Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with John Jacob Niles, October 21, 1977

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Air Force

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Partial Transcript: The following is an unrehearsed interview with John Jacob Niles for the Kentucky Literature Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: The segment begins with Niles singing. He talks about traveling to Europe with the Air Force. Niles relates a story about finding his captain in Italy, talks about food that he ate, and Senators that visited.

Keywords: Arugula; Aviators; France; Italy; United States Air Force

Subjects: Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980; United States. Air Force.

00:12:25 - Niles sings "Little Mohee"

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Partial Transcript: As I went out walking alone one fine day, I got awful lonesome as the day passed away.

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Niles sings "Little Mohee."

Keywords: "The Indian Lass"; "The Lass of Mohee"; Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:16:37 - Niles sings "The Maid on the Shore"

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Partial Transcript: --(coughs)--There--let's see now--there was a fair maiden who lost up her love and she gave herself up to despair, oh.

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Niles sings "The Maid on the Shore" and talks about the origins of the song.

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:22:25 - John Edward Niles

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Partial Transcript: My son says so and he's an orchestral conductor, and those devils know things, you know?

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about his son's work as a conductor.

Keywords: "Love Letters to George"; Composers; George Gershwin

Subjects: Niles, John Edward

00:23:48 - Niles sings "Black is the Color of my True Love's Hair"

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Partial Transcript: Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Niles sings "Black is the Color of my True Love's Hair" and talks about writing the song, his father's advice, and first playing it for his family.

Keywords: Ballads; Families; Fathers; Music; Performances; Songs; Tunes; Writing

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:28:44 - Niles sings "Go 'Way from My Window"

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Partial Transcript: I didn't change it, that's what I want to say. And that's the same thing true as "Go 'Way from My Window."

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about the early success of "Go 'Way from My Window" and then sings the song.

Keywords: Ballads; Carl Engle; Joan Baez; Music; Publications; Singing; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:33:01 - Niles sings "I Bought Me a Cat"

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Partial Transcript: I had a cat, cat pleased me--(coughs)--fed that cat on yonder's tree.

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Niles sings "I Bought Me a Cat."

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:36:25 - Niles sings "Frog Went A-Courtin'" and "The Frog in the Spring"

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Partial Transcript: Frog went courtin' and he did ride, a sword and pistol by his side.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "Frog Went A-Courtin'" and "The Frog in the Spring" and talks about the origins and evolution of the songs.

Keywords: Ballads; Corn whiskey; Music; Songs; Sugar foot; WCTU; Woman's Christian Temperance Union

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:43:46 - Niles sings "The Seven Joys Of Mary"

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Partial Transcript: The very first blessing that Mary had, it was the blessing of one.

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Niles sings "The Seven Joys Of Mary." [The recording stops abruptly during the song.]

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:46:10 - Niles sings "The Bitter Withy"

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Partial Transcript: [Unintelligible] is around and I'll talk to him about this--(coughs)--called "The Bitter Withy." It's so extraordinary where Jesus uses magic...

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Niles briefly discusses and then sings "The Bitter Withy."

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:53:24 - Niles sings "Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head"

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Partial Transcript: Jesus, Jesus, rest your head. You have got a manger bed.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head" and talks about interacting with audiences.

Keywords: Audiences; Ballads; Interactions; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:58:53 - Niles sings "I Wonder as I Wander"

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Partial Transcript: This is the one that takes them.--(coughs)--I wonder as I wander under the sky.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "I Wonder as I Wander." He describes the song as an audience favorite and talks about his inspiration for writing the song. [The recording stops and begins again during segment.]

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Revivals; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

01:08:49 - Niles sings "Pretty Polly"

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Partial Transcript: I used to be a rounder, I hung around in town. I used to be a rounder, I hung around in town.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "Pretty Polly."

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

01:13:44 - Niles sings "The Shepherd's Daughter and the King"

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Partial Transcript: I sing of a shepherd's daughter.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "The Shepherd's Daughter and the King."

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

01:19:24 - Niles sings "Death of Thomas à Becket"

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Partial Transcript: Listeneth Lordlings means great and small, I shall you tell a wondrous tale, how mother church was brought to bale.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "Death of Thomas à Becket" and talks about composing the song.

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

01:28:05 - Niles sings "Little Mattie Groves (Matty Groves)"

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Partial Transcript: Oh holiday, thy holy day, the best day--wait now.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "Little Mattie Groves (Matty Groves)."

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

01:39:19 - Niles sings "The Hangman"

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Partial Transcript: --(coughs)--Hangman, hangman, slack your rope, slack it just a while.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "The Hangman." He talks about teasing his audience.

Keywords: "The Maid Freed from the Gallows"; Applause; Ballads; Music; Performances; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

01:44:52 - Niles sings "Amazing Grace"

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Partial Transcript: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. I see some of you making up your mouth to do a little singing.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "Amazing Grace" and talks more about performing.

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

01:50:02 - Niles sings "I'm Goin' Away"

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Partial Transcript: I'm goin' away, want to stay a little while, but I'm coming back, if I go ten thousand miles.

Segment Synopsis: Niles sings "I'm Goin' Away." The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Ballads; Music; Songs

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980