Sweet Betsy from Pike

This classic gold-rush-era storytelling song has one of the most memorable melodies in all frontier music!

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This American gold-rush ballad about the trials of a pioneer named Betsy and her lover Ike, who migrate from Pike County to California in the “days of forty-nine,” was first published in 1858, but probably composed several years earlier.

According to Alan Lomax, “Such songs were performed by the professional entertainers who toured the gold camps, and were circulated in the little pocket song books of that day.”

The musical tune belongs to an English dance-hall number attributed to John Orlando Parry, but could have been composed by his father or by an entirely different person.

The tune was a hit for Burl Ives in the 1940s.

Historical information is included as well as the full lyrics from the first printing.

Key: C major

Mood: happy, dramatic, moving

Pedagogy: hand extensions, chromatic passages, dynamics, repeats.


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