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“Fiddle Songs and Banjo Songs: A Descriptive Index.” by Wayne Howard

Posted by Brooklynbanjoboy on Tuesday, November 4, 2014

While doing a bit of poking around, looking into post-1960 styles of West Virginia banjo playing, I came across a masters thesis completed by Wayne Howard in 1981 at West Kentucky University, entitled “Fiddle Songs and Banjo Songs: A Descriptive Index.”
I reached out to the “banjo community via Banjo Hangout, an online platform accommodating 90,000 obsessive/compulsive banjo players, collectors, historians, etc.
Some BHO citizens encouraged me to write directly to the University, and I did.  I wrote directly to Dr. Michael Ann Williams who is Professor of Folk Studies and Department Head, Folk Studies and Anthropology, at the University. 
The professor responded very quickly, promising that she’d see what could be done to get the item into the digitalization queue.
Today, 3 November, not 3 days after I first communicated with WKU, the WKU Archivist, Suellyn Lathrop, wrote to me, forwarding the link to the now very accessible thesis. 
Wayne Howard’s thesis abstract states:
English-language texts associated with fiddle and banjo in the southern United States are described and then indexed for comparative reference. The fiddle songs are typically humorous, very brief, highly variable and disunified. The same is true of many banjo songs associated with the banjo. Ballads in the fiddle and the banjo repertory are not indexed if previously catalogued by Child or Laws.  Fiddle and banjo songs are defined as texts associated with fiddle or banjo playing, either through instrumental accompaniment or because informants mentally associate them with the fiddle or banjo. Various ways of performing the songs are enumerated, with particular attention to instrumental accompaniment and the square-dance context. The texts are often improvised, and they tend to be formulaic. The nature of formula is discussed, with analysis of certain formulaic structures in fiddle and banjo verses.  The disunity and variability of most fiddle and banjo songs has made them difficult to compare. They are therefore indexed, not as integral texts, but as stanzas which are taken as self-contained entities. The Index of Stanzas is compiled from printed collections and from fieldwork in West Virginia. Stanzas are arranged according to subject matter, with cross references and an open-ended numbering system to allow for expansion. Anglo-American and Afro-American texts are indexed together, and some useful information pertaining to the provenience and the context of each stanza is included.
It’s nice to have this piece of research, and it’s nice to know there are people out there in academia working to make such stuff accessible.
If you have a minute, it’s worth looking over the WKU archive which is stuffed with very intriguing documents, papers, and collections:

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