Folk Singing: Sibyl with Guitar

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old straight sour mash. When purist critics seek an example of everything that is corrupt about folk singing, they always pick on the hapless Kingstons. First off, the trio has made as much as $30,000 a week, and this is unforgivably crude. Next, they smooth down, harmonize, and slicken the lyrics, embellishing the whole with gimcrack corn. But, carping aside, the Kingstons are accomplished entertainers, and many of their critics, Johnny-come-latelies to purity, forget that they probably would never have heard of folk music if they had not been first attracted by a heel-stomping ditty rendered by the Kingston Trio.

Competing with the Kingstons for all those filthy gate receipts are other groups like the Limeliters, Peter-Paul-and-Mary, and the Chad Mitchell Trio, whose most celebrated number is an imitation folk song called The John Birch Society:

Join the John Birch Society, there is so much to do.

Have you heard they're serving vodka

at the W.C.T.U.?

And the Brothers Four:

Frogg went acourtin' and he did go

To the Coconut Grove for the midnight show . . .

Burl Ives, who also did much to engender the present interest in folk singing, has long since been dipped in taint, chiefly because of his popularity. Harry Belafonte, embalmed in his riches, goes right on even though he has long been called Harry Belaphony by folkier-than-thou types. Harry has committed several crimes. Mainly, he has made plenty money. Also, he is backed up by an orchestra large enough to support Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Hard Times. At the other extreme are the Pures, the Authentics, the Real Articles—singers who are above criticism because they are living source material. Most are nameless, or at least obscure, an important characteristic for true greatness in the field. Kentucky's Jean Ritchie, 39, is perhaps the best-known authentic. She comes from a town called Viper, in Perry County, and she sings without accompaniment in a pancake-flat voice the songs her mother taught her while she wiped the dinner dishes.

Frank Proffitt, 49, is the most interesting contemporary authentic. His first LP album was made via tape recorder in his cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It includes straightforward lyrics like these:

I didn't have no hog to kill,

I went and set me up a little bitty still.

It's hard times on the Beaver Dam Road,

Hard times, poor boy.

Proffitt lives near Beaver Dam Road in Watauga County, North Carolina. His voice is flat, coarse, aloof and unsentimental. Close your eyes and you can smell the corn mash in the still and see the heat waves over the road. Proffitt makes his own fretless banjos, cutting down hardwoods and killing groundhogs to get his materials. Years ago, he sang a song called Tom Dula for a visiting folk scholar. It was later recorded by the Kingston Trio as Tom Dooley. If any one event touched off the present folk boom in popular music, that was it. The Kingstons have sold more than 2.6 million copies of the song and many other singers have recorded it, too. Proffitt's reward has been approximately zero dollars, zero cents.

Hard times on the Beaver Dam Road.

Great Names. Much backbiting, infighting, frontal assault and crossfire occur in the vast middle ground occupied by the Semipures, the Adapters, the Interpreters. Joan Baez, being the

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