Portions of this post were originally published here on the Blind Pig in 2009. I woke up with this old song on my mind yesterday and wanted to share it with you again.
Today’s Pickin’ & Grinnin’ In The Kitchen Spot features a song from the 1800s, Mary Of The Wild Moor. The song tells the sad lonesome story of a mother and child freezing to death because her father couldn’t hear her cries for help. Doesn’t get much sadder than that.
It’s hard to imagine a world where information was at a minimum. A world with no Internet, no cell phones, no tv, heck not even many newspapers. I imagine the need for information was still a human want even in those days. And as usual where there’s a human want there’s someone figuring out how to fill it in exchange for money.
Enter Broadsides. Sheets of paper printed with announcements from the government, news information, speeches, or songs. I’m sure, like me, you’ve watched a movie or tv show set in the early 1800s where a man is shown walking through the square uttering “Hear Ye Hear Ye” before nailing up a notice for all the villagers to read.
As time went by selling broadsides became a lucrative business for folks. Most popular were sheets containing details of notorious murders or words to popular songs of the day one of which was Mary Of The Wildmoor.
According to Jurgen Kloss Mary Of The Wildmoor was probably written by a performer in England in the early 1800s to appear older than it actually was. The song’s traits being similar to older ballads popular at the time indicate this.
By 1845 the song had made it to America and soon became quite popular. But by the early 1900’s the song seems to have been relegated to singing around the home-performed mostly in family settings. In the early 1930s the song made a come back, largely due to “ballad hunters” who made every attempt to preserve old songs from the Appalachian Mountains.
In 1940 the first commercial recording of the song was made by The Blue Sky Boys of North Carolina. The song was recorded again in 1956 by The Louvin Brothers of Alabama. These two brother duet recordings cemented the song’s popularity in traditional bluegrass music circles.
Give Pap and Paul’s version of the old song a listen and see what you think.
Hope you enjoyed the sad song. I like the irony of the song’s beginning: it was written to appear old and now it’s lasted until it truly can be considered an old old song.