First published in 1975 and long out of print,Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hillsis a major work of folklore poised to reach a new generation of readers. Drawing upon Patrick Ward Gainer’s extensive ethnographic fieldwork around West Virginia, it contains dozens of significant folk songs, including not only the internationally famous “Child Ballads,” but such distinctively West Virginian songs as “The West Virginia Farmer” and “John Hardy,” among others.
Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hillsstands out as a book with multiple audiences. As a musical text, it offers comparatively easy access to a rich variety of folk songs that could provide a new repertoire for Appalachian singers. As an ethnographic text, it has the potential to reintroduce significant data about the musical lives of many West Virginians into conversations around Appalachian music—discourses that are being radically reshaped by scholars working in folklore, ethnomusicology, and Appalachian studies. As a historical document, it gives readers a glimpse into the research methods commonly practiced by mid-twentieth-century folklorists. And when read in conjunction with John Harrington Cox’sFolk Songs of the South(also available from WVU Press), it sheds important light on the significant role that West Virginia University has played in documenting the state’s vernacular traditions.
Patrick Ward Gainer (1904–1981) was one of the leading scholars of Appalachian folk music in the mid-twentieth century. A member of the English faculty at West Virginia University, he taught an immensely popular course on Appalachian music that frequently showcased some of the leading practitioners of traditional Appalachian music as guest artists. He is the author of Witches, Ghosts, and Signs: Folklore of the Southern Appalachians,also available from WVU Press.