Cover for wells: Life Flows On in Endless Song: Folk Songs and American History. Click for larger image

Life Flows On in Endless Song

Folk Songs and American History

An engaging survey of what folk songs tell us about the American past

Life Flows on in Endless Song explores American folk songs as a frame for the American experience. Robert V. Wells discusses how folk songs emerged from particular historical circumstances and evolved as they migrated from one region to another. Crafting a thematic map of four centuries of American history, Wells investigates how songs embody shifting attitudes toward the institution of the family, war and religion, work and the labor movement, transportation in America, and slavery and Jim Crow. He also considers modern folk heroes Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. Featuring a selective discography of key recordings, this book offers an accessible model for using folk songs as a richly evocative reflection of the American past.

“The best, most up-to-date survey of this topic in print, this is a book for those interested in the intersection of music/song and historical events and figures. Recommended.”--Choice

"Those who consider folk song at its best to be the purest form of social history will thoroughly enjoy this book."--Virginia Quarterly Review

"A muscular, detailed, well researched, stylish and celebratory history of folk music from early America to the 20th Century, with side trips into Britain when necessary to illustrate a point or track a song's lineage."--Sing Out!

"Life Flows on in Endless Song is full of examples that enrich our understanding of the aggregate forces that have transformed America since the colonial era."--The Journal of American History

"A lovely read with fascinating origin tales of many songs readers will delight in remembering."--Journal of Social History

"Wells beautifully explains why some songs have continually touched the American psyche for far longer than these states have been a nation."--The Journal of Southern History

"A historian with a deep interest in and knowledge of folk music, Wells provides interesting insights about folk songs' potential to make American social history more accessible to students and general readers."--Norm Cohen, author of Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong

"A fabulous book with wide appeal. Wells opens up contemporary folk songs to provide fascinating glimpses of daily life and everyday responses to historical events."--Scott Reynolds Nelson, author of Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend

Robert V. Wells is the Chauncey H. Winters Professor of History and Social Sciences at Union College in Schenectady, New York, and the author of Facing the "King of Terrors": Death and Society in an American Community, 1750-1990 and other works.

To order online:

To order by phone:
(800) 621-2736 (USA/Canada)
(773) 702-7000 (International)

Related Titles

previous book next book
Foggy Mountain Troubadour

The Life and Music of Curly Seckler

Penny Parsons

Hawaiian Music in Motion

Mariners, Missionaries, and Minstrels

James Revell Carr

Roots of the Revival

American and British Folk Music in the 1950s

Ronald D. Cohen and Rachel Clare Donaldson

Harry T. Burleigh

From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance

Jean E. Snyder

Yankee Twang

Country and Western Music in New England

Clifford R. Murphy

American Music

Edited by Neil Lerner

Waiting for Buddy Guy

Chicago Blues at the Crossroads

Alan Harper

Bach Perspectives, Volume 10

Bach and the Organ

Edited by Matthew Dirst

The Street Is My Pulpit

Hip Hop and Christianity in Kenya

Mwenda Ntarangwi

Squeeze This!

A Cultural History of the Accordion in America

Marion Jacobson

Women Musicians of Uzbekistan

From Courtyard to Conservatory

Tanya Merchant

Music in the Age of Anxiety

American Music in the Fifties

James Wierzbicki


New York City's Unseen Scene

Thomas H. Greenland

The Beautiful Music All Around Us

Field Recordings and the American Experience

Stephen Wade

A Cole Porter Companion

Edited by Don M. Randel, Matthew Shaftel, and Susan Forscher Weiss

Journal of American Folklore

Edited by Thomas A. DuBois and James P. Leary