Did you know that . . . during the winter of 1947 two musicologists traveled to Rappahannock County to record local songs?
“We proceeded equipped with a recording machine and discs supplied by the Folk Music Department of the Library of Congress,” the scholars wrote in the resulting article, “Songs from Rappahannock County, Virginia” in The Journal of American Folklore. “The material presented here was gathered in a week’s time within a radius of 10 miles from ‘Little’ Washington. The area was bounded on the east by Amissville, on the north by Chester’s Gap and on the south by Thompson’s Gap.”
The authors, MacEdward Leach and Horace P. Beck, complained of an “evangelical spirit” that pervaded the area at the time, inhibiting the populace from singing other than religious songs. Nevertheless, they were able to harvest many old secular songs, most of them not native to Rappahannock. But one song apparently of local origins was “Fox Chase,” about “a Paul Bunyanish sort of fox known as Old Baldy [that] roamed this region and could never be caught.” The “fiddle tune” was borrowed by African Americans for several songs of “social protest.”
The article contains some fascinating nuggets of local lore, such as this: “Mr. Henry Whorton, living back in the country beyond Amissville, is an old-time fiddler and banjoist. All of his 13 children can sing or pick a guitar except one. The most skillful is son Charles, aged twenty-three. He has learned some of the old songs from his father but prefers generally the modern songs of the radio.” Later, the authors note sadly, “A few old songs may linger on . . . but the old culture is rapidly going.”
Don’t let our culture slip away. Stop by the little red brick building at 328 Gay St. in Washington and sing us your songs. And become a member of the Society.
Rappahannock Historical Society
328 Gay St., Washington, Va. 22747