On September 6, 1933, singer/guitarist Clarence Ashley and harmonica player Gwen (or Gwin) Foster recorded “Rising Sun Blues” for Vocalion Records in New York, NY. This would be the first recording of the song that we now know as “The House of the Rising Sun.”
In 1960, Ashley remembered the song as being: “a popular old song in my early days.” The earliest known text of the song dates to 1925. At that time, Robert Winslow Gordon who ran the Archive of American Folk Song for the Library of Congress, received a transcription of a song called “The Rising Sun Dance Hall” from a William F. Borroughs who had taken the lyrics down from the singing of “a southerner.”
The 1925 text begins:
“There is a house in New Orleans, it’s called the Rising Sun, it’s been the ruin of a many poor girl, Great God and I for one.”
The Ashley & Foster recording begins:
“They are a house in New Orleans, they call the Rising Sun. Where many poor boy to destruction has gone, and me, Oh God, for one.”
This song has taken a most incredible journey since 1933. It was soon recorded by many artists, including Roy Acuff (1938), The Almanac Singers (1941), Lead Belly (1944), Pete Seeger (1958), Joan Baez (1960) and Bob Dylan (1961). When the Animals recorded it in 1964 as “The House of the Rising Sun,” the song became a huge international hit and has spawned an almost-countless number of cover versions and re-recordings in the years since. (If you wish to delve deeply into the song’s history, get yourself a copy of the book Chasing The Rising Sun by Ted Anthony. Very highly recommended.)
But it started, on record, with Ashley & Foster, 77 years ago today.
“Rising Sun Blues” by Ashley & Foster
Listen and enjoy.
I knew that several other artists had recorded this song – Pete Seeger did come to mind – before the Animals, but I wasn’t aware just how many, and of the song’s history. Was anyone ever given credit for authorship, or is it considered “traditional”, with no credit?
I have to admit, aside from the historical interest, the Animals version of the song got overplayed so much on the radio that I’ve never recovered from that, and my need or want to hear it again is pretty much nil. I may look around to hear some of the other versions, however. I just don’t want to hear Eric Burdon… 🙂
Thanks for the shout-out!
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