Murder ballads have a history that goes back to pre-modern times, with many originating in England and Scotland and written down, printed and sold on broadsheets already in the 17th century as true crime novels of their time. These dark and often grotesque stories have endured during the centuries in their purest form or mutating into something slightly different as they found new life on the other side of the Atlantic with the European settlers. A classic example would be the Appalachian murder ballad “The Knoxville Girl”, which can be derived under various names back to English ballads from the 1500s. But murder is also a frequent topic in American ballads, as Library of Congress states: “Many murder ballads were composed in America, especially after famous murder cases. An example is "Pearl Bryant," a fictionalized account of the murder of Pearl Bryan in Kentucky in 1896.” This playlist is a collection of some of the most famous Murder Ballads, including “Tom Dooley”, “Stagger Lee” and “In the Pines”, as well as some more recent examples of the genre.
[Cover: "Anguish", Albrecht Schenck, public domain]