An Evening with John Jacob Niles Album Photo 1959

John Jacob Niles

1892-1980

American folksinger, folklorist, composer of solo and choral songs.

John Jacob Niles came from a musical family. His great-grandfather was a composer, organist, and cello manufacturer; his mother, Lula Sarah Niles, taught him music theory. He was attracted to folk songs while working as a surveyor in the Appalachians, and after he served in World War I he was educated at the music conservatories in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Lyon, France, and at the Schola Cantorum of Paris. In 1921 in New York City, Niles became master of ceremonies at the Silver Slipper nightclub before teaming up with Marion Kerby, with whom he toured widely in the United States and Europe as a folksinger. He made his own lutes and Appalachian dulcimers and specialized in the songs of the Appalachian Mountain region. His ballad collections frequently included material that he composed, such as "I Wonder As I Wander" and "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair," or arranged, as well as ballads transcribed directly from oral sources. His published works include Songs My Mother Never Taught Me (1929; with Douglas Moore), Songs of the Hill Folk (1934), The Shape Note Study Book (1950), and The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles (1961). His last work (1972) was the Niles-Merton song cycles, settings of poems of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. ~Encyclopedia Britannica.



Chronological Discography / Bibliography


1892: Born April 28 in Louisville, Kentucky. John Thomas (Tommy) Niles (father), was a sheriff, farmer, carpenter and square-dance caller. Lula Sarah Reisch (mother) played organ and piano, was a church organist and taught John Jacob musical shorthand.

1901: Sings "Barbary Ellen" as taught to him by his father Louisville children's singing contest. Niles was Encouraged by celebrated journalist and music critic "Marse Henry" Watterson to continue singing folk songs: "The time is coming when Barbary Ellen and songs like that will be bound up in great leather volumes and set on library shelves."

1907: Begins collecting folk songs in notebooks. First paid performance at Chautauqua ($1.50).

1908: Composed "Go 'Way From My Window".

1909: Graduated DuPont Manual Magnet High School in Louisville, Kentucky.
Works for Burroughs adding machine company in Kentucky Appalachian region and collects folk songs during travels.

1917: Enlists as one of the first cadets in the infant US Air Force shortly after America enters World War I. Collects songs from fellow serviceman.

1918: Injured in plane crash in France. Discharged with rank of first lieutenant. Being a disabled soldier, US Government finances his music education at the Universite de Lyon and at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, meets Gertrude Stein. Writes "Venezuela".

1920-24: Returns to US. Studies for 2 years at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Begins to organize and arrange folk songs gathered since childhood. Performs with Chicago's Lyric Opera company. Sings folk songs on radio for Westinghouse Company programs.

1925: Moves to New York City.
Works as an M.C. at the Silver Slipper Night Club. Played the part of Abie in the burlesque version of "Abie's Irish Rose". Also works as a horse tender and rose gardener. Publishes first song collection:

"Impressions of a Negro Camp Meeting". Eight Traditional Tunes. Carl Fischer, New York.

1927-34: Accompanied photographer Doris Ulmann on her rural expeditions while collecting folk songs.

1927: "Singing Soldiers"; Scribner's

1928: "Seven Kentucky Mountain Songs", G. Schirmer, New York, 13pp.

1929: "Songs My Mother Never Taught Me", with Douglas Moore; Macaulay, New York. Includes first publication of "Venezuela".

"One Man's War", with Bert Hall. The story of the Lafayette Escadrille in WWI; Holt
"The Passing of the Street Cry"; Scribner's, Sept., pp. 265-271
"Seven Negro Exaltations as sung by Marion Kerby and J. J. Niles" 15 pp., G. Schirmer, New York

1932: "Hinky Dinky Barley Brew: A Cry From The Heart". Being the Reincarnation of the Justly Famous Song "Mademoiselle From Armentieres" Old Grist Mill Press: New York, 1932. 31 pages. Illustrations by Bob Dean. A satire on the prohibition movement.

1933: Tours with singer Marion Kerby.

"...one of the most brilliant and most beautiful concerts of the season...wonderful feeling from coloring and great convincing power. Both voices suited each other perfectly."
-Telegraaf, Amsterdam (April 1933)

"...bewitched the audience with their singing...the indisputable thing was their charm."
- London Daily Telegraph

"...The work of these two artists is unique...holds you spellbound, and leaves an indelible impression upon your memory." -San Francisco News.


1934: "Songs of the Hill Folk"
Set 14 Schirmer's Folk Song Series: Twelve ballads from Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina. G. Schirmer, New York.

1936: Music Director at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.

1936: Married Rena Lipetz, March 21.

1937: "Ballads, Carols, and Tragic Legends from the Southern Appalachian Mountains"
G. Schirmer, New York.

"Ten Christmas Carols from the Southern Appalachian Mountains". G. Schirmer, New York.

1938: Extensive United States tour. Performs for Franklin D. Roosevelt family at the White House

"Ballads, Love-Songs, and Tragic Legends from the Southern Appalachian Mountains".
G. Schirmer, New York.

1938: "Early American Ballads"
RCA Red Seal M604-1 through M604-8 (4-78's)
Collected and Arranged by John Jacob Niles, Mountaineer Tenor with Dulcimer accomp.
Track List: The Gypsie Laddie (2016-A) * My Little Mohee (2016-B) * I Wonder As I Wander Out Under The Sky (2017-A) * Lulle Lullay (The Country Carol) (2017-B) * The Seven Joys of Mary - Part 1 (2018-A) * The Seven Joys of Mary - Part 2 (2018-B) * The Ballad of Barberry Allen Pt. 1 (2019-A) * The Ballad of Barberry Allen Pt. 2 (2019-B)

1939: "Street Cries" (for voice & piano)
Includes "Little Black Star", RCA Red Seal
Later reissued on "American Folk and Gambling Songs", RCA Camden Cal 219 (below).
Also performed live with Marion Kirby.

1939: "The Asch Recordings 1939 to 1945 - Vol. 2"
Various artists, Folkways 00AA4.
Track 103: Little Mattie Groves (Mattie Groves) by JJN.

1940: "Early American Carols and Folksongs"
RCA Red Seal

1941: "American Folk Lore Vol. 3"
Collected, arranged and sung by John Jacob Niles, Mountaineer Tenor
RCA Red Seal Musical Masterpiece Series M-824 (2171-2173, 18089). 12 page booklet by JJN incl.
Track List: Mattie Groves * The Death of Queen Jane * Wife of Usher's Well * The Lass From the Low Country * Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair * One Morning in May (The Nightingale) * Go 'way from My Window * You Got to Cross thatt Lonesome Valley,

1943: "Folk Singer John Jacob Niles Makes Rare Music From the Songs and Ballads of Early America", by Roger Butterfield, Life Magazine, Sept 1943, p. 57-64.

1946: "Early American Carols" (3-78's)
Disc Company of America (Disc 732). Cover illustration by David Stone Martin.
Track list: The Seven Joys of Mary (6010 A-B) * The Little Liking (6041-A) * I Wonder As I Wander (6041-B) The Carol of the Birds (6042-A) * The Carol of the Angels (6042-B)

1948: "My Precarious Life in the Public Domain".
Amusing account of extensive plagiarizing of his work. Atlantic Monthly, Dec., by JJN.

"The Anglo-American Carol Study Book",
Schirmer's American Folk Song series. G. Schirmer, New York.

1950: "The Shape Note Study Book", G. Schirmer, New York.

1952: "Lamentation" (a Biblical Oratorio). For full chorus of mixed voices and piano with solo soprano, contralto (or mezzo soprano), tenor and baritone. 110 pages G. Shirmer, New York.
"In 1945 John Jacob Niles acted as court interpreter when a group of Esthonian refugees made their appeal for admission into the United States, after having crossed the Atlantic in a small boat, fleeing from the Communist terror. The patriarch of the group appealed in these word: "We ask only the simplest things of life for ourselves and for our children, but things without which the soul of man cannot live-a home, clothes, food, and the right to be free, that we may worship our God as free men should." The plea impressed Niles: "It was like listening to a prophet! That man was voicing the eternal struggle of the spirit of man against tyranny, and his determination to be free, through the power of God." Out of that experience this music was born". From the forward by William R. Moody, Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky.

1953: Founded Boone-Tolliver Records.
        
"American Folk Love Songs to Dulcimer Accompaniment"
Boone-Tolliver BTR-22 (10" LP)

Track List: The Little Mohee * The Lass From the Low Country * The Cuckoo * Go 'way from My Window * Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair * Oh Wall, Waly * The Rosy Peach * The Turtle Dove * I'm Goin' Away

"Ballads Vol. One"
Boone-Tolliver BTR-23 (10" LP)

"The Authentic Version", by Oscar Brand. Article regarding JJN and copyright issues. Saturday Review, Aug. 29, p. 54.

195?: "Early American Ballads"
RCA Camden 604 (4-78's, reissue)
Track List: The Gypsie Laddie (2016-A) * My Little Mohee (2016-B) * I Wonder As I Wander Out Under The Sky (2017-A) * Lulle Lullay (The Coventry Carol) (2017-B) * The Seven Joys of Mary - Part 1 (2018-A) * The Seven Joys of Mary - Part 2 (2018-B) * The Ballad of Barberry Allen (2019-A) * Barberry Allen (2019-B)

195?: "Early American Carols and Folksongs"
RCA Camden 718 (reissue)

1954: "American Folk Lore Vol. 3"
Collected, Arranged and Sung by John Jacob Niles, Mountaineer Tenor. RCA Camden (reissue).

195?: "Six Favorite Folk Songs"
Camden CAE197 (45-EP)
Track List: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair * The Ballad of Barberry Ellen * I Wonder As I Wander The Old Woman and the Pig * The Frog Went Courting * The Carrion Crow

1955: "Folk Songs of Xmas Vol. 1"
Camden CAE205 (45-EP)
Track List: The Twelve Days of Christmas * The Kentucky Wassail Song * Jesus, The Christ is Born * The Seven Joys of Mary * See Jesus The Saviour

1955: "Folk Songs of Xmas Vol. 2"
Camden CAE206 (45-EP)
Track List: Sing We The Virgin Mary * The Cherry Tree * Lulle Lullay * Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head

1955: "I Never Had but One Love" to Gladys Swarthout, Carl Fischer.

1956: "American Folk and Gambling Songs"
RCA Camden CAL 219 (LP)
Track List: The Two Sisters * The Old Woman and the Pig * The Frog Went Courting * The Carrion Crow * Edward * The Hangman * I'm in the Notion Now * The Farmer's Cursed Wife * Three Little Hunters * Who Killed Cock Robin * Jack O' Diamonds * The Roving Gambler * Gambler, Don't Lose Your Place at God's Right Hand * The Gambler's Lullaby * The Gambling Song of the Big Sandy River * Little Black Star* American Street, Field and Jail House Cries*

Note: "Little Black Star" and "American Street, Field and Jail House Cries" originally released as "Street Cries" 1939. For further insight, read "The Gambling Songs of John Jacob Niles, Thoughts and Reminiscences" by John Edward Niles.

195?: "John Jacob Niles Sings American Folk Songs"
RCA Camden 245 (LP)
Track List: You Got to Cross That Lonesome Valley * The Lass From The Low Countree * Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair * Go 'Way From My Window * One Morning in May * The Wife of Usher's Well The Death of Queen Jane * Little Mattie Groves * The Gypsy Laddie * My Little Mohee * I Wonder As I Wander * Lulle Lullay * The Seven Joys of Mary * The Ballad of Barberry Ellen

1956: "John Jacob Niles 50th Anniversary"
RCA Camden CAL 330 (LP)
Track List: The Cuckoo * Lord Bateman and the Turkish Lady * Jimmy Randall * John of Hazel Green * Carol of the Birds * The Cruel Brother * That Lonesome Road * The Wife 'Wrapt in the Wether's Skin * Down in Yuon Forest * Molly Vaughn * Mary Hamilton * Earl Brand

1958: "I Wonder As I Wander / Carols and Love Songs"
Tradition TLP1023 (LP recorded 1957)
Track List: Waken, Little Shepherd * Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head * Frog Went Courtin' * Little Mohee * The Sea Witch * The Irish Girl * (Intro) Go 'Way From My Window * In That Lovely Far-Off City * Look Down That Lonesome Road * I Wonder As I Wander * When Jesus Lived In Galilee * Black Is The Color of My True Love's Hair * Intro: Venezuela * I Had A Cat * The Lass From The Low Country * John Henry * I'm Going Away

1959: "An Evening With John Jacob Niles"
Tradition TLP1036 (LP)
Track List: The Carol of The Birds * Jack O' Diamonds * The Turtle Dove * I'm In The Notion Now
Sing We The Virgin Mary * Lulle Lullay * The Black Dress * The Cuckoo * O Waly, O Waly * When I Gets Up Into Heaven * The Frog in the Spring * The Seven Joys of Mary * The Roving Gambler * You Got to Cross That Lonesome Valley

1959: "Folk Festival at Newport" (Vol 3) (July 11-12)
Vanguard VSD-2055 (LP). First Newport Folk Festival. Artists on bill included:
Pete Seeger, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry, The Kossoy Sisters, John Jacob Niles, Martha Schlame, The New Lost City Ramblers, Memphis Slim, Prof. Alex Branford, Cynthia Gooding, Frank Warner, Odetta, The Clancy Brothers, Billy Faier, Frank Hamilton, Jimmie Driftwood, Earl Scruggs, Oscar Brand, Jean Ritchie, Ed McCurdy, Leon Bibb, Rev. Gary Davis, the Stanley Brothers, Barbara Dane, Bob Gibson and The Kingston Trio, John Jacob Niles.

1960: "The Ballads of John Jacob Niles"
Tradition TLP1046 (2-LP's) Recorded April 1960
Released in conjunction with "The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles" (below).
Track List: Bowie, Bowerie * Brother's Revenge * Jimmy Randal * The Murdered Brother * Bonny Farday * Old Bangum * The Cherry Tree * Lady Margot and Love Henry * Who's Goin' to Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot? * Little Mattie Groves * Barb'ry Ellen * The Hangman * The Shepherd's Daughter and The King * Fair John and the Seven Foresters * The Fency King and the English King * The Death of Queen Jane * Mary Hamilton * The Lady and the Gypsy * The Dreary Dream The Good Old Man * The Unwilling Bride * The Old Woman and the Devil * The Weep-Willow Tree * John of Hazel Green


The Ballad Book of John  Jacob NIles  -- Click to order!

"The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles"
(Click title to order from Amazon.com)
©
1960 JJN, illustrated by William Barss, 369 pages. DJ photo by Frank Van Deren Coke, Bramhall House, NY. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 60-1002
"More that 100 of the best American ballads from English and Scottish sources, collected in the Appalachian Mountains and simply arranged for piano and guitar by America's great authority." The 110 ballads included in this volume by folklorist and balladeer John Jacob Niles are the American versions of classic English balladry, many tragic, like "Jimmy Randal" and "Barb'ry Ellen", some bawdy, and some just plain funny, like "The Farmer and the Devil". Each of Niles' main entries includes a general introduction to the scholarly background and presumed history of the ballad in English, and each variant includes tales of his adventures among his colorful informants. A rare combination of good folklore and clear modern performing versions of many of the core songs of the American folk tradition, The Ballad Book is an essential volume for any performer or devotee of American folk music. Released in conjunction with "The Ballads of John Jacob Niles" (TLP1046 above).

1962: "Folk Ballads for Young Actors and Folk Carols for Young Actors"
Book & record, John Jacob Niles, Helen Louise Smith; Holt Rinehart & Winston.

1963: "John Jacob Niles Song Book for Guitar"
Arranged by Leon Block, G. Schirmer, New York.
Contents: The Black Dress * Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair * The Carrion Crow * The Death of Queen Jane * Down in That Valley * Down in Yon Forest * Ef I Had a Ribbon Bow * Gambler, Don't Lose Your Place * The Gambler's Lament * The Gambler's Wife (By-Low) * Go 'Way From My Window * Hold On! * I Had a Sister Susan * I Wonder as I Wander * Jack O'Diamonds * Jesus The Christ is Born * Lulle Lullay * The Milk Maid * My Horses Ain't Hungry * My Little Mohee * Oh, Who's Goin' to Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot * On Morning in May * The Rovin' Gambler * Sing, All Men! * The Story of Norah * Three Little Pits * Trip to Raleigh * Whistle, Daughter, Whistle.

1964: "John Jacob Niles Sings Folk Songs"
Folkways FA 2373 / Folkways 02373 (LP). Reissued Moses Asch recordings. Track List: Frog Went A-Courting * I'm So Glad Trouble Don't Last Always * Who Killed Cock Robin? * John Henry * Go Find My True Love * I Had A Cat * The Frog in the Spring * Posheen, Posheen, Posho * The Lass From The Low Country * Jack O' Diamonds * I Wonder As I Wander * Go 'Way From My Window


1965: "John Jacob Niles: Folk Balladeer"
RCAV513 / RD7729UK (LPV-513). LP recorded in NYC
Track List: Love Henry or Young Bunting (recorded 1/9/40) * Our Goodman or Old Cuckold (1/8/40) * The Maid Freed From The Gallows (3/25/40) * Edward (11/17/40) * Jimmy Randal (3/25/40) * The Ballad of Barberry Ellen (3/25/40) * Bonnie Farday or Babylon (3/25/40) * The Cherry Tree (3/25/40) * The Gypsy Laddie (4/25/39) * Mary Hamilton (11/18/41)

1965: Presented the first musical concert at the Somerset Community College, Kentucky.

1967: "The Best of John Jacob Niles"
Tradition M-1055, S-2055 (LP)
Track List: The Hangman * Mary Hamilton * The Dreary Dream * Jack O' Diamonds * The Roving Gambler * Frog Went A-Courtin' * Little Mohee * Go 'Way From My Window * I Wonder As I Wander * Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair

1970: "The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles"
Dover Publications (paperback edition) 

197?: "Folk Festival of the Smokies" Vol. 1
Traditional FFS-528 (various artists). Features Little Mohee (track #17)

1971: "The Appalachian Photographs of Doris Ulmann"
John Jacob Niles (forward), The Jargon Society, N.C.

1967-72: "Niles-Merton Songs"
Based on poetry of Thomas Merton; Mark Foster Pub.

1977: "Brick Dust and Buttermilk"
Poetry collection, Boone-Tolliver Press. 

1978: "John Jacob Niles"
Documentary film by Bill Richardson with Mimi Pickering and Ben Zickafoose 32 min.

1980: Died March 1st, Boot Hill Farm. Buried at St. Hubert's Episcopal Church in Clark County, Kentucky.

1990: "Songs of John Jacob Niles" (click title to order)
Songbook for voice and piano. Revised, expanded Edition.
Contents: Go 'Way from My Window * The Black Dress * The Lass from the Low Countree * Evening * I Wonder As I Wander * Black Is The Color of My True Love's Hair * The Lotus Blossom * The Carol of the Birds * Sweet Little Boy Jesus * Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head * What Songs Were Sung * The Rovin' Gambler * The Gambler's Lament * The Gambler's Wife * Gambler, Don't You Lose Your Place * Gambler's Song of the Big Sandy River * My Lover Is A Farmer Lad * The Wild Rider * Ribbon Bow * My Little Black Star * The Robin and the Thorn * Unused I Am to Lovers * When I Gits Up Into Heaven * The Flower of Jesse

1992: "The John Jacob Niles Collection"
Gifthorse Records G410008 (limited edition). Reissue Producer: Barry Alfonso.
Track List: The Hangman * The Rovin' Gambler * Venezuela * I Wonder As I Wander * The Black Dress * Barb'ry Ellen * Go 'Way From My Window * Froggie Went A-Courtin' * You've Got To Cross That Lonesome Valley * Jack O' Diamonds * Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair Carol Of The Birds * Little Mattie Groves * Goin' Away * 1964 Interview with Studs Terkel

1998: Inducted DuPont Manual Magnet High School Hall-of-Fame (Class of 1909).

Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles - Click to order!

2000:
"THE BALLAD BOOK OF JOHN JACOB NILES"
See 1960 above for details on this reissue.
New forward by Ron Pen. The University Press of Kentucky Press.
ISBN 0-8131-0987-6 (pbk) Pp. Xxvi, 370.  

(Please help support this site! Click here to purchase this book from Amazon.com).

2001: JohnJacobNiles.com website launched.

2005: Featured in "No Direction Home", Martin Scorsese's documentary about Bob Dylan.
Live TV performance of "Go 'Way From My Window" (excerpt).

2006: Induction into Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. February 23rd, 2006.
Lexington Center Bluegrass Ballroom, Lexington, Kentucky.

 


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