From Here to the Mississippi
This chapter describes the recordings of Virginia ballad singer Texas Gladden, focusing on the piece she called “One Morning in May. ” This mournful story of a girl gone wrong offers a feminine retelling of “The Unfortunate Rake,” an Anglo-Irish broadside of the eighteenth century that conveys the last words of a young soldier dying of venereal disease. With its famous set of funeral instructions, the ballad has achieved abiding life in two of America's most popular songs: “Streets of Laredo” and “St. James Infirmary Blues.” It has appeared under various titles and on myriad recordings— from Louis Armstrong and his Savoy Ballroom Five to the Norman Luboff Choir; from Blind Willie McTell's guitar-accompanied eulogy titled the “Dying Crapshooter's Blues” to cowboy singer Dick Devall's tale of a fallen wrangler in “Tom Sherman's Barroom.” Texas Gladden took this most supple of ballads and made it her own. Just as she came to be presented as an exemplary Appalachian singer, “One Morning in May” has come to represent a folksong that continues to live through a dazzling variety of forms.
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