north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     Englishman Cecil Sharp is best known in the United States as a collector of Appalachian ballads. The son of a slate merchant, Sharp received a music degree from Cambridge University in 1892. After a sojourn in Australia he returned to England in 1892 to work as a composer. Between 1899 and 1903 he developed a serious interest in traditional music. By 1915 he had tracked down 3,500 English folk songs and the following year he came to America looking for more.

     Sharp found the songs and ballads where the British settlers had transplanted them in southern Appalachia—in Kentucky and Virginia, and especially in western North Carolina. His most fruitful searches were conducted in Hot Springs, Allanstand, Sodom Laurel, and elsewhere in Madison County. By mid-August 1916 he had collected ninety-one songs; by year’s end he had over 400. In 1917 he and Olive Dame Campbell, whom he met in Asheville, jointly published English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. He returned to the North Carolina mountains in 1918 and collected 1,612 tunes in all, among them “Barbara Allen” and “Cripple Creek.”

     “Sunnybank,” a large boarding house built about 1875 and today one of the last vestiges of the resort heyday of Hot Springs, was home to the Gentry family in 1916 when Sharp first came to western North Carolina. Jane Gentry, herself a noted mountain ballad singer and storyteller, supplied Sharp with sixty-four songs, more than any other single contact. Mrs. Gentry’s daughter, Maude Gentry Long, continued the family’s musical tradition and recorded extensively for the Library of Congress.


References:
Cecil Sharp, English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (1917)
Arthur Henry Fox-Strangways, Cecil Sharp (1933)
Maud Karpeles, Cecil Sharp: His Life and Work (1967)
Tony Scherman, “A Man Who Mined Musical Gold in the Southern Hills,” Smithsonian (April 1985)
Betty N. Smith, Jane Hicks Gentry: A Singer Among Singers (1998) National Register of Historic Places nomination for Sunnybank (1971)
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north carolina highway historical marker program


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