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date: 28 March 2020

Barry, Phillipslocked

  • James Porter


(b Boston, 1880; d Framingham, MA, 1937). American ballad scholar. He studied folklore, theology and classical and medieval literature at Harvard, and was probably self-taught in music. He founded the Folk-Song Society of the North-East and edited its Bulletin from 1930 until his death. His academic training combined with his later fieldwork allowed him to develop a broad yet penetrating view of ballad creation, and he was the first North American scholar to investigate folksong in terms of text, tune, performance and transmission. His idea of ‘individual invention plus communal re-creation’, which was similar to Cecil Sharp’s theory, proposed that a folksong was creatively re-made within the community each time it was sung; this view replaced prevailing theories of a communal origin of the folksong by means of group improvisation. He collected mainly in New England and collaborated with scholars in Vermont and Maine. Through his efforts, research methods used in ballad studies changed from scholarship based on library sources, as in the work of Child and Kittredge, to the study of traditional performers and a more complete analysis of folksong as a genre. His essay ‘The Part of the Folksinger’ (...

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