A Family Heritage


308 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-895176-36-0
DDC 782.42162'0092




Reviewed by Desmond Maley

Desmond Maley is the music librarian at the J.W. Tate Library,
Huntington College, Laurentian University.


LaRena Clark may not be a household name but, according to Fowke and
Rahn, who are experts in these matters, she was a great traditional folk
singer with an amazing repertoire. Ninety-three of Clark’s songs have
been brought together in this first comprehensive study of an anglophone
Canadian folk singer. Represented are classic ballads, love songs, bawdy
songs, comic songs, North American romantic ballads, lumbering songs,
songs related to Robert Burns, and original songs by Clark, as well as
American, English, Irish, and local Canadian songs.

Each melody and lyric is meticulously transcribed, with chord
information and insightful commentary on origins, rarity, and local
variants of the text. While many will recognize “The Dapple Grey”
and “Barbara Allan,” the collection also contains 20 unique and rare
songs. The melodies of “The Old County Fair” and “A Woman’s the
Joy and Pride of the Land” are beautiful by any standard. Less
successful are Clark’s own songs, including the awkwardly titled “O
Canada, Land of Our Homeland.”

Clark, who was “discovered” by Fowke in the early 1960s, describes
in her own words her early years growing up in Ontario’s backwoods.
The product of a musical family of hunters and guides, she eventually
amassed a repertoire of some 500 songs, which also included popular
songs of the 19th and 20th centuries. Several years before her death in
1991 at 86, she was awarded the Marius Barbeau Medal for distinguished
service by the Canadian Folklore Studies Society.

The choice of the first-person singular for the book’s narrator
causes some confusion when reading the song commentaries. It is not
clear who the author is. For instance, Rahn appears to take credit for
all the annotations. Yet, Fowke also says she participated in song
selection and organization. Rahn’s oddly truncated introduction to
Clark’s singing might also have been better integrated with the
chapter on her place in musical tradition. Still, folklore specialists
will want to have this excellent study, which includes a bibliography, a
discography, and indexes of song titles and first lines.


Fowke, Edith, with Jay Rahn., “A Family Heritage,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/6017.