I may have referred here to Cecil Sharp, the English folklorist who visited Virginia just over a century ago. He, along with his American assistant, wanted to collect any folk songs of English origin that may still have been extant in that part of the country, and he found a great many old English ballads that were still preserved amongst the people of the Appalachians. Keep in mind that this is the part of the South that is said to have been settled mostly by Celtic ‘Scots-Irish’ or Irish people, so this would seem an odd place to go looking for English folk songs and lore. Still, Sharp and his assistant were not disappointed in their quest, and Sharp wrote of the similarities between the rural Appalachian folk and their counterparts back in England.
This blog points out that Sharp’s descriptions stand in stark contrast to the stereotypes of people from that region that are popularly believed today. Here’s another site which is a good source of information about the subject.
As I love traditional music and all sorts of folklore I am fascinated by the story of Cecil Sharp and his mission to collect and help preserve the musical traditions of Appalachia. His work led to a cooperative effort between traditional music scholars and musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, in order to keep these traditions alive.
The demographic changes that are being imposed on even the more remote areas of the Southern U.S. will no doubt contribute to a weakening and possible loss of the culture and heritage overall. It is just not true that a culture can be preserved by just anybody; a culture is the product of a specific people, an extended kin-group who are genetically from the same source. If a culture is a disembodied thing that can be transferred to any random ‘recipient’ then it is a museum piece, no longer a living tradition.
I hate to make this political, but there’s just no way around it. A people must be preserved in order for their culture to survive and continue.