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Katherine Jackson French: Kentucky’s Forgotten Ballad Collector by Elizabeth DiSavino

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Katherine Jackson French (1875-1958) was born and raised in a leading family in London, Kentucky. In 1906 she became the second woman, and first from the South, to earn a PhD from Columbia University. When she returned home to London, Kentucky, she became involved in discovering the ballads of Kentucky mountain people and made trips into the interior to do just that. She prepared a book about the ballads of the Kentucky mountains, but could never convince Berea College President Frost to publish her book and knew of no others with contacts in the publishing business. In 1911 she married William French, a London, Kentucky, businessman, and her work on balladry diminished. In 1917 her husband took a job in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Katherine went with him and experienced a distinguished career as an educator there. The author of this book, Elizabeth DiSavino, believes that had Katherine Jackson French’s book been published, it would have established Appalachian Balladry in a substantially different way than Cecil Sharp’s that ended up being first.  Her book was not published at least partly a result of Frost’s male chauvinism. Had it seen print, it would have established the key role of women ballad-hunters, but it also would have clarified and perhaps perpetuated an awareness that Appalachia had cultural influences beyond the British Isles where Cecil Sharp lived and first established his reputation as a folklorist. Elizabeth DioSavino teaches music at Berea College.

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2020. 265 pages with Index, Bibliography, Notes and the other kind of notes – musical - presented with songs, plus photos and a map. Hardback with pictorial cover.