Archive for the ‘Blind James Howard’ Category

Adventures of a Ballad Hunter

May 20, 2012

“Adventures of a Ballad Hunter,” by John Lomax (Macmillan, 1947)

August 22, 1933

At last over in Kentucky we found him — the blind bard, with a good voice, for whom we had been looking since we left Texas. Near Harlan, Kentucky, where feuds are still active, he lived in a rocky gorge in a typical mountain home, and there he sang for us until our records were filled.  Alan put the microphone and the singer out under a shade tree in the yard where he sat leaning forward in a rocking chair, playing softly on his fiddle as he sang ballads  — blood-stirring ballads of love and life in the mountains.

His name was James Howard.  He was kindly, keenly intelligent, without formal education.  His handsome face would light with pleasure as Alan played back for him the recorded songs, executed almost as perfectly as if sung in a soundproof room under ideal conditions.  Lying around in the grass, as attentive and shy and observant as little animals, were a lot of mountain children, while the smiling wife peered from the doorway.  The experience was unforgettable.

The day before as we recorded in precisely the same way before another cabin, Alan whispered to me. “Look at that beauty in the door.”  There she was — starry blue eyes, very fair, with wavy hair,neatly dressed, seventeen, a mountain rose just emerging from the bud.  It was all over for Alan!  That afternoon he disappeared and again that night.

Blind James Howard plays ” The Little Carpenter”: