I got my cracked, clammy, crummy hands on a copy of 1943 sheet music of the folk classic “Tom Dooley.” The Kingston Trio would have a huge popular hit with the song in 1958, but it was recorded many times before then, including this offering from the legendary folk group the Weavers.
The Weavers are pictured on the front of the sheet music, and you can tell this is a very old publication because Pete Seeger only looks like he’s about 70 years old. The sheet music was issued by Ludlow Music, Inc., which also first published Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Ludlow is now a part of the Richmond Organization music publishers.
The song concerns the eponymous man waiting to be hanged for the murder of a North Carolina woman. It’s based on the actual 1866 case of former Confederate soldier Tom Dula, who ended the love triangle he was involved in with two women by murdering his fiancee, Laura Foster. Dula subsequently hanged and his other girlfriend went insane. So, it was happiness all around and an enduring ballad of lament was born.