Learn about Katherine Jackson French’s remarkable life, examine the lost legacy of her ballad collection, and sing some of the songs from her collection.
Katherine Jackson French, a Columbia University Ph.D. (1906) collected ballads in the mountains of Kentucky in 1909 but was never able to publish her collection. If she had, hers would have been the first large, scholarly collection of Southern Appalachian balladry ever published, predating the much more famous Cecil Sharp collection by seven years. Jackson French’s collection is fundamentally different than Sharp’s and other collectors’ both musically and in her presentation of the ballad-keepers of Appalachia. Had she published, non-Appalachians would have been given a very different crucial first impression of Appalachian music. We will learn about Jackson French’s remarkable life and examine the lost legacy of her ballad collection. We will also examine and discuss the issues of class, gender, and power that prevented French from realizing her dream of publication. In particular, we will learn about the effect of the Ballad Wars of the early 20th century - a stew of intrigue, professional jealousies, broken promises, and outright theft - upon Jackson French’s and other women’s publication efforts. Students will learn some of the songs from her collection, and copies of her “English-Scottish Ballads from the Hills of Kentucky” (30 extant songs now in print for the first time) will be available for purchase prior to our first class.