> Peter Bellamy > Songs > Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Hair

Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Hair

[ Roud 3103 ; Ballad Index LxU016 ; VWML CJS2/10/3459 , CJS2/9/2548 ; trad.]

Davy Graham sang Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Hair in 1964 on his Decca album Folk, Blues & Beyond.

Dave Goulder and Liz Dyer sang Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Hair in 1970 on his Argo album January Man. This track was also included in 1971 on the Argo anthology The World of Folk.

Peter Bellamy played on the whistle the tune Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Hair and a unnamed Irish slow air on June 22, 1971 live at the Folk Studio, Norwich. This performance was published on his LP with Louis Killen, Won't You Go My Way?. He introduced the first tune with these words:

This next piece is a whistle tune which sounds very Irish. The reason for this is not surprising—I learnt it from an Irish whistle player by the name of Willie Clancy. And what fascinated me apart from the fact that it was a beautiful tune was the fact the title and the basic melody are the same as an Appalachian song which I have heard from Jean Ritchie, Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair.

It turns out that this is not in fact an Irish song that went to America without changing. It is an English song that went to America so long ago that everyone’s forgotten how it went. And the Americans changed it, the way they do, and it got into the Ritchie family repertoire and Jean Ritchie sang it to, I believe, Shirley Collins, who brought it back to England and sang it to Willie Clancy who thought, “There’s a lovely tune,” and he went home to Ireland playing it.

And then Folkways Records from America dropped in on Willie Clancy and said, “Play us an Irish tune, Mac,” and he played Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Hair. They shot back to the States and they issued it on an American label, it was imported to England and muggins bought it.

Dellie Norton sang Black Is the Colour to Mike Yates at her home in Sodom Laurel, Madison County, on August 26, 1980. This recording was included in 2002 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs, tunes and stories from Mike Yates' Appalachian collections, Far in the Mountains Volumes 4. Mike Yates noted:

One of the most beautiful of the Appalachian lyric songs, which Dellie begins with a verse from the separate song Come My Pretty Little Pink. According to Roger deV Renwick (Recentering Anglo/American Folksong. 2001. pp. 51-52), the song is similar, in parts, to versions of The Week Before Easter and to the song The Rambling Boy, which contains verses such as:

The rose is red, the stem is green
The time is past that I have seen
It may be more, it may be few
But I hope to spend them all with you.

or

Oh my pretty little miss sixteen years old
Her hair just as yeller as the shining gold
The prettiest face and the sweetest hands
Bless the ground on where she stands.

Cecil Sharp noted a single set from Mrs Lizzie Roberts of nearby Hot Springs, NC, in 1916 [VWML CJS2/10/3459] (see English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (1932) vol. 2 p. 31). The reference to the river Clyde suggests that it may be based on an older Scottish song.

Inez Chandler sang The Leaves Are Green to Mike Yates at her home in Marshall, Madison County, two days later on August 28, 1980. This recording was included in 2002 on the Musical Traditions anthology Far in the Mountains Volumes 5. Mike Yates noted:

Often called Black is the Colour, this is one of the most beautiful of the Appalachian lyric songs. The version sung by Inez Chandler is slightly shorter than the one which I collected from Dellie Norton of Sodom Laurel, Madison County, in the same year.

Martin Simpson and Jessica Radcliffe sang Black Is the Colour on the 1986 benefit album Where Would You Rather Be Tonight?. This track was also included in 2010 as a bonus track of the Fledg'ling CD reissue of their 1987 Topic album True Dare or Promise.

Maggie Boyle sang Black Is the Colour in 1994 on Incantation's Cooking Vinyl album Sergeant Early's Dream.

John Wright sang Black Is the Colour on his 2000 Greentrax album A Few Short Lines.

Éilís Kennedy sang Black Is the Colour on her 2001 CD Time to Sail.

Julie Murphy sang Black Is the Colour on the 2001 Topic anthology A Woman's Voice: First Person Singular.

Elisabeth LaPrelle sang Black Is the Colour of My True Love's Hair on her 2004 CD Rain and Snow. She noted:

This song came to me from Sheila Kay Adams, who learned her songs from her relatives, friends and neighbours in Madison County, North Carolina. I first met her at Augusta Heritage Center, where I took her ballads workshop. She is a fantastic singer and storyteller, and a great lady. I feel like I owe her a lot.

Sara Grey sang Black Is the Colour in 2009 on her Fellside CD Sandy Boys. She noted:

I love the way this lovely Scottish ‘parlour ballad’ made its way across the pond, move into and out of a black tradition and back into the white one, which strongly influenced the way Dellie Norton of Sodom Laurel, North Carolina, sang it. It is her version I sing here.

Josienne Clarke sang Black Is the Colour on her and Ben Walker's 2011 CD The Seas Are Deep.

Blair Dunlop sang Black Is the Colour (of My True Love's Hair) in 2012 on his Rooksmere CD Blight & Blossom.

Lyrics

Dellie Norton sings Black Is the Colour

My pretty little pink, so fare you well.
You've slighted me, but I wish you well.
If never on earth I no more see,
I cain't slight you like you've slighted me.

The winter have broke and the leaves are green,
The time has passed that we have seen.
But I hope the time will shortly come,
Never you and I will be as one.

Black is the colour of my true love's hair,
Her home is on some island fair.
The prettiest face and the neatest hands,
I love the ground whereon she stands.

Off to Clyde for a weep and mourn,
Dissatisfied, I never can sleep.
I'll write to you in a few short lines,
I'd suffer death, ten thousand times.

Inez Chandler sings The Leaves Are Green

My pretty little pink, so fare you well,
You’ve slighted me but I wish you well.
But if on earth we no more see,
I couldn’t do you like you did me.

Dark brown is the colour of my true-love’s hair,
Her face was like a rosy fair.

The winter’s broke, the leaves are green,
The time has come that we have seen.
But if on earth we no more see
I couldn’t do you like you have me.

My pretty little pink, so fare you well,
You’ve slighted me but I wish you well.
And if on earth we no more see,
I couldn’t do you like you did me.

Josienne Clarke sings Black Is the Colour

Black is the colour of my true love's hair
His face is like some wondrous fair
With the sweetest smile and the gentlest hands
I love the ground whereon he stands

I love my love and well he knows
I love the ground whereon he goes
And if my fate and fortune be
I would have you as you have me

I go to the Clyde and mourn and weep
Satisfied I ne'er can sleep
Write him a letter, just a few short lines
And suffer death a thousand times

(repeat first verse)

Links

See also the Mudcat Café threads Origin: Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair and Tune Req: Black is the color sung by Nina Simone.