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Theatrical release poster
Directed byMaggie Greenwald
Produced byRichard Miller
Written byMaggie Greenwald
StarringJanet McTeer
Aidan Quinn
Michael Davis
Michael Goodwin
Jane Adams
E. Katherine Kerr
Emmy Rossum
Pat Carroll
Music byDavid Mansfield
CinematographyEnrique Chediak
Edited byKeith Reamer
Distributed byLionsgate
Release date
  • January 25, 2000 (2000-01-25)
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.


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.


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

The character of Viney Butler was based on Mary Jane Queen, whom Greenwald consulted when researching the film.[3]


Producer Ellen Rigas invested $3 million in Songcatcher which her family borrowed as part of the Adelphia Communications fraud.[4]


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
AllMusic4/5 stars 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."[5] Metacritic assigned a score of 63 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[6]


It was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.[7]


  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. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships – NEA". Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  4. ^ Lowenstein, Roger (2004-02-01). "The Company They Kept". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  5. ^ "SONGCATCHER". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  6. ^ "Songcatcher". Metacritic. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  7. ^ 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]