Poor Ellen Smith

30 Nov

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[gDGAE tuning]

Poor Ellen Smith is a murder ballad based around actual events that occurred in Mt. Airy, North Carolina back in the year 1894.  A fella by the name of Peter DeGraff was fooling around with a young woman by the name of Ellen Smith until she eventually got pregnant. In perfect murder ballad fashion, DeGraff tried to ditch poor Ellen, who had no idea why she was getting the cold shoulder (some reports describe her as being developmentally challenged – in the parlance of our times). The baby died at birth which led Ellen to latch on tighter to DeGraff, until he led her to a secluded spot and shot her in the chest and left her to die. DeGraff supposedly wrote this song while waiting for his execution (by hanging). Here is an excellent web page devoted to this tragic story: Poor Ellen Smith.

There are two versions of this song – Ellen Smith and Poor Ellen Smith – which are different enough to be different. This post is Poor Ellen Smith. As per usual, there are plenty of good old-timey recordings (Tommy Jarrell, Rufus Crisp, Theophilus G. Hoskins) to check out, as well as some classic (gasp!) Bluegrass recordings (The Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin, Wilma Lee Cooper). Folkies also jumped on board (The Kossoy Sisters, The Kingston Trio). In addition, some “non-traditional” artists like Neko Case have recorded it and the song was apparently a favorite of Jerry Garcia.


One Response to “Poor Ellen Smith”


  1. Poor Ellen Smith [gDGAE tuning] | Feileadh Mor - 09/20/2014

    […] Tab and information here: https://2ftlbanjer.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/poor-ellen-smith/ […]

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