DESCRIPTION: The singer reports that it is harvest time, and soon he will be traveling on. He bids farewell to "gentle Annie," the daughter of the farm. He offers her various warnings
AUTHOR: Stephen C. Foster
EARLIEST DATE: 1856 (sheet music)
KEYWORDS: love separation farewell farming warning
FOUND IN: US(So) Australia Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 518, "Gentle Annie" (1 text)
Randolph 701, "Gentle Annie" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Huntington-Gam, p. 301, "Gentle Annie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Saunders/Root-Foster 2, pp. 7-10+417, "Gentle Annie" (1 text, 1 tune); pp. 18-21+419, "Gentle Annie for the Guitar" (1 text, 1 tune)
Emerson, p. 54, "Gentle Annie" (1 text)
Fahey/Watson, [p. 18, page headed "Ditty: The plains of"], "Gentle Annie" (1 fragment)
ST R701 (Full)
Apollo Quartet of Boston, "Gentle Annie" (CYL: Edison [BA] 3289, n.d.)
Asa Martin, "Gentle Annie" (Champion 16568, 1933; rec. 1931; on KMM)
Ernest V. Stoneman, "When the Springtime Comes Again" (on Stonemans01)
NLScotland, L.C.Fol.178.A.2(060), "Gentle Annie," James Lindsay (Glasgow), 1852-1859
My Heart Is Sad for Thee, Annie (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 103)
NOTES [381 words]: Stephen Foster's original version is said to be based on Annie Laurie, and is mostly a lyric (a lament for a dead girl: "Thou wilt come no more, Gentle Annie, Like a flower thy spirit did depart; Though art gone, alas! like the many That have bloomed in the summer of my heart"). It's been said that it was inspired by his grandmother, Annie Pratt McGinnis Hart.
The song, however, has evolved heavily, presumably because the tune is strong but the lyrics banal. The Australian version (the one you may know from the singing of Ed Trickett), in particular, is heavily localized, and has become a near-ballad of a migrant worker bidding farewell to the (young?) daughter of the household.
Properly, the two should be split, but given the limited circulation of each in tradition, I decided not to bother.
This was almost the last success Foster had before his death, but it wasn't enough to rescue him financially. This was the only song he published in 1856, according to Howard, p. 253; his muse had effectively failed.
Acccording to TaylorEtAl, p. 127, "Morrison Foster, Stephen's brother, said that Gentle Annie was inspired by an actual incident which occurred in Stephen's neighbourhood. In his biography of Stephen, Morrison wrote:
"Once on a stormy night a little girl, sent on an errand, was run over by a dray and killed. She had her head and face covered by a shawl to keep off the peltings of the storm, and in crossing the street she ran under the horse's feet. Stephen was dressed and about to go to an evening party when he learned of the tragedy. He went immediately to the little girl's father, who was a poor working man and a neighbour he esteemed. He... remained all night with the dead child and her afflicted parents, endeavoring to afford the latter what comfort he could.
According to Briggs, p. 185, "Gentle Annie, or Annie [was] The weather spirit responsible for the southwesterly gales on the Firth of Cromarty.... [She had] a bad reputation for treachery." I doubt, however, that Foster had so much as heard of this Gentle Annie.
More likely to be derived from Foster's song are two New Zealand usages. According to Ell, p. 98, "Any Gentle Annie usually means a big, steep climb.... A popular washing machine once appropriated Gentle Annie's reputation." - RBW
Last updated in version 5.0
- Briggs: Katherine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblines, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, 1976 (I use the 1977 Pantheon paperback)
- Ell: Gordon Ell, Kiwiosities: An A-Z of New Zealand traditions & Folklore, New Holland Publishers, 2008
- Howard: John Tasker Howard, Stephen Foster, America's Troubadour, 1934 (I use the 1939 Tudor Publishing edition)
- TaylorEtAl: Deems Taylor et al, A Treasury of Stephen Foster, Random House, 1946
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2020 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.