Naomi Wise: Creation, Re-Creation, and Continuity in an American Ballad Tradition

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9781880849552: Naomi Wise: Creation, Re-Creation, and Continuity in an American Ballad Tradition
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On or about April 5, 1807, in Randolph County, North Carolina, a young woman named Naomi Wise rendezvoused with her lover, one Jonathan Lewis, near a local mill stream. Whether Lewis, scion of a locally prominent family, lured her there with the promise of elopement or merely to bribe her to conceal the parentage of the child she was carrying will never be known. What is known is that Lewis later confessed to beating Naomi and then drowning her in the river.

A little over 150 years later, a traditional ballad recounting this sad tale had become one of the most popular songs of the folk revival that "swept through American campuses and coffeehouses during the 1960s." Then, in the mid-1980s, a manuscript poem about Naomi’s murder, written down only a few years after the events it describes, was discovered in UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library.

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About the Author:

Completing work begun by her late husband, D.K. Wilgus, and his late colleague, Wayland Hand, Eleanor R. Long-Wilgus, herself a recognized expert in the American folk-ballad tradition, uses this early manuscript—published here for the first time—to examine thoroughly the extensive folk-song tradition that grew out of the story of "Naomi Wise / and how she was deluded / by John Lewis’s lies."

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