whatever source, and I improvise the accompaniment, usually on Piano. Instead, I bluff by stating that I am positive that they are all familiar with the "Niles" (or one of the other well known Folksong thieves) arrangement of such & so. So far (30+ yrs), no one has ever questioned me.


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Subject: ADD: The Pinery Boy
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 06:10 PM

I've always felt that THE SAILOR BOY was close to the deepest root version of this song. When it got to dry land in the USA, it almost demanded to be rewritten for the various geographical areas.

In the Wisconsin lumber woods, as collected by Franz Rickaby, it was THE PINERY BOY. His source was Mrs. M.A. Olin of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She told Franz Rickaby that..."she had learned it shortly after she came to Wisconsin...in 1867...from a neighbor boy, one Thomas Ward---a great singer."

-----------------------------------------------

THE PINERY BOY

Oh, a raftsman's life is a wearisome one,
It causes them to weep and mourn,
It causes many a fair maid to weep and mourn,
For the loss of a true love that never can return.

Father, oh, father, build me a boat,
That down the Wisconsin I may float,
And ever raft that I pass by
There will I inquire for my sweet Pinery Boy.

As she was rowing down the stream,
She spied three rafts all in a string,
She hailed the pilot as they drew nigh,
And there she did enquire for her sweet Pinery Boy.

"Oh, pilot, oh, pilot, come tell me true,
Is my sweet Willie among your crew?"
Tell me quick and give me joy,
For none other will I have but my sweet Pinery Boy."

"Oh, Auburn was the color of his hair,
His eyes were blue and his cheeks were fair,
His lips were of a ruby fine,
Ten thousand times have they met with mine."

"Oh, honored lady, he is not here,
He's drowned in the Dells, I fear,
'Twas at Lone Rock as we passed by,
Oh, there is where we left your sweet Pinery Boy."

She wrung her hands and tore her hair,
Just like a lady in great despair,
She rowed her boat against Lone Rock,
You'd a-thought this fair lady's heart was broke.

"Dig me a grave both long and deep,
Place a marble slab at my head and feet,
And on my breast a turtle dove,
To let the world know that I died for love.
-----And at my feet a spreading oak,
-----To let the world know that my heart was broke."

-------------------------------------------------

In the California gold fields (1850s) this song became THE CALIFORNIA BOY. It was possibly transported there by a lumberjack trying to strike it rich. All that really changed in the song was the locale --- and the way the young man tried to make a living.

Also, the song THE PINERY BOY is on my CD for Folk Legacy Records at www.folklegacy.com It is called Art Thieme-On The Wilderness Road.

Art


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 13 Nov 05 - 06:18 PM

Whenever I sang it, it must've instantly become an "Art song".    ;-)

My version was also on a compilation LP put out by Wisconsin Public Radio called A SIMPLY FOLK SAMPLER.

Art again


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,george_mcarthur@hotmail.com
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 10:59 AM

This song has create a very big stir i've a lot of friends from my time in Dublin many have sung it and all my Spanish and Polish friends love it......

Been trying to find out more about it when i said Hamish Imlach to irish Christy Moore fans they said Joe Heaney but i've since found John Jacob Niles and many before Hamish's version.

here are just a few

http://www.blackisthecolour.bravehost.com



Jordi


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,robinia@eskimo.com
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 11:35 AM


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: Cluin
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 11:43 AM

I always liked The Easy Club's version.


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Subject: RE: black is the color?from where?
From: GUEST,robinia
Date: 22 Nov 05 - 12:19 PM

Sorry about that..... I meant to recount my memory of JJN singing "Black, black, black" in the fifties. Singing it to the melody he'd composed, he said, because the song had such a poor tune. Or words to that effect. I was offended because I rather liked the older melody even if it didn't have quite the sweep of the "Niles" version, and I didn't see why he felt called upon to trash it. But I never doubted that he HAD sustantially altered the song (and in so doing made it much more popular) nor have I ever doubted that he wrote one of my family's favorite carols, "Jesus, Jesus, Rest your Head." Is he charged with stealing that too?


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