If I Had a Shotgun: Musical Protest against Misogyny in Murder Ballads
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Office of Student Research and Creative Activity
MetadataShow full item record
Appalachian folk ballads have long been part of America’s musical history. These ballads preserve many aspects of Appalachian culture, including murder. However, modern listeners may find the misogyny of murder ballads, particularly ballads from the nineteenth century, problematic. The stereotypical murder ballad from this period features a young woman killed by a young man without an apparent motive and little to no resistance from the victim. The aggressor seldom receives punishment for his crime. These peculiarities are stock tropes, collectively labelled “murdered girl” by scholars, and are rooted in the social shift surrounding the Industrial Revolution as well as nineteenth-century gender ideals. There are many popular contemporary songs protesting misogyny in the ballad tradition, but Abigail Washburn’s “Shotgun Blues,” appearing on the 2014 album Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, is a notable inversion of the Appalachian folk ballad tradition. She combines traditional folk instruments with an assertive sonic landscape and juxtaposes “Shotgun Blues” with “Pretty Polly,” a more traditional “murdered girl” ballad, which directly precedes “Shotgun Blues” on the album.
Folk music--Appalachian Region