FolkWords Writes

Why do so many English singers persist in singing with an American accent all the time?

(October 08, 2008)

American folk music is great, American folk songs are great, especially when they’re sung by Americans.

They’re even OK when sung by English people (well mostly). The only exception is when some English musician decides to adopt a weird American accent. That raises a question. Why do so many English singers persist in singing with an American accent all the time? (And while we’re on the subject there is not one American accent anymore than there is one Irish accent.) Strangely it’s not even a generic American accent - it’s a horrid mid-Atlantic drawl.

Anyhow, back to American folk and the American-English accent. American’s have a perfect right to sing in their wide and varied American accents. Indeed, all natives of the former colonies (as my grandfather used to call the USA) have the same inalienable right. However, being born and bred somewhere in England and mimicking someone else’s accent deprives you of all rights whatsoever. There’s that question again. Why do musicians (not just folk musicians but many other genres as well) attempt to manufacture an American accent?

Hold on I hear you say, American songs should be sung with an American accent. Not sure about that. Strangely, you rarely hear the reverse - Americans singing English folk songs with an English accent. Although you do hear Americans singing Irish folk songs with a strange quasi-northern Irish accent - in many cases because that’s what happens to the generic Irish accent when it’s passed through an American accent filter. The main reason for this I understand is the desire for many Americans to emulate their Irish roots when they sing the songs that their grandparents took to America with them. Now to my mind that’s fine. But, one wonders, how many people with English accents have grandparents from the United States. Not many I’d guess.

It’s my contention that many young musicians feel that singing with an American accent somehow gives more presence to the song, it somehow adds to the delivery and makes the song more valid. Is it a misplaced flattery of American culture or is it a desire to emulate the universal appeal of everything American?

Be proud of the accent you have, from wherever it originates. Take pride in your roots and if you have an overwhelming desire to sing your roots songs in a roots accent then OK. But please don't adopt a singing voice from the Appalachians and then talk to the audience in an accent from Hackney!

Whatever impels you to sing like your perception of an American please don’t do it – unless you have a granny from Kentucky or somewhere similar.

By all means explore American folk, there’s certainly much richness to explore. But if you’re patently from Newcastle, Birmingham or London or anywhere else between then don’t inflict your false American singing accent on me because I’ve heard it before and I didn’t like it then.


 


 


 

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