From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMaggie Greenwald
Written byMaggie Greenwald
Produced byRichard Miller
StarringJanet McTeer
Aidan Quinn
Michael Davis
Michael Goodwin
Jane Adams
E. Katherine Kerr
Emmy Rossum
Pat Carroll
CinematographyEnrique Chediak
Edited byKeith Reamer
Music byDavid Mansfield
Distributed byLions Gate Films
Release dates
  • January 25, 2000 (2000-01-25) (Sundance)
  • June 15, 2001 (2001-06-15) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1,800,000 (estimated)[1]
Box office$3,050,934[2]

Songcatcher is a 2000 drama film directed by Maggie Greenwald. It is about a musicologist researching and collecting Appalachian folk music in the mountains of western North Carolina. Although Songcatcher is a fictional film, it is loosely based on the work of Olive Dame Campbell, founder of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, and that of the English folk song collector Cecil Sharp, portrayed at the end of the film as professor Cyrus Whittle. The film grossed $3 million in limited theatrical release in the United States,[3] which was generally considered as a respectful result for an arthouse film release in 2001.[4]


In 1907, Dr. Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer), a professor of musicology, is denied a promotion at the university where she teaches. She impulsively visits her sister Eleanor (Jane Adams), who runs a struggling rural school in Appalachia. There, she discovers a treasure trove of traditional English and Scots-Irish ballads, which have been preserved by the secluded mountain people since the colonial period of the 1600s and 1700s. Lily decides to record and transcribe the songs and share them with the outside world.

With the help of a musically talented orphan named Deladis Slocumb (Emmy Rossum), Lily ventures into isolated areas of the mountains to collect the songs. She finds herself increasingly enchanted, not only by the rugged purity of the music, but also by the courage and endurance of the local people as they carve out meaningful lives against the harsh conditions. She becomes privy to their struggles to save their land from Earl Giddens (David Patrick Kelly), representative of a coal mining company. At the same time, Lily is troubled when she finds that Eleanor is engaged in a lesbian love affair with her co-teacher at the school.

Lily meets Tom Bledsoe (Aidan Quinn), a handsome, hardened war veteran and talented musician. Despite some initial suspicion from Tom that Lily is exploiting his community's traditions, they grow attracted to one another and soon begin a love affair. She experiences a slow change in both her perception of the mountain people as savage and uncouth, and of her sister's sexuality as immoral.

Events come to a crisis when a young man discovers Eleanor and her lover, Harriet, kissing in the woods. That night, two men set fire to the school building, burning Eleanor, Harriet, and Deladis out of their home and destroying Lily's transcriptions of the ballads and her phonograph recordings. Rather than starting over again, Lily decides to leave, but she convinces Tom and Deladis to "go down the mountain" with her to make and sell phonograph recordings of mountain music. As they depart, Cyrus Whittle, a renowned professor from England, arrives on a collection foray of his own, ensuring that the ballads will be preserved in the manner that Lily had originally intended.


  • Janet McTeer as Professor Lily Penleric
  • Aidan Quinn as Tom Bledsoe
  • Michael Davis as Dean Arthur Pembroke
  • Michael Goodwin as Professor Wallace Aldrich
  • Greg Russell Cook as Fate Honeycutt
  • Jane Adams as Eleanor Penleric
  • E. Katherine Kerr as Harriet Tolliver
  • Emmy Rossum as Deladis Slocumb
  • Pat Carroll as Viney Butler
  • Stephanie Roth Haberle as Alice Kincaid
  • Bart Hansard as Hilliard
  • Erin Blake Clanton as Polly
  • David Patrick Kelly as Earl Giddens
  • Kristin Hall as Isabel
  • Michael Harding as Reese Kincaid
  • Taj Mahal as Dexter Speaks
  • Muse Watson as Parley Gentry
  • Iris DeMent as Rose Gentry
  • Rhoda Griffis as Clementine McFarland
  • Steve Boles as Ambrose McFarland
  • Taylor Hayes as Reverend Merriweather
  • Josh Goforth as Will
  • Don Pedi as Barn Band – Dulcimer
  • Sheila Kay Adams as Barn Band – Banjo
  • Bobby McMillon as Singer at Barn Dance
  • Hazel Dickens as Singer at Barn Dance
  • Andrea Powell as Josie Moore
  • Danny Nelson as Uncle Cratis
  • David Ducey as Postman Johnson
  • Steven Sutherland as Cyrus Whittle
  • Shawn Lindsay as Dancer at Barn Dance

The character of Viney Butler was based on Mary Jane Queen, whom Greenwald consulted when researching the film.[5]


Producer Ellen Rigas invested $3 million in Songcatcher which her family borrowed as part of the Adelphia Communications fraud.[6]


Songcatcher: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
various artists
ReleasedJanuary 23, 2001
Film score
ProducerDavid Mansfield
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic link

The film's score was written by David Mansfield, who also assembled a roster of female country music artists to perform mostly traditional mountain ballads. Some of the songs are contemporary arrangements, and some are played in the traditional Appalachian music style. The artists include Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Maria McKee, Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch and Patty Loveless. Singers Emmy Rossum, Iris DeMent, and Hazel Dickens, who appeared in the film, are also featured on the soundtrack.

The soundtrack album inspired the 2002 follow-up album by Vanguard Records, Songcatcher II: The Tradition That Inspired the Movie, that compiled recordings of some of the songs selected for the film as performed by authentic Appalachian artists. The recordings are mostly from the 1960s, out of the Vanguard vaults.

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Fair and Tender Ladies" (Traditional, performed by Rosanne Cash) – 2:56
  2. "Pretty Saro" (Traditional, performed by Iris DeMent) – 2:54
  3. "When Love Is New" (Composed and performed by Dolly Parton) – 5:16
  4. "Barbara Allen" (Traditional, performed by Emmy Rossum) – 0:43
  5. "Barbara Allen" (Traditional, performed by Emmylou Harris) – 4:35
  6. "Moonshiner" (Traditional, performed by Allison Moorer) – 3:34
  7. "Sounds of Loneliness" (Composed by Patty Ramey, performed by Patty Loveless) – 3:44
  8. "All My Tears" (Composed and performed by Julie Miller) – 3:11
  9. "Mary of the Wild Moor" (Traditional, performed by Sara Evans) – 3:51
  10. "Wayfaring Stranger (Traditional, Maria McKee) – 3:24
  11. "Wind and Rain" (Traditional, performed by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings) – 3:25
  12. "The Cuckoo Bird" (Traditional, performed by Deana Carter) – 3:33
  13. "Score Suite # 1" (Composed by David Mansfield) – 5:01
  14. "Conversation With Death" (Traditional, performed by Hazel Dickens) – 3:01
  15. "Score Suite # 2" (Composed by David Mansfield) – 4:58
  16. "Single Girl" (Traditional, performed by Pat Carroll) – 1:04

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (2001) Peak
U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums 42
U.S. Billboard Top Independent Albums 31


The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 74% approval rating with an average rating of 6.34/10 based on 88 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "The story may be a bit too melodramatic, but great performances abound in Songcatcher. The real reason to see the movie, however, is the hypnotic music."[7] Metacritic assigned a score of 63 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8]


It was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.[9]


  1. ^ "Songcatcher Box Office Data". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  2. ^ "Songcatcher (2001)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  3. ^ "Songcatcher (2001)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  4. ^ "Blockbusters leave art-film niche". 22 August 2001.
  5. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships – NEA". Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  6. ^ Lowenstein, Roger (2004-02-01). "The Company They Kept". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  7. ^ "SONGCATCHER". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  8. ^ "Songcatcher". Metacritic. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  9. ^ 16th Spirit Awards ceremony hosted by John Waters - full show (2001) | Film Independent on YouTube

Further reading[edit]

  • Dorothy Scarborough, A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains: American Folk Songs of British Ancestry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1937.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]