George Malcolm Laws

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George Malcolm Laws
Born(1919-01-04)January 4, 1919
DiedAugust 1, 1994(1994-08-01) (aged 75)
Occupationfolklorist, professor

George Malcolm Laws (January 4, 1919 – August 1, 1994) was a scholar of traditional British and American folk song.[1][2]

His name is normally rendered as "G Malcolm Laws jnr". He was best known for his collection of traditional ballads "American Balladry from British Broadsides", published in 1957 by the American Folklore Society. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and joined the English Faculty in 1942. He gives his name to a system of coding ballads; one letter of the alphabet, followed by 2 numbers. For example, "Laws A01" is "Brave Wolfe" also known as "Bold Wolfe" or "The Battle of Quebec". There is no immediately obvious logic, but a broad pattern appears: the letter A is for military songs, the letter D is for nautical songs, the letter F is for murder, and so on. The system is limited to 26 x 99 = 2576 distinct labels, and so tends to bring together similar songs. It is a useful adjunct to Child numbers. He includes many songs that Child excluded, and of course, new ones that were found after Child died.

Examples of Laws numbers[edit]

  • Laws A01 - Brave Wolfe
  • Laws A02 - Major Andrews Execution
  • Laws A03 - Stately Southerner
  • Laws A04 - Paul Jones
  • Laws A05 - James Bird
  • Laws A06 - Constitution and the Guerriere
  • Laws A07 - Battle of New Orleans
  • Laws A08 - Texas Rangers
  • Laws A09 - Manassa Junction
  • Laws A11 - Battle of Shiloh Hill
  • Laws A12 - Battle of Elkhorn Tavern

The letters A to H are for native American ballads.

  • B
  • F Murder Ballads

The letters J to Q are for "American Ballads from British Broadsides".

  • J War ballads
  • K Ballads of sailors and the sea
  • L Ballads of crime and criminals
  • M Ballads of family opposition to lovers
  • N Ballads of lovers' disguises and tricks
  • O Ballads of faithful lovers
  • P Unfaithful lovers
  • Q Humorous and miscellaneous

A fuller list may be found here: -


  • Native American Balladry (1950, revised 1964)
  • American Balladry from British Broadsides (1957)
  • American Ballads from British Broadsides: A guide for students and collectors of traditional song (1957)
  • The British Literary Ballad: A Study in Poetic Imitation (1972)

External links[edit]

  1. ^ "G Malcolm Laws". Family Search. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  2. ^ "Guide to the G. Malcolm Laws, Jr. papers, 1943-1978". Utah State University. Retrieved 15 August 2013.