from “Folk Music: More Than a Song” by Kristine Baggelaar and Donald Milton:
Frank Warner and his wife Anne are two of the most devoted and renowned collectors, preservers, and interpreters of American traditional folk music. Their enthusiasm and their pursuit of this genre have brought to the attention of the general public such names as Frank Proffitt, Yankee John Galusha, and Lena Bourne Fish — and a wealth of folk material from the fertile areas of the Southern Appalachians, the North Carolina Outer Banks, Tidewater Virginia, New England, and upstate New York.
Frank Warner was born on April 5, 1903, in Selma, Alabama. He spent most of his boyhood in North Carolina and enrolled at Duke University in 1921. After he received his degree from Duke, Warner joined the staff of the YMCA in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he stayed for five years. He then came to New York to join the National Council of the YMCA and eventually became executive director of the YMCAs on Long Island.
Throughout his professional career, he maintained, as a hobby, his singing and lecturing on folk music. In 1935 he and Anne Locher were married, and together, during their vacations, they traveled and collected folk material from rural areas all along the eastern seaboard. In 1937 the met South Carolina folk song collector Maurice Matteson, who had a dulcimer made by Nathan Hicks of Beach Mountain, North Carolina.
The Warners wrote to Nathan Hicks and ordered a dulcimer, which he eventually sent them wrapped in a gunny sack and accompanied by a phonetically spelled letter full of archaic words and phrases. The Warners decided they had to pay the Hickses a visit, and Anne Warner describes their first trip to Beach Mountain the next year:
“We were so fascinated that we decided to go down, not with the idea of collecting, but just to meet these people. This was before there was electricity in the mountains, and the roads were almost impassable once you got back from the highways, and the Hickses lived way back! When we got there we found Nathan Hicks with a group of kinfolk and neighbors who had to come to meet us, and they were all sitting around the front yard. Among them was Frank Proffitt, Nathan’s eldest son-in-law.”
On that first day, Frank Proffitt thought the Warners the song “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley,” which Frank Warner sang in concerts for the next two decades and recorded on the Electra label in 1952.The Warners were largely responsible for the recognition given to Frank Proffitt and were instrumental in bringing him North to perform at the first University of Chicago Folk Festival and other festivals and concerts.
In 1939 the Warners traveled to the Adirondacks, where they collected songs from eighty-one-year-old Yankee John Galusha. The following year, they began to collect in New England — especially from Mrs. Lena Bourne Fish of East Jaffrey, New Hampshire. As Anne Warner recalls:
“We had a recording machine by this time and small discs. This was long before tape, and because our supply of discs was short, we would record two stanzas of a song — to get the melody — and stop the machine. The fortunate aspect was that I got them all down correctly then and there. From then on, we spent our month’s vacation, which we each had each year from our regular jobs, working as hard as we did any other time — usually spending two weeks in the South and two weeks in the North. We have collected, I suppose, more than a thousand songs. And we have collected, too, many, many friends. So many of these people lived close to the roots of America, and they have given us a feeling about the country that I don’t think we could have gotten in any other way.”