Down in the Valley (folk song)

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"Down in the Valley", also known as "Birmingham Jail", is a traditional country-blues American folk song.[1] It has been recorded by many artists, and is included in the Songs of Expanding America recordings in the Burl Ives six-album set Historical America in Song.

The verses mentioning "Birmingham Jail" refer to the Birmingham City Jail which was known in the mid-1920s. According to one biographer of Lead Belly he performed it for Texas Governor Pat Neff at the Sugarland Penitentiary in 1924. Guitarist Jimmie Tarlton claimed to have written the lyrics in 1925 while he was jailed in Birmingham for moonshining. It was first recorded by Tarlton and his partner Tom Darby on November 10, 1927 in Atlanta, Georgia for Columbia Records.

It is a ballad played in the 3/4 time signature. Lyrics vary, as with most folk songs. For example, sometimes the line "Hang your head over, hear the wind blow" is replaced by "Late in the evening, hear the train blow".[2] In 1927, Darby and Tarlton sang "down in the levee" in place of "down in the valley"; the version sung by Lead Belly in 1934 substitutes "Shreveport jail" for "Birmingham jail".[3]

Selected recordings[edit]

In other media[edit]

This song is the basis of the 1945 Kurt Weill and Arnold Sundgaard opera Down in the Valley.

It was performed by Anne Baxter in the Wagon Train episode, The Kitty Angel Story (1959).

It was performed on The Alvin Show and The Andy Griffith Show in 1962.

The author/songwriter David M. Pierce used selected lyrics from the song as titles for a series of detective novels written between 1989 and 1996: Down in the Valley, Hear the Wind Blow, Dear, Roses Love Sunshine, Angels in Heaven, Write Me a Letter and As She Rides By. The first four verses are featured in Catherine Marshall's novel, Christy, before the prologue.

It is sung in the movie Stir Crazy by the character Grossberger portrayed by Erland Van Lidth.

Jim and Anna sing the song in Tillie Olsen's novel Yonnondio: From the Thirties as they arrive in the Dakotas. The 3/4 time and melancholy of the song contrast with the hope they are feeling as they arrive there.

The song is performed by Ronny Cox (Ozark Bule) and David Carradine (Woody Guthrie) in the Academy Award winning film (Best Cinematography/Best Music-Score) Bound for Glory (biography of Woody Guthrie) in the scene that takes place in a migrant fruit pickers camp. http://www.halashby.co.uk/page18.html

It is also used in the movie Along the Great Divide starring Kirk Douglas, Walter Brennan, Virginia Mayo, and John Agar although it was written long after the time period set of the movie.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ken Tate; Janice Tate (2004). Favorite Songs of the Good Old Days. DRG Wholesale. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-59217-034-0. 
  2. ^ Henry M. Belden; Arthur P. Hudson, eds. (1952). Folk Songs from North Carolina. The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore. 3. Duke University Press. 
  3. ^ "The Shreveport Jail/Leadbelly". Traditional Music and Spoken Word Catalog. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  4. ^ Charles K. Wolfe (2002). Classic Country: Legends of Country Music. Routledge. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-135-95734-6. 
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 28. ISBN 0-89820-083-0. 
  6. ^ "45worlds.com". 45worlds.com. Retrieved September 3, 2018. 
  7. ^ "Discogs.com". Discogs.com. Retrieved September 3, 2018. 
  8. ^ "Discogs.com". Discogs.com. Retrieved September 3, 2018. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Kittredge, G. L. (July–September 1917). "Ballads and Songs". The Journal of American Folk-Lore. XXX (117): 283–369. JSTOR 534379. 

External links[edit]