Singing Soldiers        (John Jacob Niles)
Item# B1347
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Singing Soldiers        (John Jacob Niles)
B1347. JOHN J. NILES. Singing Soldiers – [with a dedication “To the American Negro Soldiers who made this writing possible”]. Illustrated by Margaret Thorniley Williamson. New York, Scribner’s, 1927. 171pp. Illus. FIRST EDITION. Exemplary Copy.


“John Jacob Niles was an American composer, singer, and collector of traditional ballads. Called the ‘Dean of American Balladeers’, Niles was an important influence on the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, with Joan Baez, Burl Ives, and Peter, Paul and Mary, among others, recording his songs. In the 1920s, Niles began publishing music. He made four extended trips into the southern Appalachians as an assistant to photographer Doris Ulmann, again transcribing traditional songs from oral sources. On other occasions, he transcribed songs he heard sung by African Americans and by fellow soldiers in World War I.

Niles was also a noted songwriter. His songs, many of which are based on traditional sources, include ‘Venezuela’, and the haunting Christmas song ‘I Wonder As I Wander’. Henry Miller's PLEXUS includes a powerful tribute to Niles' recording of this song. Niles composed ‘Go 'Way From My Window’ when he was a mere 16 years old, but did not perform it until 1930. Marlene Dietrich recorded it and sang it on stage. Bob Dylan quoted its first line in his song ‘It Ain't Me Babe’. Later in life, Niles published compositions in a more classical style, including works for choir and art songs for voice and piano. The latter include his last work, a setting of poems by Thomas Merton.

Starting in 1938, he recorded a number of his compositions and transcribed songs, performing the material in an intense, dramatic manner. He employed a trademark very high falsetto to portray female characters, and often accompanied himself on an Appalachian dulcimer, lute, or other plucked stringed instrument.”

- Zillah Dorset Akron