MUSIC 162 - SPRING 2008
American Pop Song
A. First Roots
Texas Gladden: "The Four Marys"
Texas Gladden is from the mountains of Virginia, and recorded this selection in 1941 for
folklorist Alan Lomax (who considered Gladden America's "finest traditional ballad singer"). In
the previous version, "Mary Hamilton had a wee wain [baby] / To the highest man in the toon,"
which presumably refers to the King (though in some variants it is the Prince). In Gladden's
version, no mention is made of an illegitimate birth, in fact no reason for Mary to murder her
child is given. It is common for American versions of British ballads to omit sexual references
(especially taboos such as incest and illegitimacy), as well as supernatural elements (e.g., ghosts
and miracles). The tendency to avoid sexual content has led to the existence of many ballad texts
in which someone murders their brother, sister, sweetheart, or child for no given reason. These
two versions of "Mary Hamilton," one from each side of the Atlantic, have the same basic
melody, though some variants of this ballad are performed to different tunes.
Word has come from the kitchen
And word has come to me
That Mary Hamilton drowned her babe
And throwed him into the sea.
Down came the old Queen,
Gold tassels around her head.
"Oh Mary Hamilton, where's your babe
That was sleeping in your bed?"
"Oh, Mary, put on your robe so black
And yet your robe so brown,
That you might go with me this day
To view fair Edinburgh town."
She didn't put on her robe so black,
Nor yet her robe so brown,
But she put on her snow-white robe
To view fair Edinburgh town.
As she passed through the Cannogate [Cannongate],
The Cannogate passed she,
The ladies looked over their casements and
They wept for this lady.
As she went up the Parliament steps,
A loud, loud laugh laughed she.