John Hardy: A desperate little man

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John Hardy: A desperate little man

by John Douglas
Southern Cultures, Vol. 10, No. 2: Summer 2004

It's hard to believe, but one of the puzzles that early-twentieth-century folklorists spent time sorting out was whether John Henry and John Hardy were the same man.

It’s hard to believe, but one of the puzzles that early-twentieth-century folklorists spent time sorting out was whether John Henry and John Hardy were the same man. John Hardy was the villain of a murder ballad that also originated in southern West Virginia. Though “John Hardy” isn’t quite as well-known as “John Henry,” the song is also part of both black and white musical traditions. Lead Belly often performed it in the 1940s. Odds are, he learned it from the Carter Family’s 1928 record.