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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Bob Coltman Origin: He's Gone Away (28) RE: Origin: He's Gone Away 20 Jul 13


I've always been curious about this song, whose lovely, far-ranging melody adapts so well to popularized versions, even quite arty ones, but is relatively harder to credit as a folk tune.

Sandburg places this song first in his Songbag. His headnote to a meticulous four-page arrangement says in part:

"This is an arrangement from a song heard by Charles Rockwood of Geneva, Illinois, during a two-year residence in a mountain valley of North Carolina. .... The mountain called Yandro was the high one of this valley. .... The song is of British origin, marked with mountaineer and southern negro influences. ...."

Curiously unsatisfying. Who sang this song to Rockwood and when? Was it professionally changed before it was served up in print? It has a very individual and somewhat uptown sound, though it is one of the loveliest songs in the folk repertoire.

I wonder whether hidden behind this origin story is an ambitious composer. Sandburg also writes, "Mr. Sowerby [the arranger] was lighted with a rich enthusiasm about this song and has met its shaded tones with an accompaniment that travels in fine companionship with the singer."

Do I sense a little irony in the poet's tone at this sophisticated treatment? Might the arranger also have tinkered with the melody some?

All we know is that Sandburg in his own performances followed this melody, and so have the dozens of folk and pop artists who have recorded it since, notably in early days Burl Ives and (if I remember aright) John Jacob Niles as well as Jo Stafford, mentioned above, who in her brief popularization of folk songs c. 1951(?) showed a flair and taste few other pop folkies have matched.   

Surely it's time to detach this song from the others to which it's said above to be related. It's a very distinct patchwork showpiece, only tangentially related to the songs it cops words from.

I I love to hear "He's Gone Away," but I admit the song leaves me at sixes and sevens as to its origin, claims to traditional status, etc.

Bob


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