Music Research – Setting The Record Straight

I’ve been a reader since 1988, and have published on a wide variety of subjects as a result, but since 2005 have been concentrating on researching music, mostly but not exclusively contemporary, for an on-line database. I started this by accident, and figured it would be a welcome break from some of the at times controversial subject matters I have tackled. If only! The irregularities I have happened upon in the music field include misattribution, plagiarism, outright theft, and even fabrication by an accredited academic and author of many books. My researches have led to a number of alterations being made to the British Library catalogue, and even to the catalogue of the National Library of Australia. To give just two examples:

The American folk melody Wildwood Flower is generally attributed to A.P. Carter of the Carter Family, but in reality, Carter plundered the song from the public domain; the composer died in 1875, and his estate failed to renew copyright. Two years after Carter’s death, he was subjected to the same treatment, although like Carter the new “authors” produced their own arrangement. And even the original song, I’ll Twine ’Mid The Ringlets, is of suspect provenance; it is possible the credited lyricist did not exist, and that the composer, Joseph Philbrick Webster, based the music on an earlier song.

In a book I won’t name for legal reasons I found a reference to The Maine Stein Song that had clearly been invented, although I didn’t realise this until I received a forwarded e-mail the database owner had received from an alumnus of Umaine, who pointed out that the State Song of Maine was actually Grand State Of Maine. The author of this popular book had simply fabricated a story – or at best repeated an anecdote without bothering to check it. Correspondence with his publisher was duly ignored, as was that concerning the claim in the same book that The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo was written about a casino “shill” rather than the con man Charles Wells (1841-1926) – who incidentally accomplished this feat by dint of a run of luck rather than his inveterate skulduggery.

As this was a popular rather than a scholarly book, it did not contain footnotes, but as I discovered a long time ago researching in other fields, even proper citations are not necessarily accurate.

[The above was written for a British Library blog, if I recall correctly, in May 2013. There was a call for readers to submit articles about their own research. I was told it was not suitable, but what do they know! It was submitted originally in WORD format, and is republished here verbatim].

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