The Big Ballad Jamboree
A southern literary master’s captivating novel about the rise of a Nashville-bound singer as “hillbilly” evolves into “country”
Uproariously funny and filled with choice narration, The Big Ballad Jamboree is Donald Davidson's only novel.
He set his story—the romance of hillbilly and country singer Danny MacGregor with folk singer and ballad scholar Cissy Timberlake—in the fictional western North Carolina town of Carolina City during the summer of 1949. The late forties, just after WWII and before the rise of national television, are great years for classic country music on live radio. Yet this Appalachian community is struggling to embrace a modern commercial economy without losing its folk heritage.
In this setting Davidson draws lively satirical pictures: civic boosters allied with shameless politicians; a local sheriff, a barber, and a dean cooperating to protect the image of a college; a folklore professor seeking fame by promoting a ballad-singing bootlegger. Seen through the eyes of a country boy with a musical gift descended from mountain people, this novel is a highbrow art about memorable lowbrow characters. It is also a great read.
Those who know Davidson as a poet and scholar may be surprised to learn that he wrote a novel about country music. Here his long romance with southern folklife and mountain balladry captures the evolution of hillbilly singers into Grand Ole Opry stars as he pursues vexing questions about folk authenticity in country music.
Long thought lost, The Big Ballad Jamboree is now published. The famous teacher of writers such as Robert Penn Warren, Jesse Stuart, and Elizabeth Spencer never saw publication of his own novel. The mystery of its fate resolved at long last with the publication of the complete manuscript, discovered by a granddaughter in family files.