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Cecil Sharp Exhibit and Joe Penland Concert

Cecil Sharp Exhibit and Joe Penland Concert

Woman on Barge. Used with permission from English Folk Dance and Song Society, Cecil Sharp House, London

Hosted by Madison County Arts Council

By Hannah Furgiuele

From the beginning of April through the end of May, the Madison County Arts Council will host a display of rare photographs taken by English folklorist, Cecil Sharp. The images primarily showcase the singers from whom Sharp and his assistant, Maud Karpeles, gathered hundreds of variations of English ballads between 1916 and 1918. All of these findings were published in Sharp’s book, English Folk Songs From the Southern Appalachians.

A collaboration between the English Folk Dance and Song Society, The North Carolina Folklife Institute and the Country Dance and Song Society, the photographic exhibit, which has never been on display before, is part of a larger centennial celebration of Sharp’s preservation work.

Sharp and Karpeles inspired many others to travel and collect stories and songs. Among those currently working toward that end is old-time ballad singer and songwriter Joe Penland, who will perform at the Madison County Arts Center on Saturday, April 22, at 7:30 p.m.

“Joe Penland is one of the carriers of the ballad traditions,” says Laura Boosinger, MCAC executive director. “He had close relationships with many of the singers who were around when Sharp visited Madison County. Joe’s stories along with the photos will give listeners an idea of what Sharp saw when he came to the southern mountains a hundred years ago.”

A native of Madison County, Penland’s stories and songs are inspired by a deep love for the traditions found in the coves and hills of his home.

Cecil Sharp Exhibit and Joe Penland Concert

Joe Penland. Photo by Bob Franklin

“Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles noted over 250 ballads in Madison County in the autumn of 1916,” Penland says. “As a teenager, I was fortunate to learn some of these on the front porches and front rooms of singers I knew in the Laurel Valleys. The gift of Sharp’s book, to me, is that it gave me so many more songs by singers whose style was familiar, even if the ballads were not. From his notation, I felt able to recreate these ballads in a way I feel to be authentic and true.”

Penland weaves humor and history into a skilled musical performance while he continues to share the old “love songs,” as his family called the ballads. While there will be limited images of Madison County residents, Penland will illustrate this tradition, bringing those singers to life through his stories and songs during this special evening.

The Madison County Arts Center is located at 90 South Main Street, Marshall. Tickets are available at or by calling 828.649.1301.

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