Frank Warner

b. April 5, 1903 / Selma, AL
d.  1978 / Unknown

Singer, banjoist, American traditional folk music collector, former vice-president of the Country Dance and Song Society of America, performer, recording artist, and author

Frank Warner (c 1959)

WARNER, FRANK: Singer, guitarist, banjoist, folk music collector, YMCA executive. Born Selma, Alabama, April 5, 1903.

The renaissance of folk music in the years after World War II owes much to the collectors of old-time music. These people untiringly combed the remote areas of the U.S. to preserve a rich heritage of music that threatened to be obliterated by the march of modern society with its technological advances. In addition, the collectors often brought many previously unknown and deserving artists to the attention of the nation and the world. One of the great contributors in this vein has been Frank Warner (assisted by his wife Anne).

Warner, born and raised in the south, heard much of this music from his early boyhood. He completed part of his grade school education in Selma, later finishing public and high school in other parts of the south, including Jackson, Tennessee, and Durham, North Carolina. Warner enjoyed singing and often took part in informal songfests with friends and neighbors. When he entered Duke University in 1921, he quickly became involved in glee club work, as both a singer and a student glee club officer. In 1924, he made his first solo debut in public at the State Fair in Raleigh. His task was to sing folksongs to help illustrate a lecture on the state's folklore given by Duke Professor Dr. Frank C. Brown.

After graduation from Duke in 1925, he went to New York to study at the New York School of Social Welfare, Columbia University, and the YMCA training schools. He decided to make the YMCA his main career and was assigned to Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1928. His interest in folk music continued and he spent his vacation time wandering through many parts of the country collecting songs and other material. He also spent some of his hours while on' YMCA duty entertaining and instructing YMCA members in folk music.

In 1931, he continued his YMCA career in New York, As before, he continued to go into the rural areas whenever he could to collect songs. His travels extended through parts of Canada as well as most of the New England states. In 1935, he married Anne Locher, who shared his enthusiasm for folk material and who accompanied him on vacation tours of this kind. On one such tour in the late 1930s, they discovered a highly talented folk artist and instrument maker named Frank Proffitt. One of the songs they learned from him was to become a nationwide hit in the 1950s. It was called "Tom Dooley."

This was one of many traditional songs the Warners sang at concerts across the U.S. and, in later years, in other countries as well. The Warners were careful to give credit to the musicians who provided them with the material and sometimes were able to gain concert engagements for some of them. After the Kingston Trio, who gained knowledge of the song from other sources, made "Tom Dooley" into a major hit, the Warners labored to bring Frank Proffitt his just recognition. They finally achieved this in the 1960s, and Proffitt starred at many of the major folk festivals.

Frank Warner continued to progress in his YMCA work. In 1952, he was appointed general secretary for operations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, Long Island. He and his wife during the 1950s and '60s also performed in concert halls, at major folk festivals, and on campuses throughout the U.S. In New York, among the places they played were Carnegie Hall and Town Hall.

Frank Warner made several LPs, including "American Folk Songs and Ballads" ('52) and "Songs and Ballads of America's Wars" ('54) on Elektra label, "Songs of the Civil War" on Prestige, and, in 1963, an album for Vanguard.

-- Bio from Stambler and Landon, “Encyclopedia of Folk, Country and Western Music.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1969.

Frank Warner
Singer, banjoist, American traditional folk music collector, vice-president of the Country Dance and Son Society of America, performer, recording artist, and author

Frank Warner and his wife Anne are two of the most devoted and renowned collectors, preservers, and interpreters of American traditional folk music. Their enthusiasm and their pursuit of this genre have brought to the attention of the general public such names as Frank Proffitt, Yankee John Galusha, and Lena Bourne Fish -- and a wealth of folk material from the fertile areas of the Southern Appalachians, the North Carolina Outer Banks, Tidewater Virginia, New England, and upstate New York.

Frank Warner was born on April 5, 1903, in Selma, Alabama. He spent most of his boyhood in North Carolina and enrolled at Duke University in 1921: "While I was in college I was active in music. I was in the glee club, and some of us were used by our English professor, Dr. Frank D. Brown, to illustrate his lectures on the folk music of North Carolina. I learned then many of the songs he had collected."

After he received his degree from Duke, Warner joined the staff of the YMCA in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he stayed for five years. He then came to New York to join the National Council of the YMCA and eventually became executive director of the YMCAs on Long Island. Throughout his professional career, he maintained, as a hobby, his singing and lecturing on folk music. In 1935 he and Anne Locher were married, and together, during their vacations, they traveled and collected folk material from rural areas all along the eastern seaboard. In 1937 the met South Carolina folk song collector Maurice Matteson, who had a dulcimer made by Nathan Hicks of Beach Mountain, North Carolina. The Warners wrote to Nathan Hicks and ordered a dulcimer, which he eventually sent them wrapped in a gunny sack and accompanied by a phonetically spelled letter full of archaic words and phrases. The Warners decided they had to pay the Hickses a visit, and Anne Warner describes their first trip to Beach Mountain the next year: "We were so fascinated that we decided to go down, not with the idea of collecting, but just to meet these people. This was before there was electricity in the mountains, and the roads were almost impassable once you got back from the highways, and the Hickses lived way back! When we got there we found Nathan Hicks with a group of kinfolk and neighbors who had to come to meet us, and they were all sitting around the front yard. Among them was Frank Proffitt, Nathan's eldest son-in-law." On that first day, Frank Proffitt thought the Warners the song "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley," which Frank Warner sang in concerts for the next two decades and recorded on the Electra label in 1952.The Warners were largely responsible for the recognition given to Frank Proffitt and were instrumental in bringing him North to perform at the first University of Chicago Folk Festival and other festivals and concerts.

In 1939 the Warners traveled to the Adirondacks, where they collected songs from eighty-one-year-old Yankee John Galusha. The following year, they began to collect in New England -- especially from Mrs. Lena Bourne Fish of East Jaffrey, New Hampshire. As Anne Warner recalls: "We had a recording machine by this time and small discs. This was long before tape, and because our supply of discs was short, we would record two stanzas of a song -- to get the melody -- and stop the machine. The fortunate aspect was that I got them all down correctly then and there. From then on, we spent our month's vacation, which we each had each year from our regular jobs, working as hard as we did any other time -- usually spending two weeks in the South and two weeks in the North. We have collected, I suppose, more than a thousand songs. And we have collected, too, many, many friends. So many of these people lived close to the roots of America, and they have given us a feeling about the country that I don't think we could have gotten in any other way.

The Warner's two sons, Jeff and Gerret, accompanied their parents on "Song-catching trips," performed and recorded with Frank Warner, and now perform and record on their own.

Frank Warner's performances of folk music are authentic, and he often sings in the unaccompanied, traditional manner. His butternut banjo made by Nathan Hicks has 256 signatures (beginning with Carl Sandburg in 1939) of folksingers, folklorists, and others involved in the field of Americana. He has performed in England for historical societies, club and school programs, and in concerts at colleges and universities. He is a member of the board of the Newport Folk Festival; past president of the New York State Folklore Society; and vice-president of the Country Dance and Song Society of America. For ten years, he was program director of the society's Pinewoods Folk Music Camp.

Frank Warner's has performed in such folk festivals as Newport, Berkeley, Chicago, Duke, Cornell, Queens College, and the American Folk Festival in Ashville, North Carolina. He has performed on seven campuses of the University of California and has been a Hoyt Fellow at Yale University. He has appeared many times on radio and television programs and in one Hollywood movie for RKO. His seven albums of collected songs have been recorded on such labels as Disc, Electra, Heirloom, Minstrel, Prestige, and Vanguard (Anne Warner has written the notes for all the albums,) and he is the author of Folk Songs and Ballads of the Eastern Seaboard: From a Collectors Notebook (Southern Press, Inc., 1963.)

The Warners are currently engaged in preparing their collection for publication at an early date.

 -- from "Folk Music: More Than a Song" (1976) by Kristine Baggelaar and Donald Milton 

NOTE: Another brief Frank Warner bio is found in the festival program of the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959.

Songs Credited to Frank Warner Song Title
1. Tom Dooley (with John A. Lomax and Allan Lomax)


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