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Album: Child BalladsReleased: 1892
This traditional folk song is known by a number of names including "Barbara Allen", "Barbara Ellen", "Barb'ra Allyn" and "Barbara Hellen". There are also a number of variations. Considerable space is given to it by Bertrand Harris Bronson in Volume II of The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, wherein it is described as "This little song of a spineless lover who gives up the ghost without a struggle, and of his spirited beloved who repents too late".
Bronson's book includes versions from as far afield as County Galway, 1904 - sung by Ann Carter; Mrs Vaisey of Adwell, Oxfordshire, 1892, and several versions from Virginia. Although there are versions from both Scandinavia and Italy, it almost certainly originated in either England or Scotland.
Barbara Allen is Child Ballad 84 and is also listed in the Roud Folk Song Index.
The first mention of the song in print is in The Diary Of Samuel Pepys who wrote in his entry for Tuesday 2 January 1665/66:
"Up by candlelight again, and wrote the greatest part of my business fair, and then to the office, and so home to dinner, and after dinner up and made an end of my fair writing it, and that being done, set two entering while to my Lord Bruncker's, and there find Sir J. Minnes and all his company, and Mr. Boreman and Mrs. Turner, but, above all, my dear Mrs. Knipp, with whom I sang, and in perfect pleasure I was to hear her sing, and especially her little Scotch song of "Barbary Allen;"...'
The earliest printed version extant and probably ever is held by the British Library which lists it as: Barbara Allen's cruelty; or, the young-man's tragedy etc. [A ballad.]
There are numerous later editions including "Barbara Allen. Two-part song" arranged by Laurence Ager and published by Boosey & Hawkes of London in 1951 as part of Boosey's modern Festival Series; no. 161.