Bronson, Bertrand Harris (1902–1986). Encyclopedia of American Folklore

Ballad scholar, musicologist, and professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1927 to 1970. While Bronson’s career as a scholar (he would have said “student”) of English literature cannot be overlooked (he did important studies on Chaucer, Joseph Ritson, Samuel Johnson, and the Enlightenment), his essential contributions to the study of folklore might be symbolized by the title of his 1969 collection of essays: The Balladas Song The founders of American folkloristics emphasized folksongs as cornerstone artifacts in the budding discipline, but paradoxically they most often treated the material as “folk poetry.” Francis James Child, for example, gave only a handful of tunes to accompany the hundreds of texts in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads. In his Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads (1959–1972), Bronson set out to track down all of the extant tunes associated with ballads from Child’s corpus. The resulting four-volume monument of scholarship not only provides us a cornucopia of melodies and texts, of references to popular discs and archival recordings, but also—because Bronson included texts to the melodies—outdoes Child himself. In other research, Bronson pioneered the use of computers in musicological research as early as the 1940s and developed a scheme of melodic classification (the “mode star”). By insisting that folksongs are to be sung, Bronson played an important role in legitimizing the folksong revival and in preparing the way for folklore’s later emphasis on performance studies. It is folly, Bronson argued, to tear text and tune asunder, or to divest either of their reasons for being: folksingers, musicians, and audiences in performance contexts. David G.Engle


Bronson, Bertrand Harris. 1949. Mechanical Help in the Study of Folk Song. Journal of American Folklore 62:81–86. Green, Archie. 1987. Bertrand Harris Bronson, 1902–1986. Journal of American Folklore 100:297–299. Hand, Wayland. 1983. Foreword. In The Ballad Image: Essays Presented to Bertrand Harris Bronson, ed. James Porter. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Comparative Folklore and Mythology, UCLA, pp. ix–xii.