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Her Views on Performing a Ballad

Background and Commentary by Daniel W. Patterson

 “The ballads I do,” she said in one interview with Roger Abrahams, “you’re not supposed to perform them.” To sing a ballad, or any kind of traditional song, but especially those she called “classic,” she explained, “you have to put yourself behind the song.” She added, “By that I mean get out of the way of it. Present your story, don’t perform it.” She thought the difference between herself and most “popular folksingers” was that “they do perform and put too much of themselves into it. I just get behind it. I don’t want any of Almeda Riddle there. Let’s get the picture of Mary Hamilton, the weeping, betrayed girl, before the public. And if your ballad is good enough, it’ll hold them without anything that you do. You don’t have to put any tricks to your voice or anything else, if you sing it with feeling. I do believe a ballad should be sung with feeling and with understanding.”

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