On June 14, we commemorate anniversary of the birth of Burl Ives, star of stage, screen, radio, and records.
Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives (what a name) was born on June 14, 1909 near Hunt City in rural Illinois, one of seven children of Scots-Irish farmers Levi and Cordelia Ives. As a child, while singing in his mother’s garden, he was discovered by his uncle, who invited him to sing at his old soldiers reunion. Ives made his first recording in 1929, a test for the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana, makers of Gennett Records, though no record was issued, and the masters were destroyed. After dropping out of college, Ives hoboed across the states as an itinerant folk songster during the Great Depression. He began appearing on Terra Haute, Indiana’s WBOW around 1931, and in 1940, began hosting a radio show of his own, called The Wayfaring Stranger. In 1938, he made his Broadway debut in Rodgers and Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse. After working with the left leaning Almanac Singers in the early 1940s, Ives was drafted into the United States Army in 1942, receiving a medical discharge the following year. Ives began his long career in motion pictures, appearing in the 1946 Western Smoky as a singing cowboy. In the early 1950s, Ives was blacklisted as a suspected communist, and testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Throughout the 1950s onward, he continued to have a prolific career in music and pictures. In 1964, he made his most enduring appearance in the Rankin/Bass television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, narrating the program as Sam the Snowman. Burl Ives died of cancer on April 14, 1995, at the age of eighty-five.
Asch album A 345 was recorded in 1944 and edited by Alan Lomax. Try as I might, I can’t seem to locate a source giving the exact date. Going by the matrix numbers, I’d venture it was recorded sometime early in that year, January or February, possibly even late in 1943. It was re-issued on the Stinson label in 1947.
One the first disc in the set, Ives sings two songs per side. On the first, he sings his signature song “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, which lent its name to the album, and “Buckeyed Jim”. On the second, he sings “The Bold Soldier” and “The Sow Took the Measles”.
On the second, Ives sings “The Foggy Foggy Dew” and “Black is the Color”. Years earlier, Ives was thrown in a Utah jail for singing the former, which was considered a bawdy song.
The third disc of this set features Ives’ first recording of the classic minstrel song “The Blue Tail Fly” (probably better known as “Jimmy Crack Corn”) which, in my opinion, is done masterfully. On the reverse, he sings the traditional Scottish folk song “Henry Martyn (Pirate Ballad)”