Oscar Degreenia worked with Joe Choiniere on the Smith Farm, often singing the old songs as he did his tasks. Oscar was born in Vermont in 1878, moved to Cornwall as a young man, and worked as a farm laborer and carpenter. While unable to read and write, Oscar was a trove of ancient ballads like “Back of Yonder Mountain,” “Andrew Bataan,” “House Carpenter,” “Mary on the Wild Moor” and “Young But Daily Growing.” Vermont ballad collector Helen Hartness Flanders visited Cornwall in the 1940s and recorded Oscar singing at least 18 songs and ballads.

Used with permission from the Middlebury College Special Collections with thanks.

Cornwall ballad singer Oscar Degreenia had some of his repertoire recorded by Vermont ballad collector Helen Flanders in the 1940s and 1950s. I remembered sitting on his porch listening to him sing, and I discovered that his family were denied access to those now-archived recordings. My frustration at this injustice culminated in my enrollment in a master’s program at Goddard College. There I studied folklore, ethnomusicology, and the politics of culture. My first agenda was the retrieval of those recordings. I succeeded, and brought a copy to Oscar and Etta’s daughter Dolly Ovaline Teer. –Lorraine Hammond