Frank Warner

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The early-'60s revival of American folk music was sparked by the efforts of such folksingers and song collectors as Frank Warner. Assisted by his wife, Anne, Warner traveled extensively through Canada,…
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The early-'60s revival of American folk music was sparked by the efforts of such folksingers and song collectors as Frank Warner. Assisted by his wife, Anne, Warner traveled extensively through Canada, New England, and the American south in search of material. Among the many tunes he discovered were such classics as "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," "Days of Forty-Nine," and "Whiskey in the Jar (Gilgarrah Mountain)." Warner's greatest contribution to the American folk boom remains the discovery of the outlaw song "Tom Dooley," which he first heard performed as "Tom Dula" by folksinger and instrument builder Frank Profitt in the late '30s. His interpretation of the song, which he included on his 1952 album, American Folk Songs and Ballads, was used as a model for the million-selling hit recorded by the Kingston Trio six years later. In a late-'90s essay, Alan Lomax, who published the song in his book, Folk Song USA, credited Warner with "a continuous act of unpaid, tender devotion and a lifelong love affair with the people who remembered the ballads." A native of Selma, AL, who grew up in Jackson, TN, and Durham, NC, Warner sang at informal family gatherings as a child. He continued to sing as a student at Duke University, becoming a featured member of the school's glee club. He made his debut at the Raleigh State Farm while still a student. He often sang during lectures, on North Carolina's folklore, by Duke University professor Dr. Frank C. Brown. Graduating from Duke University in 1925, Warner continued his studies at the School of Social Welfare at Columbia University in New York. Inspired to seek a career with the YMCA, he switched to the YMCA training school. Assigned to work at the YMCA in Greensboro, NC, in 1928, he continued to work with the YMCA until retiring a decade later as executive director of the Long Island YMCA. Married to the former Anne Locker in 1935, Warner and his wife spent his vacations seeking songs. The Warners often performed together in concert halls, folk festivals, and campuses across the United States. During the '70s, they were often joined by their sons, Gerrett and Jeff, who accompanied them on guitar, concertina, jew's harp, and spoons. An informal concert they performed on June 16, 1973, at the Cider Press in Devon, England, was recorded. Anne Warner published a book, Traditional American Folksongs, featuring tunes she had collected with her husband. Warner recorded several memorable albums in the '50s and early '60s. In addition to American Folk Songs and Ballads, he released Songs and Ballads of America's Wars and Songs of the Civil War. A sampling of tunes the Warners recorded during song collecting expeditions was released as Music From the Anne & Frank Warner Collection, Vol. 1: Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still and Music From the Anne & Frank Warner Collection, Vol. 2: Nothing Seems Better to Me: The Music of Frank Profitt and North Carolina.