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99 Years is Almost For LIfe: Punishment for Violent Crime in Bluegrass Music
Journal of Popular Culture (1992)
  • Kenneth D. Tunnell

The roots of Southern American music are located in the music of the eighteenth-century English, Irish and lowland Scots who migrated to North America. As they settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Cumberland Gap of Appalachia, they brought their songs that had been a part of their oral histories and cultures for at least two centuries. The commonly shared ways of life and social class among Appalachian mountain-dwellers not only inform about the early formative stages of bluegrass music but its growing popularity. As bluegrass music was removed from its insular setting and exposed to a wide variety of urban dwellers, it soon was embraced by many non-southerners, due largely to its inherent Anglo and African-American folk heritage and values. These values have emerged as the dominant themes in bluegrass lyrics, themes that address not only the importance of family, home and loved ones, but themes that speak to the dark side of life: violent crime and punishment in the community. The most popular British-derived murder ballad, "Pretty Polly," and a mainstay among bluegrass songs, allegedly is based on a true story of a pre-mediated murder. "Down in the Willow Garden," a murder ballad which may have descended from Ireland, again illustrates how the woman is killed by her lover.

  • bluegrass music,
  • violent crimes,
  • punishment,
  • music united states
Publication Date
Winter 1992
Citation Information
Kenneth D. Tunnell. "99 Years is Almost For LIfe: Punishment for Violent Crime in Bluegrass Music" Journal of Popular Culture Vol. 26 Iss. 3 (1992)
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