Playlist: Bob Dylan Murder Ballads
“Western settlers found murder and bloodshed fascinating, and composed local ballads. But with printing facilities scarce, many of these items were not published at all while others saw fame only briefly in the columns of the local newspapers. As a result true western ballads of murder—except those about such famous outlaws as Jesse James, Cole Younger, Sam Bass, and their ilk—have been entirely lost, or are known only to the children of those who knew and sang them. These children are now, of course, old men and women. Some of the best examples of western murder ballads will be lost forever when these people die.”
– Olive Burt (Minstrelsy of Murder, 1958)
Murder ballads are a sub-genre of the traditional ballad form, the lyrics of which form a narrative describing the events of a murder or a very tragic event, often including the lead-up and/or aftermath. Sometimes but not always the judgement of innocent people. Traditional ballads are independent from broadsheet ballads insofar as the typical broadsheet form does not use the same formulas or structures and is rooted in a literate society: traditional ballads flourished within non-literate groups within society.
Bob Dylan – Death of Emmet Till: