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CD33 -

Sarah Cleveland - Ballads and Songs of the Upper

To Wear a Green Willow
Every Rose Grows Merry In Time
Before the Daylight in the Mornin
Before the Daylight in the Mornin
Captain Webster
Come All You Maidens
Every Rose Grows Merry In Time
In Bonny Scotland
Maiden's Lament, The
Molly Bawn
My Bonnie Bon Boy
Queen Jane
To Wear a Green Willow

Sara's family came over from Ireland, stopping in Scotland for a few years before completing their journey. Her mother had many songs, every one of which Sara very deliberately wrote down in her old chapbook and learned by heart. She added songs from her father, and from a favorite uncle, to her astonishing repertoire of over four hundred traditional numbers. Included on this recording are classic Child ballads, some very rare, and lovely lyric songs sung to ancient Irish airs. In fact, Sara was certainly one of the most important traditional ballad singers ever discovered in this country, ranking right up there with New Hampshire's Lena Bourne Fish and Maine's Carrie Grover. The good news is that Sara's son, Jim, and his daughter, Colleen, are continuing Sara's great singing tradition, keeping her songs alive. An essential recording for the ballad enthusiast.


The thrill of finding a truly great traditional singer comes but rarely to the collector, and when it is enhanced by the recovery of a Child ballad which has never before been reported in North America (Child 52 - The King's Dochter lady Jean - Side 1, Band 2), the excitement is intense. Because it was just such an occasion, I shall never forget the first evening that my wife, Caroline, and I spent in Sara Cleveland's home in Hudson Falls, New York.

As is the custom in north country homes, we sat at the kitchen table with Sara and her family (parlors are for formal visits only), leafing through the several large notebooks of song texts which Sara had carefully written out over the years, asking if she could remember the melody of first one ballad and then another. Without hesitation, and without reference to the written texts, Sara sang for us all evening, and we barely made a scratch on the surface of her vast repertoire of traditional songs. Indeed, Sara's is the most extensive repertoire of any traditional singer I have ever recorded.

Shortly after we began recording Sara's songs, Caroline and I were invited to sing in Philadelphia. We took Sara with us in order to have her meet Kenneth Goldstein, the scholar who had done more than anyone else to encourage me in my efforts to collect folklore materials over the past ten years or more, and to have him hear her sing. Recently, Sara returned to spend a month with the Goldsteins; during this time she recorded well over two hundred songs for Ken, most of which will be included in his depth-study of this remarkable singer and her songs, now scheduled for publication by Folklore Associates.

To be perfectly honest, the credit for discovering Sara should not go to me, but to her son, Jim Cleveland, with whom she now lives in Brank Lake, New York. Jim became interested in folksong some time ago and often visited Lena Spencer's Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs. From the various artists appearing there, Jim quickly learned enough about traditional music to recognize the importance of his mother's songs. One night he spoke of her to Bob Beers, who suggested that he get in touch with me. Jim made a tape of his mother's singing and gave it to Lawrence Older, the Adirondack singer and fiddler I had recorded earlier for Folk-Legacy (FSA-15). When Lawrence played the tape for me, I found it difficult to believe that the singer was a woman of nearly sixty years, for the voice could easily have been that of a woman half that age. On our way home from that visit with the Olders, we stopped by to meet Sara. Thus began what would turn out to be several years of periodic recording sessions and an extremely close friendship with the entire Cleveland family. Usually we would record at our home in Huntington, Vermont, where Sara would spend weekends with us; at other times we would record in her living room. The tapes from which this record was produced were all recorded during a three day visit to Brant Lake which I made in early December, 1966. They represent but a few of the thirty-seven tapes I have recorded of Sara's singing.

Sandy Paton
Sharon, Connecticut
April, 1968

This album was made possible through the generous assistance of the, Vermont Council on the Arts, for which we, would like, to express our sincere gratitude.


SARA CLEVELAND'S family background comes close to being a typical one for a New England traditional singer. Her father and paternal grandfather, both named Jerrimiah Creedon, as well as her paternal grandmother, Honnora Linehan, were born 'in Ireland and lived in Cork before coming to the United States in 1873. Her maternal grandparents, Robert Wiggins and Mary Ellen Henry, came to America from northern Ireland in 1840. Sara's mother, Sarah Wiggins, was born in this country in 1866. Both sides of the family are reported to have been excellent singers with large repertoires of ballads and songs.

Sarah Wiggins and Jerrimiah Creedon (Sara Cleveland's parents) were married in 1903. The marriage was her father's second, and though Sara was the only child resulting from this union, she joined a large family with eight half-brothers and -sisters from her father's first marriage. She was greeted as its youngest member on New Year's Day, 1905, in Hartford, New York, and given the name Sara Jane Creedon. In 1922 she married Everett Cleveland, and a year later gave birth to the first of her two children, Jim (Robert James); his brother Billy (Everett William) came along two years later. Both sons have fine voices and like to sing, a trait apparently inherited from Sara, for, as she describes it, "The guy I married couldn't carry a tune in a basket."

The socialization process which made Sara the singer she is today began early. As the youngest member of the family, she had considerable attention directed toward her from other members of the family, as well as from relatives, friends and neighbors. Included in this loving attention was the frequent singing of the many songs and ballads, old world and native American, which they knew. Occasionally such singing took on a more formal instructional character, with specific songs being repeated to her until she had learned the texts and tunes to the satisfaction of her mentors.

Though texts and tunes are not infrequently learned consciously in the manner indicated, traditional singing style is absorbed and learned at a far less conscious level. When, however, Sara strayed from the straight path and attempted to sing in some more popular style, she was brought up sharply and in no uncertain terms by her mother:

"When I was about ten I was washing dishes and singing her song To Wear a Green Willow. The day before I'd been up to my cousin and listening to her sing. She put a lot of extra notes and things in her songs. I thought it was lovely, and I was singing The Green Willow with all the trimmings, too. Well, Ma came into the kitchen and asked me who I heard singing like that. When I told her Rachel, she told me: 'Well, maybe her songs sound all right that way, but if you are going to sing my songs, you can sing them the way they should be sung or else you can shut up!' I never forgot, and you know when I hear somebody murdering some old song, I know what she meant."

Sara's taxonomy for the songs and ballads she knows are based on the sources from which they came into her repertoire. The terminology she employs appears to stem from the technical gobbledygook she has heard used by various folklorists, ballad scholars and collectors who have sought her out as one of the finest New England traditional singers since her discovery by Sandy Paton several years ago. Of the more than 400 songs in her repertoire which she has typed out in her personal 'ballad book,' approximately half are what she calls "old traditional songs," with the others referred to as "new folk songs." Among the former she includes those songs and ballads which she learned from her family and neighbors, mostly before 1950; the latter group includes those selections learned from her many friends in the popular folkmusic scene of recent years (many of whom have come to her as a source for new additions to their own repertoires), from recordings of folk singers and singers of folk songs, and from books. A list of those songs which Sara identifies as the "old traditional songs" in her repertoire is included at the end of this introductory note.

It is interesting to note that all of Sara's repertoire of "old traditional songs" were learned from one or another of ten people. One might expect a far longer list of her sources of repertoire, especially when one considers that Sara's network of relatives, friends and acquaintances was far greater than that of most people. In addition to being a member of a fair-sized family, Sara was the daughter of a construction engineer and the wife of a bridge builder, and a considerable part of her life until her husband's death in 1953 was spent in moving from one part of New England to another several times a year. Each move resulted in the creation of a new network of friends and acquaintances. Sara's repertoire, however, consists of songs learned mainly from those with whom she formed more stable and enduring relationships. She is quick to point out that each of her songs holds important memories of dear and close friends and relatives.

The great majority of Sara's songs and ballads came from her mother, Sarah Wiggins Creedon, most of whose songs trace back to Northern Ireland and the singing of her parents. She remembers that her father, Jerrimiah Creedon, had "a very good tenor voice, but he would sing a little too high, and Ma would say, 'There he goes straining his milk again.'" From him Sara learned a number of Irish songs, most dating from the last half of the 19th century. Another major source was her Uncle Bobby (her mother's brother, Robert Wiggins) who died in 1913 when Sara was only eight years old. In those few years her uncle, who worked as a lumber mill worker during the summer months and as a woodsman in the winter, taught her part of his own repertoire of lumbering songs. She recalls that he had no children of his own and always favored her, and that she learned her ABC's from his singing of The, Woodsman's Alphabet. From her half-brother, Raymond Bain, she learned a number of traditional ballads which he picked up while working for the Immigration Service at Ellis Island. From her half-sister, Mayme Bain Paul, she learned sentimental and homiletic ballads from the turn of the century, while other sentimental pieces were learned from Sam Wiggins, an uncle, and from a Mrs. Endie, an acquaintance from Tonawanda, New York. From a friend of her parents, Dan Canaugh, Sara learned a number of topical and homiletic ballads. Grandma Brown and her daughter Louella, neighbors and close friends, were the main source of the few religious songs in Sara's repertoire, and a few Irish songs were learned from another close friend and neighbor, Barney Hart.

One other source of some of the pieces in Sara's repertoire should be mentioned here. Sara likes to write her own songs and to set tunes to poetry which she and others have found in newspapers and magazines. Consciously or unconsciously, the melodies she employs are based on folk tunes in her repertoire or borrowed from country songs she heard over the Grand Old Opry or from WLS in Chicago. It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of her own compositions have a country flavor to them.

Not all of Sara's repertoire can be considered part of a vital tradition at the present time. The majority of her songs form a "memory" tradition, rarely sung and then usually from the pages of her "ballad book." Approximately 30 percent of her repertoire consists of songs which she actively sings while doing housework or driving her car, or in the more formal situations of occasional concert and folk festival performances. It is from this active repertoire that she has drawn the songs which are included on this record.

In part we owe our knowledge of the extent of Sara's repertoire to the rather common habit in many families of copying favorite ballads into manuscript song books. In the case of Sara's family songs, the first copies were made by her friend, Grace Whitting, shortly after World War I. Several notebooks were filled with songs sung by her mother and other members of the family. The first of these books was lost during the years, but a number of them are still intact and have been presented to Bruce Buckley for preservation and study in the Folklore Archives of the Graduate American Folk Culture Program at Cooperstown, New York. In 1942, when Sara temporarily misplaced a number of the original books, she renewed the task of writing down her mother's songs and was able to get her to repeat a large number of them, including some of those in the lost first volume.

A cursory examination of Sara Cleveland's repertoire of "old traditional songs" indicates that except for its size, it is the kind we might expect to find in New England. Certainly the Child and British broadside ballads are, for the most part, among those most popular in the maritime States and eastern Canadian Provinces, as well as in the northern lumber woods. However, a part of her repertoire (especially those songs and ballads learned from sources other than her mother, father and Uncle Bobby) appears to indicate that a substantial number of songs came to Sara indirectly through recorded hillbilly tradition. So little repertoire study has been carried out with American folk singers that we are hard pressed to comment on the large number of sentimental songs and homiletic pieces known by Sara. Certainly many traditional singers, North and South, knew many such songs (this contention is supported by my own field work in the Southern Appalachians and New England), but few collectors have considered these worthy of notice and have chosen to publish only those pieces which they considered more traditional. Greater consideration will have to be given to such songs before we can talk about the differences between northern and southern repertoires.

The preservation of these songs in the pages of manuscript song books is only one of the ways in which these songs will be passed on to present and future generations. Today, Sara lives with one of her sons, Jim (who is an excellent but exceedingly bashful singer), in Brant Lake, New York, where her granddaughter, Colleen, comes under her daily influence. Those of us who have heard Colleen sing her grandmother's ballads can attest that she is a first rate singer who will see to it that Sara's songs are not forgotten. And until some collector comes along a couple of decades from now and 'discovers' Colleen, we are fortunate in having this fine recording of a small sampling of Sara's repertoire sung by Sara herself.

Side 1; Band 1.

The theme of the unfaithful lover who dies of remorse on her wedding night after being reminded of her infidelity by her former true love is relatively uncommon in that large class of ballads which deal with unfaithful lovers. Though its theme is uncommon, the ballad in which it finds its main expression (Laws P 31) has been widely sung throughout the English-speaking world. Known variously as The Nobleman's Wedding, The Faultless Bride, The Awful Wedding, The Unconstant Lover, and by other names, it has been collected from tradition in England, Scotland, Ireland, the Canadian Maritimes, and from such widely separated sections of the United States as Maine, Georgia, Missouri, and Utah. The green willow is used in this ballad as a sign of loss or mourning.

Sara learned the ballad from her mother around 1910. When asked to perform at festivals or in concerts, Sara will frequently begin her program with this ballad.

Once I was invited to a nobleman's wedding
By a false lover that proved so unkind
It causes me, now to wear a green willow;
It causes me now to bear a troubled mind.

Supper was over and everyone seated,
Every young man sang his true love a song,
Until it came, to the bride's own fond lover;
The Song that he sang to the bride it belonged.

Saying, "How can you lie on another man's pillow
As long as you have been a sweetheart of mine?
It causes me, now to wear a green willow;
It causes me now to bear a troubled mind.

The bride she sat at the head of the table;
Every word she remembered right well,
Until at last she could bear it no longer
And down on the floor at the groom's feet she fell.

Saying, "There's one request that I ask as a favor.
As it is the first one, won't you grant it to me?
That this first night I may spend with my mother;
The rest of my life I will spend it with thee."

As it was the first one it was truly granted.
Sighing and sobbing, she went to her bed.
Easily next morning the groom he arose
And went there to find that his Mary was dead.

"Oh, Mary, dear Mary, you never have, loved me.
With a fond heart as I have loved you.
May this be a warning to all men and maidens
To never come between a bride and a groom."


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