Music: Joseph Philbrick Webster; Lyrics: Maud Irving
The Carter Family
This lover’s lament is an integral part of the history of American music. The Carter Family, previously discussed here, were the pioneering and popular purveyors of what was then termed “hillbilly music,” which we now recognize as country.
Although it now sounds like indigenous folk music, “Wildwood Flower” is not a folk song. It is what was termed a “parlor song,” or sentimental ballad produced as sheet music for use in the home for singing and playing. It was written in 1860 by Maud Irving (in actuality J. William Van Amee), and set to music by Joseph Philbrick Webster. As such, it is a typical lament of the time, with a rueful singer realizing that “My visions of love have all faded away.”
The song is also notable for its demonstration of the guitar-playing innovation known as the “Carter scratch.” It consists of the guitarist playing the tune’s melody on the guitar’s bass strings, while strumming chords in rhythm with the treble strings. This was said to have been crafted when Mother Maybelle Carter had no one to accompany her – so she accompanied herself.
The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: ‘Ain’t Misbehavin.’