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Barre Toelken

I was born in Enfield, Massachusetts, in 1935. As a child, I learned folksongs from both sides of my family--sea and whaling songs from my father's side, farming songs from my mother's side. Just before World War II, my town and all the towns in Quabbin Valley were obliterated by a reservoir constructed to serve the water needs of Boston. My earliest memories are of water coming in and houses going out.

We moved to Springfield, a huge city to us. There, at school recess, my three cousins and I would sing--but because no one liked the songs and no one knew the choruses, we stopped singing them. However, my childhood fascination with folklore grew until I eventually became a folklorist, and I took my doctorate in Old English literature--there wasn't any degree that I knew about in folklore.

In 1964, when I arrived in Salt Lake City for my first job, I found that folksinging was far from dead. I ran into this bunch and knew that I wasn't alone. Around me existed a full-blown folksong revival and I joined in. Here's the story about the song I will sing unaccompanied this evening--after graduating from high school I was in North Carolina building log cabins and I heard this song, "Rose Connallee," from fourteen- year-old Carolyn Spivey. She had learned it from her illiterate grandmother. Only years later did I learn that a fragment of that song had been heard by Irish poet W. B. Yeats, who lamented that the whole folksong wasn't available to us. Well, here it is--in its entirety--Carolyn's version.

 Last Modified 4/23/14