Favorite

Almeda Riddle 

Cleburne County native saved countless folk ballads.

SONG COLLECTOR: Almeda Riddle.
  • SONG COLLECTOR: Almeda Riddle.
Almeda James Riddle, who was born Nov. 21, 1898, in Cleburne County, was educated by her parents and later said her father, who also sang, taught her to read music before she could read words. Even as a child, she collected songs, especially when her father became a grocer near the local railroad station and she met people from many different backgrounds. Her practice of ballad collecting continued even after 1916, when she married H. Price Riddle while still a teen-ager. The couple had four children In 1926, a tornado killed her husband and the youngest child. Riddle’s thick songbook of the ballads she had been collecting for years also was lost. For the next quarter-century, she raised her remaining children as a single mother. In the early 1950s, interest in American folk music was on the rise. A neighbor introduced Riddle to John Quincy Wolf, an instructor in the emerging field of folklore study from Southwestern College in Memphis (now Rhodes College). In turn, Wolf introduced Riddle to Alan Lomax, who in October 1959 recorded her in Greers Ferry. (He recorded several others from north-central Arkansas as well, at the suggestion of Stone County native Jimmy Driftwood.) Driftwood — whose father, Neil Morris, was among those captured on tape at the sessions — was himself riding the folk wave to stardom at the time with songs like “Tennessee Stud” and “The Battle of New Orleans.” Riddle recorded several songs for the folklorists that October. Her “Merry Golden Tree” is a tragic tale of a lad who sinks a pirate ship, only to be duped by his own captain. The ballad dates from the 1700s, and was lyrically altered by Riddle — a practice said to be more common among Ozark songsters than their counterparts elsewhere Another song, “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” was likely composed in the second half of the 19th century, and was recorded by the Carter Family in the 1930s Riddle also was recorded singing “Down in Arkansas,” a comic ballad: “... Now she is cross-eyed, that’s a fact, but she’s down in Arkansas/She cries and the tears rolls [sic] down her back, but she’s down in Arkansas ...” And, in the third verse, “She was cutting hay while the north wind blows, down in Arkansas/The sickle slipped and it cut off her nose, down in Arkansas/Doctor put it on, but upside down, down in Arkansas/Now when it rains she almost drowns, down in Arkansas ...” Riddle sang a cappella, and she did not consider herself an entertainer. She said, “A singer should not get in the way of a song, but just stand back.” She was a stickler for the ballad form, which originated in the Middle Ages and continued even with European settlement in North America. She lived her life in Cleburne and White counties, but Riddle’s 1959 recordings weren’t her last time educating academia. Through the years, she traveled the nation, singing her ballads at universities and seminars at Harvard, UCLA and beyond. Her goal to preserve as many of the old songs as possible for a younger generation was fulfilled. Almeda Riddle died on June 30, 1986, with no count on the number of historic ballads she preserved — or on the number of lives she influenced. listening • “Down in Arkansas” • “Bury Me Beneath The Willow” • “Merry Golden Tree” Correction Last week’s photo that accompanied the “Arkansongs” column was incorrectly identified as being Sonny Burgess. The photo was of Jim Aldridge, a member of Burgess’ band, the Legendary Pacers.
Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Tags:

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Stephen Koch

  • Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires

    Also, Outlaw Music Festival, Little Tybee, Terminal Nation, Liz Brasher, Architecture and Design Network Talk from Jeff Shannon, Good Foot and more
    • Jul 6, 2017
  • Brit Floyd at Verizon Arena

    Pink Floyd tribute band Brit Floyd brought its Immersion tour to the north shore Monday. Blame it on post-Riverfest musical exhaustion or the earliness in the week, but the perennial arena favorite played to a smallish crowd of 1,218 with a few rowdy flashes.
    • Jun 6, 2017
  • Riverfest 2017: flute solos, fireworks and fidget spinners

    Whether you had a good time at Riverfest largely depends on when you were there. We've yet to get a report of the attendance numbers, but eyeballing the crowds this year in comparison to last year's tells us the intermittent rain deterred plenty of potential Riverfesters.
    • Jun 5, 2017
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Discussion: State killing of the mentally ill

    The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and others will have a forum on mental illness and the death penalty at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Bowen School of Law's Friday Courtroom.

Latest in Arkansongs

  • Floyd Cramer's country keys

    Floyd Cramer, who grew up in Huttig, became one of the most important piano players in the development of country music.
    • May 3, 2007
  • Dorough finds his voice

    From his beginnings in Cherry Hill, Bob Dorough knew music was his thing.
    • Mar 15, 2007
  • ‘Sunday Afternoon’

    Soundtrack album forges on without film.
    • Jan 25, 2007
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

October

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The state of Arkansas hip-hop

    • Let us promote you!! We are Arkansas's new plug in the Entertainment industry. We are…

    • on October 22, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation