Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook

by Website Editors | Jul 12, 2017

Our Recommended Reading for Children & Young Adults and Recommended Reading for Adults articles have been popular resources for readers interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie. Here is a brief overview of Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook.


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Editor: Dale Cockrell
Publisher: A-R Editions, Inc. (January 31, 2011)

The eight Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957), anchored in her family’s history and filled with memories of frontier life, are cornerstone classics in American children’s literature. Embedded in them are citations to 127 pieces of music–from parlor songs, stage songs, minstrel show songs, patriotic songs, Scottish and Irish songs, hymns and spirituals, to fiddle tunes, singing school songs, play party songs, folk songs, broadside ballads, catches and rounds. No books in American literature of comparable standing and popularity feature America’s vernacular music so centrally, assign it such a major narrative role, and index it in such rich abundance.

This edition is a reconstruction of “the family songbook,” based on the music referenced in Wilder’s books. Although no such object ever existed, her representations of music-making have likely informed the imaginations of more Americans than many a paper-and-bindings anthology, for what millions of readers have come to know about America’s musical heritage is what they learned from the Little House books-the titles and lyrics to songs; how songs and tunes functioned; where they were heard; what they meant; the importance of music to individuals, families, and communities. Wilder’s references and her evocative images of music-making thus form the basis of understanding about “American music” to many readers. The Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook is an effort to give fresh voice and sound to the music inscribed in these great books and new appreciation about how music functioned during a place and time important in American history and mythology.

About the Editor: Dale Cockrell
Dale Cockrell is Professor of Musicology in the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University. He has published widely in the field of American music studies, including Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), which was the recipient of the C. Hugh Holman Award (a “best book” award) presented by The Society for the Study of Southern Literature; and Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers, 1842-1846 (Stuyvesant, New York: Pendragon, 1989), which won the Irving Lowens Award (also “best book”). His articles (large and small), lectures, papers, and speeches number more than one hundred. He is a former president of the Society for American Music and a member of the American Antiquarian Society.

While enjoying bedtime reading with his son some years ago, Cockrell became interested the rich American musical legacy embedded in the classic Little House® books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, where 127 (mostly) great songs are referenced. That “simple” act of reading to a child has since led to a years-long scholarly project—The Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook—a volume that will be published as a number in the Music of the United States of America series (underwritten by the National Endowment for the Humanities).  Additionally, he created the seven book series Laura’s Music: Songs from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Books containing all the songs mentioned in the  books.

In 2004, Cockrell became the first musicologist to establish a record label to produce the music he studies. Pa’s Fiddle Recordings, LLC has since released Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder (recently commemorated by the NEH with a special place on their “We the People Bookshelf” program) and on the heels of the success of that recording, The Arkansas Traveler: Music from Little House on the Prairie was released in November 2006. Put great music, compellingly performed, in the hands of enough children along with Wilder’s wonderful books, and there’s the chance to change the musical culture in generations to come.

Pick up your own copy of Ingalls Wilder Family Songbook here.

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