The origins of the songs on Joan Baez’s first album

Most of this information is taken from the Traditional Ballad Index (TBI). In particular the dates of earliest recordings, and the lists of regions where each song has been recorded, are taken from the TBI and may not be as early or as complete as they could be.

Silver Dagger
A traditional American folk ballad recorded from Appalachia, the Rocky Mountains, the Midwest, Southeast and South-Central United States, and the Canadian Maritimes, with the earliest date of recording being 1866. There is another traditional folk ballad with similar lyrics called “Drowsy Sleeper“ which has been recorded from Appalachia, the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southeast and South-Central United States, New England, the Canadian Maritimes, Newfoundland and Scotland, with the earliest date of recording being 1830. Hence the ballad may ultimately have a Scottish origin.
East Virginia
A traditional American folk ballad recorded from Appalachia and the Southeast and Southwest United States), with the earliest date of recording being 1917.
Fare Thee Well (10,000 Miles)
A traditional English, Scottish and American folk ballad. There is a confusing variety of songs on this same theme; the closest one listed in the Traditional Ballad Index seems to be “Fare Thee Well, My Own True Love”, which has been recorded from Appalachia, the Midwest, Southeast, South-Central and Southwest United States, Southwest England and Aberdeenshire, with the earliest date of recording being 1867. However, the Index identifies this song by the inclusion of the line “Who will shoe your pretty little foot?”, which is actually not included in Joan Baez’s version. The song must be older, because the last stanza of Robert Burns’ “A Red, Red Rose” (1794) is clearly derived from the lyrics of this song. According to Lesley Nelson it was included in the Book of Roxburghe Ballads and dated to 1710 (the book was published in 1847, but the ballads were collected much earlier).
House of the Rising Sun
A traditional American folk ballad recorded from the South-Central United States, with the earliest date of recording being 1933.
All My Trials
A traditional American folk ballad recorded from the Southeast United States, with the earliest date of recording being 1961 according to the TBI. This is the date of the Pete Seeger recording, but Joan Baez had already released this song in 1960. It seems to have been picked up by the folk revival without having been recorded in any collections made earlier. A song called “The Tallest Tree in Paradise” recorded in 1954 has some similar lyrics and some completely different lyrics. The TBI mentions that a verse including the lines “If life were merchandise that money could buy / The rich would live and the poor would die” was found in a gravestone in Tysoe (Warwickshire) in 1798.
Wildwood Flower
A traditional American folk ballad recorded from Applachia and the Southeast and South-Central United States, with the earliest date of recording being 1928. This is the date of the Carter Family recording. The origin of this song has been traced to a song called “I’ll Twine ’Mid the Ringlets” published by the composer Joseph Philbrick Webster in 1860 with lyrics by Maud Irving. Maud Irving seems to have been a pseudonym used by a spiritualist poet called J. William Van Navee. Over time, as the song was passed down through the oral tradition, the nonsensical lines heard in the Carter Family version (“I’ll twine with my mingles”) must have evolved through mishearing—the song is thus a good illustration of the effect of the folk process.
Donna Donna
One of the two non-traditional songs on Joan Baez’s first album. It was written for the Aaron Zeitlin Yiddish-language play Esterke (1940-1941). The music was composed by Sholom Secunda.
John Riley
A traditional Scottish and American folk ballad recorded from Appalachia, the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southeast United States and Aberdeenshire, with the earliest date of recording being 1845. But the theme of a lover who is unrecognised by his love after a long journey away at sea is an old one—it goes right back to the Odyssey.
Rake and Rambling Boy
A traditional English, Scottish, Irish and American folk ballad recorded from Appalachia, the Southeast, South-Central and Southwest United States, Ontario, Southwest and Southeast England, as well as East Anglia, Scotland and Ireland. The TBI gives “before 1830” as the earliest date of recording.
Little Moses
A traditional American folk ballad recorded from Apalachia and the South-Central United States, with the earliest date of recording being 1905. Of course, the story is much older, having come from the Bible.
Mary Hamilton
A traditional Scottish and American folk ballad recorded from the Scottish Lowlands, Appalachia, the Midwest, Southeast, South-Central and Southwest United States, New England and the Canadian Maritimes, with the earliest date of recording being 1790. The “four Marys” mentioned in the last stanza may be the historical “four Marys” who were ladies-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots. However, none of the four Marys had the surname Hamilton, and there are alternative theories as to the historical events the song is connected to. It is possible that multiple events have contributed to the song, and much of the story could be completely made up.
Henry Martin
A traditional English, Welsh, Scottish and American folk ballad recorded across England and Wales and in Aberdeenshire, Appalachia, the Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, South-Central and Southwest United States, the Canadian Maritimes and Newfoundland. The TBI gives “before 1825” as the earliest date of recording.
El Preso Numero Nueve
The second of the two non-traditional songs on Joan Baez’s first album. It was written and composed by the Mexican singer-songwriter Roberto Cantoral and recorded by him with Antonio Cantoral as part of an act called the Hermanos Cantoral (that is, Cantoral Brothers, in Spanish). The Hermanos Cantoral were active from 1950 to 1954; I don’t know exactly when the song was written or first recorded.
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