Cecil James Sharp (1859-1924) was England's most prolific folk music and dance collector in what is now widely known as the First Folk Revival. Between the time of Sharp's first serious collecting experience in a Somerset vicarage garden in August 1903, until his death on Midsummer Eve, 1924, he amassed a total of 4,977 tunes in England and North America, many of which were published in various forms in order to promote and revive what was perceived to be a fading part of traditional culture.
Sharp's North American collection is regarded as a landmark in folk music fieldwork and here we are making available online access to Cecil Sharp's only surviving personal diaries in which he describes his collecting experiences in the Appalachian Mountains.
For context, please see Mike Yates' article on the Musical Traditions website or the EFDSS publication Dear Companion for an equally detailed essay on Sharp in America.
The diaries are browsable by following the links below...
(Note that transcriptions of the diaries are fully searchable. If you tick the box next to 'Sharp diaries' in the pop up box that appears when you type in some search terms then you can search the diaries.)
Cecil Sharp travelled, along with Maud Karpeles, to the Appalachians in search of survivals of British ballads and folk songs, so they restricted their collecting work to settlements which had roots in Britain. They did not visit communities whose people came largely from other parts of the world as this fell outside the scope of their investigation.
However, they clearly shared some of the negative opinions of black people common at the time, and this is reflected in some of their diary entries.
We have decided not to cut these instances out of the diary transcriptions as that would be falsifying the historical record.
The BBC have produced and excellent audio slideshow about Cecil Sharp's diaries. Watch now
Many thanks to Cecil Sharp's grandchildren, Briony Jose and Richard Sharp, for allowing the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) to host the diaries online; to the managers of his estate, Bird & Bird; to Chris Roche and The Shanty Crew for sponsoring the digitisation project, and the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS) for sponsoring the transcription project.
The transcripts linked to the digital images were researched and made by Dr. Christopher Bearman and edited and prepared for the website by Kate Faulkner MSc MCLIP.
This project is dedicated to the memory and contributions of John M. (“Jack”) Langstaff. It has been underwritten by The Ithaka Foundation, The Langstaff family and William L. Ritchie.