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John Jacob Niles

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Louisville, United States (1892 – 1980)

John Jacob Niles (born April 28, 1892 in Louisville, Kentucky, died March 1, 1980 in Lexington, Kentucky) was an American composer, singer, and collector of traditional ballads. He is often called “The Dean of American Balladeers”. Niles is well known for his original song “Go ‘Way From My Window”, as well as the many traditional ballads he collected in the Appalachian region of the United States, such as “Pretty Polly” and “Barbara Allen”. He also composed the haunting Christmas song “I Wonder As I Wander”. He performed such material in an intense, dramatic manner, his voice frequently extending into a very high falsetto (which he often used to portray female characters in the ballads).

He often accompanied himself on an Appalachian dulcimer or other plucked stringed instruments, many of which were self-made. He made several recordings and many of his songs were later performed by other folk singers, including Joan Baez, Burl Ives, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Marlene Dietrich recorded “Go ‘Way From My Window” and included it in her stage show. Also, the song was a notable influence on Bob Dylan, who appropriated the first line for use in his song “It Ain’t Me Babe”.

He also composed a sizable number of art songs for voice and piano in classical style.

Niles is buried at St. Hubert’s Episcopal Church in Clark County, Kentucky.

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