Dink’s Song is new to me — it was suggested by a club member who found a beautiful version in a dulcimer fingerpicking tablature book, “Whistle and Skip.” The song is a mournful love song about the man who left the singer when she needed him most. The club member wanted the song transposed to a lower key for her alto voice. I transposed the song down to the Key of G and in the process learned a little about the person who wrote the dulcimer tab book and a little about the song which was collected from an African-American woman on the banks a river in Texas.
Dink’s Song or “Fare Thee Well”; Song’s Origin
Ding’s Song was collected by Alan Lomax in 1909. Lomax, who grew up on a ranch in Texas, was a teacher, musicologist and an American folklorist. His first interest in traditional music came from an ex-slave farm hand who sung cowboy songs to him as a young boy. Lomax is one of our country’s most acclaimed folklorists and is credited with collecting and preserving American folk music including cowboy and African American folks songs.
Working in conjunction with the Library of Congress, he traveled throughout the south and southwest in the 1930’s making field recordings of American folk songs collecting over 10,000 songs. He stopped at numerous penitentiaries in the South because “this is where you find the best black singers.” He was particularly proud of his recordings of Huddie William Ledbetter or “Lead Belly” at Angola Prison in Louisiana.
Lomax, along with his children, John Lomax, Jr. and Besse Lomax, traveled throughout the country on several college lecture circuits, speaking about traditional American folk music. Lomax published an anthology, “American Ballads and Folk Songs,” by Macmillan Publishing Company of New York in 1934. Here is an anthology published in 1960, “Folk Songs of North America” with over 300 songs. If you are a history buff and want to know the background of a particular song, this book is interesting reading and contains origins of hundreds of songs that we know and sing today. It takes you back in time.
Ding’s Song, according to Wikipedia, was sung by an African-American woman as she washed her clothes in a tent camp of migratory levee-builders on the banks of the Greater Calhoun Bayou River close to Houston, Texas. The woman was named, Dink, hence the song’s title. The song’s lyrics allude to the fact that her lover has left her when she needs him most, and she hides her face in her apron when he goes by. Another bog site claims the song was collected in 1904 along the Brazee River, in Texas, with the same general story. Guess Lomax recounted several variations of his story over the years.
Ding’s Song appears in “American Ballads and Folk Songs” published in 1934. It has been recorded by many folk musicians including Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Joan Baez. Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford sang a version of Dink’s Song in the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis.” It is a variant of the song with a countermelody; quite beautiful. You can find it on You-Tube.
Many of these versions are sung as a solo renditions with guitar accompaniment. This gives a melodic, mournful ballad feeling. So the fingerpicking version of the song on dulcimer is very appropriate. Here are my standard and baritone walnut dulcimers built by Jim Woods’ luthiers at McSpadden Dulcimers in Mountain View, Arkansas. I wasn’t familiar with this song until a club member suggested we play it–I’m always ready to try a new song. These McSpadden dulcimers are perfect for playing this song; the deep baritone sound adds to the ambiance.
“Whistle and Skip” by Judy Klinkhammer
Our dulcimer version of Dink’s Song comes from dulcimer player and musician, Judy Klinkhammer. It is included in her book, “Whistle and Skip,” a tablature book of fingerpicking arrangements for the mountain dulcimer with accompanying C.D. The book includes a number of duets. All the arrangements are well-done and are easy to play for dulcimer players who fingerpick and can play chords.
Judy Klinkhammer, originally from Wisconsin, lived for many years in Mountain View, Arkansas. She taught mountain dulcimer at the Folklife Center in Mountain View and worked and taught at McSpadden’s store, “The Dulcimer Shoppe,” where McSpadden dulcimers are built and sold. She has written several other books including two duet books with Jim Woods. She didn’t read music; the books are transcribed by a friend. All these books may be purchased from the Dulcimer Shoppe, in Mountain View, Arkansas, or on-line.
I asked Jim Woods, proprietor of McSpadden Dulcimers, if he thought Judy would mind if I published her song on my blog as she is deceased. Jim replied that Judy loved music and was enthusiastic that it be shared. He even said there is a memorial bench on the porch at the shop with the engraving, “Share the Music,” that is burned into the wood, attributed to Judy. I never met Judy, but am sure she was a gracious and giving person. Here I am outside the Dulcimer Shoppe in Mountain View, Arkansas several years picking up my hand-build dulcimers.
Transposed to Key of G
Judy’s version of the song is in the key of D for a dulcimer tuned to DAD. The song includes a wide range of notes — two octaves. It is difficult for an alto voice to reach the highest note. So I transposed the song down to the Key of G for a standard DAD dulcimer and also included a version for a baritone dulcimer tuned to DGD. With this tuning you are playing in the Key of G.
Judy’s arrangement is fingerpicked. Judy’s version has a rather tricky melody; it takes a little practice, the chords that Judy has included makes for a beautiful harmony. I included strummed versions because it is easier to see the melody notes. (My version can also be fingerpicked.) Try both, here they are. And step back in time with a slow, melodic love song.
Here are the JPEG’s of the song. After this are the are PDF files which you can download. Please play them and enjoy!
And Judy Klinkhammer’s lyrics with a Rose of Sharon blossom. You can find additional lyrics on many internet sites.
And my arrangement for DAD dulcimer in tuned down to the key of G:
And my version for a baritone dulcimer tuned to GDG, key of G.
Judy’s version of Dink’s Song in DAD and Lyrics in PDF format:
My version of Dink’s Song in DAD, Key of G:
and my version of Dink’s song in Key of D for baritone dulcimer tuned to GDG:
And a “Rose of Sharon” blossom in my backyard: