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Origin: Goodnight Irene

DigiTrad:
GOOD NIGHT IRENE
GOOD NIGHT IRENE PARODY
GOODNIGHT IRENE


Related threads:
Lyr Add: Goodnight Irene (parodies) (23)
Lyr Req: Goodnight Irene (32)
I Know Goodnight Irene - need help on comedy routine (5)
Tune Req: Goodnight Irene (request only) (1)


titus_3_7@yahoo.com 28 Jan 99 - 08:28 PM
Mike Billo 28 Jan 99 - 09:42 PM
Brad Sondahl 28 Jan 99 - 09:52 PM
rick fielding 28 Jan 99 - 10:56 PM
Brian Hoskin 29 Jan 99 - 10:42 AM
Guy Wolff 29 Jan 99 - 07:40 PM
Banjer 30 Jan 99 - 07:26 AM
02 Feb 99 - 03:48 AM
02 Feb 99 - 11:36 AM
Steve Parkes 02 Feb 99 - 12:01 PM
skw@worldmusic.de 08 Feb 99 - 11:41 AM
simon-pierre 22 Mar 01 - 04:45 PM
GUEST,Roll&Go-C 22 Mar 01 - 05:45 PM
toadfrog 22 Mar 01 - 06:49 PM
Irish sergeant 22 Mar 01 - 08:07 PM
Suffet 22 Mar 01 - 10:17 PM
dick greenhaus 22 Mar 01 - 10:29 PM
Mike Regenstreif 22 Mar 01 - 10:58 PM
DougR 22 Mar 01 - 11:37 PM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 23 Mar 01 - 03:54 AM
wes.w 23 Mar 01 - 11:52 AM
simon-pierre 23 Mar 01 - 12:18 PM
wes.w 26 Mar 01 - 06:52 AM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 26 Mar 01 - 08:05 AM
GUEST 26 Mar 01 - 10:28 AM
McGrath of Harlow 26 Mar 01 - 10:29 AM
Snuffy 27 Mar 01 - 07:18 AM
Stewie 27 Mar 01 - 09:35 AM
MMario 27 Mar 01 - 09:56 AM
simon-pierre 27 Mar 01 - 04:58 PM
Stewie 27 Mar 01 - 05:54 PM
Luke 28 Mar 01 - 09:24 AM
GUEST,John Hill 28 Mar 01 - 09:47 AM
Snuffy 28 Mar 01 - 05:15 PM
GUEST,Irene B 28 Mar 01 - 06:23 PM
GUEST,Fred 28 Mar 01 - 10:52 PM
GUEST,Fred 28 Mar 01 - 10:55 PM
Stewie 29 Mar 01 - 12:40 AM
rich-joy 28 Jul 02 - 05:34 AM
masato sakurai 28 Jul 02 - 06:47 AM
masato sakurai 28 Jul 02 - 07:10 AM
Kaleea 28 Jul 02 - 01:44 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 28 Jul 02 - 03:15 PM
dick greenhaus 28 Jul 02 - 04:16 PM
12-stringer 28 Jul 02 - 04:53 PM
Lanfranc 28 Jul 02 - 06:29 PM
Nerd 29 Jul 02 - 02:22 AM
Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 29 Jul 02 - 01:56 PM
GUEST,Lyle 29 Jul 02 - 02:44 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 29 Jul 02 - 03:20 PM
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Subject: Origins: Goodnight Irene
From: titus_3_7@yahoo.com
Date: 28 Jan 99 - 08:28 PM

Would anyone out there have any info on the ballad "Goodnight Irene", it is very important to my school project. Any info would be helpful.

Thanx, Jon


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Mike Billo
Date: 28 Jan 99 - 09:42 PM

To the best of my knowledge, it was the composed by Leadbelly.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Brad Sondahl
Date: 28 Jan 99 - 09:52 PM

Yes, Huddie Ledbetter wrote it. The story is that he wrote the song, got tired of getting about $25 to make a record for it, so took the same song to a number of different race record companies, and got $25 from each. When the made the record, there were lots of copies which contributed to its popularity. You might search on the web for Leadbelly or Huddie Ledbetter for more info. Brad http;//www.camasnet.com/~asondahl/bradindex.html


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: rick fielding
Date: 28 Jan 99 - 10:56 PM

In the recent biography of Leadbelly (sorry I've forgotten the names of the authors but one is named Kyp something) They trace "Irene" back to an old pop song from the turn of the century. Leadbelly's seems to have borrowed a bit from it but like everything he did, by the time he sang it ..boy , was it original.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Brian Hoskin
Date: 29 Jan 99 - 10:42 AM

The biography Rick is referring to is by Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell and is entitled: 'The Life and Legend of Leadbelly', it's available in paperback and is well worth a read. If you want to support the Mudcat whilst you're getting a copy, then follow the link to Amazon.com and get it from them.

Brian


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Guy Wolff
Date: 29 Jan 99 - 07:40 PM

I know nothing but love the song so much I'm putting it on my next vanity press CD. ...........


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Banjer
Date: 30 Jan 99 - 07:26 AM

The story I heard was that the original was written by a prisoner in a Texas jail located near the town of Irene. The last thing he would see before going to sleep would be the lights of the city, and missing his freedom or contact with those he loved would say good night to "Irene". Another story along same vein is that of the Midnight Special. The story on that has it that only by being outside the prison could the train's light shine on a person as it passed by; hence the plea "let the Midnight Special shine it's everloving light on me" Don't know for sure, but that's what folklore is made of. My information comes from a musician known as VGO.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From:
Date: 02 Feb 99 - 03:48 AM

Hamish Imlach used to introduce the song claiming Irene was the daughter of the governor of the prison in which Leadbelly was doing time (if that's the correct expression) for murder, and that he fancied her. However, I am nor sure how seriously Hamish is to take on that ... - Susanne


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From:
Date: 02 Feb 99 - 11:36 AM

Dear Susanne. My friend Garnet Rogers told me the most outrageous, funny, and difficult to repeat Hamish Imlach story a few weeks ago. After hearing it I wouldn't be surprised at anything Mr. Imlach said....short of him introducing another Leadbelly song with a description of how he (Hamish) used to "pick a bale" in the Glasgow cotton fields.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 02 Feb 99 - 12:01 PM

At the Fitter's Arms in Walsall (England), Alex Campbell often used to tell us about the hard time he had "when I was a negro on the Clyde Delta". One night he was in full spate, when he noticed our West Indian floorsinger Ryland Campbell (no relation!) was slowly sliding from his chair to the floor, laughing hysterically but quietly (we were always very polite at the Fitter's). Interrupting his spiel, he said, "it's all right for you, you're a black negro - I was a white negro!". This brought the house down; Ryland had to be carried home on a hurdle. Ah, happy innocent days ...

Steve


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: skw@worldmusic.de
Date: 08 Feb 99 - 11:41 AM

I'll always be happy to have known Hamish, and I'll always be happy to have seen Alex Campbell live once in my life - although I must admit I wasn't really up to appreciating either when it first happened. I'd heard Alex's name somewhere, and I was stridently anti-alcoholic, which Hamish was not .... That was before I grew up, of course.

Still, here's something else - from Joe Klein's book on Woody Guthrie:

[1980:] [The] Lomaxes discovered, at the Angola State Prison Farm in Louisiana, Huddie Ledbetter, who was called Leadbelly by the other inmates. His ability on the twelve-string guitar, his range, creativity, and sheer magnetism left the Lomaxes breathless. The years earlier, while serving a thirty-year sentence for murder in Texas, Leadbelly had sung and jived his way to a pardon by Governor Pat Neff. Now, serving ten years for assault with intent to murder, he made the same trick work again: John Lomax took his musical plea for clemency, on record, to Governor O. K. Allen, who set him free several months later. Hiring on a Lomax's chauffeur and traveling companion - Alan's former role - Leadbelly was brought to New York, where he charmed college audiences and caused a brief stir in the press. He left the elder Lomax after a year, chafing under his white paternalism, wanting to control his own money, and tired of having to wear his convict clothes each time he performed, "for exhibition purposes", as John Lomax put it. (Klein, Woody Guthrie 144)
[The Weavers'] first record was "Tzena Tzena Tzena" with a version of Leadbelly's lovely "Irene" on the flip side; on both sides, the label read: "by Gordon Jenkins and the Weavers". "Tzena" did nicely enough as a novelty song, but the real surprise was "Irene", which became a huge success, the most popular song of 1950. [...] Not only were traditional folk songs changed [in order to copyright them], but also those composed by known authors. Leadbelly's "Irene" was shortened and bowdlerized - even the name was changed to "Goodnight Irene" - to fit the public taste. (Klein, Woody Guthrie 356f)


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: simon-pierre
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 04:45 PM

Do anyone knows exactly when it was released? I'm reading a historical novel and the action is in the fall of 1935. A man in a barroom take his guitar and start singing this song. I suspect an anachronism. I have read elsewhere that the first records of Leadbelly were released in the debut of 1935, and they were no commercial succes, but I can find if Irene was one of them.

Anyway, for the case of the novel, I find it very doubtful that the song was known in French-Canada at this time.

SP


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: GUEST,Roll&Go-C
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 05:45 PM

Doubtful that Leadbelly did any recording before 1940 but I'm sure someone will come up with the citation.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: toadfrog
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 06:49 PM

There was an NPR program about Huddie Ledbetter where this was discussed at some length, although I have forgotten the name. He did not originate "Goodnight Irene," although there is no doubt in my mind that his version was an enormous improvement over the original popular song. The story went, he made it his theme song because he did not like the tough guy image Lomax foisted on him (guy with the bandana sitting on a bale of hay) and wanted to show he was capable of real sentiment. As in fact he was.

A whole lot of popular songs from the 50's were not attributed to their real authors. Like "Freight Train." "Kisses Sweeter than Wine," which the Weavers popularized, is a sappy version of Leadbelly's rendition of an old Irish balad. The Leadbelly version is called "If it wasn't for Dicky," (Library of Congres, issued on a Rounder CD.) The recording is rough, but the song is MAGNIFICENT.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Irish sergeant
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 08:07 PM

I always heard that he did write "Good Night Irene" Alan Lomax did get his records cut and was instrumental in getting Ledbetter paroled. A rather rare occurence in those days and damned near impossible if you were African-American. I always loved that tune. Kindest reguards, Neil


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Suffet
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 10:17 PM

Leadbelly's "If It Wasn't for Dicky" was his treatment of an Irish song called "Drimmer's Cow." Supposedly Leadbelly learned "Drimmer's Cow" from an Irish singer at a New York hoot in the 1940s. Fred Hellerman took Leadbelly's bass line as the Weavers transformed "Dicky" into "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine."

--- Steve


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 10:29 PM

A few verses of Drimmen Dhu are in DigiTrad, if anyone's interested.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Mike Regenstreif
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 10:58 PM

Somon-Pierre,

Lead Belly's first commercial recordings were indeed made in 1935 for ARC.

I was contacted a few years ago by a Lead Belly researcher who said that he once performed in Montreal. I'm not sure exactly when that would have been.

"Goodnight Irene" really spread into public consciousness after the Weavers hit version, circa 1950.

Mike Regenstreif


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: DougR
Date: 22 Mar 01 - 11:37 PM

Gordon Jenkins Choir also had a very popular version in the early 1950s.

DougR


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 03:54 AM

Introducing one of his recordings of Irene, Pete Seeger says: "Huddie said Irene was a real person, just 16 years old when she met up with a rambler and a gambler"[presumably Huddie himself].
RtS


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: wes.w
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 11:52 AM

This song was a total surprise to me when I first heard Leadbelly recordings in the 1960s, as I grew up hearing English people of my parents generation singing it, along with 'Down at the Old Bull and Bush' and other such 'sing along' things. They are now in their 70s,80s and 90s, so it must have got over the water to here by the early 1950s at the very latest. Very nostalgic!


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: simon-pierre
Date: 23 Mar 01 - 12:18 PM

Thanks Mike.
Here is a very good site about Leadbelly, especially for the discography, but it does not gives the commercial releases of the songs, only the date of their recordings. So... I still wonder if Irene was one of the songs released by ARC in 1935, or if it was done later.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: wes.w
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 06:52 AM

I was puzzled when I responded to this thread earlier, as mention of the Weavers and the early 1950s pointed to the music of a later generation than my parents (born mid 1920s). The song may have become popular in the USA in the 1950s, but I've since spoken to my parents, and some of their friends, and they confirm that 'Goodnight Irene' was a popular song throughout Britain during the Second World War (1939-45), and also as a final closing tune for dance bands, when the dancers would sing along with it for the 'Last Waltz'.

I've found a possible source of introduction of this song into Britain via Leadbelly. Charles Chilton, a pioneering Producer for the BBC, writes in his Foreword to 'The Josh White Guitar Method' published in London in 1956:

'My first association with Josh was early in the war when a half hour programme of Negro folk songs, played and sung by him and Huddie Ledbetter, was broadcast in my Radio Rhythmn Club series. As the programme was recorded in New York, I had no direct contact with him...'

So this song could have been recorded in the early 1940s (Leadbelly was recording in June 1940 in New York) and adapted to a British style of song then, perhaps even being learnt by the American Forces in Europe and bought back to the USA in a completely different guise, as a popular 'British' song. This may help to explain some of the confusion over the origins, and it could also be an interesting theory for the project Jon.
Good Luck .. wes


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 08:05 AM

Just trying out the UK Sound Archive catalogue (qv).Can't see any recording dates for their versions but note an alternative title "Drown in the River"/
RtS


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: GUEST
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 10:28 AM

Leadbelly did popularize the song. I know of no older version, but, Leadbelly like Woody Guthrie tends to get and take credit for the many borrowed #'s he performed. Leadbelly more so than Guthrie, I would say that I have heard earlier versions of most songs in Huddie's repotiare.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 26 Mar 01 - 10:29 AM

To double the confusion, Woody Guthrie's "Roll on Columbia" and "So long it's been good to know you" both use variants on the tune (at least that's how the DT sees it - I think in the latter case it's stretching it a bit).

But I reckon it's a tune that's been around a few times, as good tunes normally are. (For example the tune Huddie used for "Pick a bale of cotton" is always turning up in Irish and Scottish tune sessions, though I can never remember what it's called.)


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Snuffy
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 07:18 AM

"Pick a bale of cotton" also has a strong resemblance to the "Getting Upstairs" family of Morris Dance tunes.

Wassail! V


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 09:35 AM

Skimming through the Leadbelly entry in Godrich & Dixon, it appears he recorded 'Irene Parts 1&2' for the Library of Congress in July 1933 and again in January 1935. ARC recordings of 'Irene Parts 1&2' were made in February 1935 (16810 and 16811) but were not issued. It seems the first issued commercial recording was made in the summer of 1943 and released on Asch 343-2, Atlantic 917 and the English Melodisc 1151.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: MMario
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 09:56 AM

According to the holdings at Levy Sheet Music site Goodnight Irene was published in 1936


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: simon-pierre
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 04:58 PM

Great! Thanks a lot, Stewie! Where did you found that, or what is Godrich & Dixon?


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Stewie
Date: 27 Mar 01 - 05:54 PM

Simon-pierre, it's actually R.M.W. Dixon & J. Godrich (I have the names around the wrong way in my mind) 'Blues & Gospel Records 1902-1943' Third Edition, Storyville Publications 1982. There's probably a later edition than the one I have, but it is the definitive discography of pre-war blues and gospel recordings.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Luke
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 09:24 AM

As a teenager I learned that Huddie wrote the song for the wife of the warden at the prison he was locked up in. It was through the writing of the song that he gained his parole. Is that just romantic pr?

Luke


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: GUEST,John Hill
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 09:47 AM

I have Alan Lomax's book of "American Folk Songs".. which has Irene in it. I don't have it to hand but I'm sure that it says that the song was written by Leadbelly's uncle. I'll have another look when I get home.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Snuffy
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 05:15 PM

In the Penguin Book of American Folksongs Lomax says Leadbelly was the first singer they recorded for the Library of congress in 1935 and Irene was the first song they recorded.

But he says Leadbelly learned the song from his uncle, not that his uncle wrote it.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: GUEST,Irene B
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 06:23 PM

Josh White sang this song to me at a concert in Caird Hall Dundee when I was about one year old (around 1952!!)My parents failed to find a babysitter so took me along to the concert, Josh asked my name and when my dad told him it was Irene he sang it just for me. I still have the programme he signed for me that night.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: GUEST,Fred
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 10:52 PM

Alan Lomax, in Folk Songs of N. America, says that this was the first folk song that the Lomaxes recorded with their new portable equipment, for the Archive of American Folk Song. He doesn't mention a date for that recording,which was in the State Penitentiary at Angola, Louisiana. He attributes the authorship to Lead Belly, but he gives no further details about it.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: GUEST,Fred
Date: 28 Mar 01 - 10:55 PM

Oops, correction. He gives 1936 as the 1st copyright year with Macmillan, New York in "Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly." Second copyright is Ludlow Music, 1950, as "Goodnight Irene."


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Stewie
Date: 29 Mar 01 - 12:40 AM

Fred,

The recording date that you mentioned is given in Dixon & Godrich as circa 16-20 July 1933. There were 3 recordings of 'Irene', one a 2-part version - 120-A-1, 120-A-6 and 120-A-7. Given Lomax's comment that it was the first recorded, it is curious that there are 5 Leadbelly cuts with earlier numbers - 'The Western Cowboy' 119-B-1, 'Honey Take a Whiff on Me' 119-B-2, 'Angola Blues' 119-B-4, 'Angola Blues' 119-B-5 and 'Frankie and Albert' 119-B-6. There is a note that 119-B-3 was by an unidentified black convict. D & G noted elsewhere that the new disc recording machine was delivered to the Lomaxes on 15 July 1933 in Baton Rouge and was used throughout the rest of that expedition.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: rich-joy
Date: 28 Jul 02 - 05:34 AM

A great series that's just been on ABC-TV, here Down Under - about the history of Popular Music - mentioned that "Leadbelly's" Goodnight Irene was taken from a piece of popular sheet music published sometime in the 1800's (I think?!) by one GUSSIE DAVIS ..

Cheers! R-J


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: masato sakurai
Date: 28 Jul 02 - 06:47 AM

rich-joy, I haven't seen the piece, but The Traditional Ballad Index (Click here) says: "The 1888 song 'Irene, Goodnight,' sung by the Haverly Minstrels and credited by Spaeth to 'Davis'(but dated 1892), is a separate piece."

~Masato


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: masato sakurai
Date: 28 Jul 02 - 07:10 AM

James J. Fuld writes in Th Book of World-Famous Music, 4th ed. (Dover, 1966, pp. 305-306):

"A possible source of this melody is Irene, Good Night, with music and words by Gussie L. Davis, sung by Edwin harley of Haverly's Mastodon Minstrels and published by Geo. Propheter, Jr., 20 W. 14th St., New York, N.Y., and 640 Race St., Cincinnati, Ohio, with copyright claims by the publisher of 1886 and 1887; JF. The melody line and words of the first two bars are the same as those set forth above [that is, a familar version], and the song is in 3/4 time, but the harmony is different throughout and the melody line and words do not resemble those of the well-known melody after the first two bars. As the 'feel' of the song is similar to the well-known melody, this song may either have been an adaptation of an existing folk song or have been the source for its later adaptation into a folk song. The melody is also known as Goodnight, Irene."

~Masato


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Kaleea
Date: 28 Jul 02 - 01:44 PM

I used to have a record of Huddie Ledbetter singing & playing the 12 string. Wish I still had it so I could read the program notes & see what they said--not that it would necessarily be true. I do recall that this song was on the albumn!


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 28 Jul 02 - 03:15 PM

Like many old songs (if it is one), changes probably took place as it was handed down. I have not found sheet music on the internet in Library of Congress or other collection under Irene or Good night, although there are several songs by Gussie L. Davis, who seems to have done mostly minstrel-type songs.
As things stand, it could be credited to Lead Belly's uncle Terrell, the source according to Lead Belly in an article in Time Magazine.

The article quotes two of the original verses, which are not sung on the usual recordings that I have heard although he sang the last one at a concert at the University of Texas about a year before he died. With his leg in bad shape, he was escorted on and off stage by his wife. An unforgetable evening. At the time, there was only one black student on the campus; a law student named Sweat, who was taught in a separate class, forced on the University by the courts. At the time, a popular deoderant named Mum was sold. A sign on the campus announced: "Mum's the word for Sweat."

I ask your mother for you,
She told me you was too young;
I wish to de Lawd that I never seen your face,
I'm sorry you ever was-a born.

I love Irene, God knows I do,
Love her till the sea runs dry.
An' ef Irene turns her back on me,
I'm gonna take morphine an' die.

Copyright 1950, Spencer Music Company

The website: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JimCapaldi/timeiren.htm : Good Night, Irene


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 28 Jul 02 - 04:16 PM

Gussie L. Davis was an interesting phenomenon: a black composer who was extremely successful in a white3 man's Tin Pan Alley. He wrote a bunch of songs, including The Baggage Coach head and The Fatal Wedding.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: 12-stringer
Date: 28 Jul 02 - 04:53 PM

Re: a couple of old postings on this topic:

Woody Guthrie's "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You" is certainly not "Goodnight Irene." The tune is the same (with an added chorus) as Rev Andy Jenkins' "Billy the Kid." Jenkins allegedly wrote this song abt 1927, basing it on a book club summary or the dust jacket copy for Walter Noble Burns' novel "Saga of Billy the Kid." It was recorded on 78 by Vernon Dalhart and is often described as a traditional ballad, but it isn't -- it's from the hilljack version of Tin Pan Alley.

Wolfe and Cornell's "Life and Legend of Leadbelly" goes into much detail about the song. There seems no question that Huddie's uncle Terrell Ledbetter learned "Irene" in Texas and taught it to his brother Bob Ledbetter, from whom Huddie got it. (John Lomax recorded Bob in 1940, including a version of "Irene.") A white singer in AR (originally from LA) recorded a song called "The Girls Won't Do To Trust" in Nov 1936 which also uses the "Irene Goodnight" lyrics. This seems to be independent of the Ledbetter versions.

Huddie recorded "Irene" for the LC but those recordings were not generally available to the public at the time. He recorded it on his first commercial session, for ARC, in 1935, but it was not released and the original masters ("Irene," parts 1 and 2) may no longer exist, since they have never surfaced on any of CBS or Sony's later reissues of these sessions.

The first issued recording seems to be on Asch in 1943, but at least 9 radio broadcasts survive from 1941 and 1942 in which Huddie performed this song. It's noted as his "favorite ballad" in a 1935 newspaper interview with Lomax, and Huddie sings it in a 1935 "March of Time" newsreel. On the radio, it was his theme song. So it was unquestionably heard widely before the Weavers record turned it into a pop hit.

The lyrics of the Gussie Davis "Irene" song don't scan at all like the Ledbetter version. Wolfe and Cornell say the melody is similar and theorize that the well-known version is perhaps a recomposition of the pop song. Maybe so. I suspect that it is a mix of Davis' song with a white country ditty from the family of "Ain't It Hell, Boys" or "Late Last Night When Willie Came Home."

I wonder how the guy doing the school project made out?


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Lanfranc
Date: 28 Jul 02 - 06:29 PM

Just a small aside....

On my wall hangs a framed copy of the sheet music of "Goodnight Irene" bearing the picture of Frank Sinatra!

The authorship is given as "Huddie Ledbetter & John Lomax", the date is not shown but the publisher is Leeds Music Ltd and the price was 1 shilling (5p) which would date it to 1946-52, as that was the price of a single sheet of music at that time.

If I every get around to destroying the frame, I'll check the date.

Alan


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Nerd
Date: 29 Jul 02 - 02:22 AM

One of the funny things about "Goodnight Irene" is that many of the Lomax haters (see the "Alan Lomax: Another View" thread) use the fact that John Lomax shared the copyright with Leadbelly as an argument that the Lomaxes were unscrupulous. Why should they get money for a song Leadbelly wrote? But Leadbelly didn't write the song, either. He was the one who told JL that he'd had it from his uncle, and his uncle confirmed it.

As to the story of the Lomaxes helping Leadbelly get out of jail by using a record sent to the governor...it's true, sort of. But the record wasn't "Irene," nor did "Irene" have anything to do with that incident. I say it's true sort of, because they did decide to try that strategy with the Givernor, and they did send a record, and Leadbelly did get out soon after. But, according to the Governor's office, the recording had nothing to do with Leadbelly getting out of jail. He was let out on a policy called "double good time" which allowed well-behaved prisoners out of jail early. But if they ended up back in jail, they had the remainder of their original maximum sentence to serve as well as their new sentence. In other words, it was a form of parole, not a pardon, and it was not a special dispensation from the Governor, just a routine working of the system. The point being that Leadbelly was not pardoned at all, he was still considered to be a convicted criminal, out on parole. (Apparently leaving the state was not a violation of double good time, because he went with the Lomaxes!)

It was Leadbelly himself who always told the story that the Lomaxes got him out using his song. One, he could well have believed it to be true. Two, it was great PR since it meant that not once but twice his singing had melted the heart of a southern Governor.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 29 Jul 02 - 01:56 PM

Michelle Shocked sings a good version of this song, I can't remember wich CD it is on, but I THINK it is The Texas Campfire Songs.


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: GUEST,Lyle
Date: 29 Jul 02 - 02:44 PM

I know I've responded to this before, but can't find it.

The best explanation of the origin of the song comes from "The Life and Legend of Leadbelly" by Wolfe and Lornell (referenced above as Wolfe and Cornell - obviously, someone else types like I do! *bg*)

The reference can be found through out the book, but your best bet is to get a copy from a library and read pages 52-56. There is an excellent argument that the song pre-dates the 1880's as sumg by "Haverly'd Colored Minstrels."

The references from the book are a little too long to scan in, but if someone wants them I'll be happy to do that.

Lyle


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Subject: RE: Goodnight Irene Origin
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 29 Jul 02 - 03:20 PM

The experts seem to be split on whether the Haverly Minstrel song is the one from which Lead Belly's is derived. Until someone comes up with the sheet music, the derivation is likely to remain uncertain.

At The Traditional Ballad Index, Robert B. Waltz says it is a separate piece. Spaeth commented on similarities and credited it to a Davis, 1892, but what was this? Music with a similar name (and any date) cannot be found at the Library of Congress, Levy or the Brown Univ. Collection of African-American music. Wolfe and Lornell theorize only that there is a similarity and another song may have influenced it.


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