“Richard Underwood’s CrimeSong: True Crime Stories From Southern Murder Ballads, a book on the ancient societal problem of murder, is valuable for ballad performers and scholars and for lovers of true crime stories and more. Professor Underwood has long been interested in old ballads, many of which date back centuries and tell us of the awful acts of violence that human beings have inflicted on one another—so often on former lovers.
“As an expert on evidence and trial ethics, he researched the background and true crime stories of some of the best-known ballads of the American South, such as Omie Wise, Poor Ellen Smith, Pearl Bryan, Tom Dula, Frankie Silver, The Lawson Family Murders, Mary Phagan, and others which are lesser known or even obscure. For some of these murders, the ballad itself is the only information we have about the victim or the perpetrator. Without the ballads we would no longer remember them at all.
“Professor Underwood’s research included a review of available court records, newspaper stories, and other accounts. The composers of the ballads often seemed more interested in the art of tune, meter, rhyme, and word than in telling an accurate story. Underwood also found problems when the murderer was brought before the bar of justice, with trial procedure, rules of evidence, and lawyerly and judicial incompetence. Overall, the motives for some of the crimes remain murky and the guilt or innocence of the accused in doubt.
“I have long admired ballads and the stories they tell and am in wonder about human memory that has brought them down to us through the generations. My own memory of them has been invigorated and enriched by Richard Underwood’s work.”