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Library receives rare ballad collection

Library receives rare ballad collection

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GLENS FALLS  When Sara Cleveland was a young child, she learned the ABCs by singing the teaching ballad, “The Woodsman’s Alphabet.”

The early introduction to folk music led to a lifelong devotion to collecting and preserving ballads, traditionally sung from memory, for Cleveland, who died in 1992.

Cleveland’s granddaughter is donating to The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library her grandmother’s notebooks with musical scores, lyrics and historical background of more than 900 ballads Cleveland collected, said Todd Degarmo, director of the Folklife Center, who announced the donation at the library board meeting on Wednesday.

The collection includes ballads originating in the British Isles and Ireland, some dating back to the 16th century, as well as American ballads and ballad-like compositions about local history.

The library has possession of the notebooks, but Degarmo and Colleen Cleveland, the granddaughter, are still completing the donor agreement.

Folklife Center staff is cataloging and filing material, which eventually will be available to the public for research.

Degarmo said the collection is “a national kind of treasure,” that brings prestige to the library.

“There’s this network of people around the world that still are interested in ballads,” he said.

Cleveland was born in 1905 in Hartford, in Washington County, and lived much of her childhood in Hudson Falls.

She married Everett Cleveland at 17, and the couple moved around the East Coast as her husband worked on bridge construction projects.

Everett Cleveland died in 1972, after which Sara lived in Wilton and Brant Lake, according to a March 20, 1984 Post-Star report.

Cleveland began collecting ballads from family and neighbors in her teen years and later collected them at folk festivals where she performed over the years. She was a featured performer at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington in 1976.

She released albums on the Folk-Legacy and Philo labels.

The notebooks contain hand-written or typed lyrics, some with musical notation, along with historical information and commentary, Degarmo said.

“That’s what’s cool about it. It’s kind of a documentation of an old style of singing,” he said.

The collection will be of particular interest to musicians and folklore scholars.

“There’s a whole genre of musicians that like American roots kinds of music. And this is a special kind,” Degarmo said. “It’s ballads and it’s really ancient. It goes back to Europe and it came over with the Scots and the Irish and kind of got permeated through all the hills and Appalachia and everything and little by little it died out.”

Degarmo said he will seek grant funding to digitize the collection and make it accessible over the internet.

“It’s nice that she (Colleen Cleveland) is donating this to us so it’s someplace safe and in public access,” he said.

Follow staff writer Maury Thompson at All Politics is Local blog, at PS_Politics on Twitter and at Maury Thompson Post-Star on Facebook.


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