The Ohio River, Owensboro, Kentucky

Banks Of The Ohio by Joan Baez

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I asked my love to take a walk
To take a walk, just a little walk
Down beside where the waters flow
Down by the banks of the Ohio. Read full Lyrics
Songs have all sorts of themes and a few get to become a hit. "Banks of the Ohio" was certainly a hit and also a little on the sad side. Love and romance are not unusual in popular songs, while murder is not a frequent theme. But this song, for want of a better expression, is a murder ballad. It's believed to have originated in the 19th century.

You can tell a song has hit appeal when artist after artist records it. Such is the case with "Banks of the Ohio." Johnny Cash [who wrote a variation of the lyrics], Olivia Newton-John, Joan Baez, the Carter Family, Ernest Stoneman, Henry Whitter and Clayton McMichen are just some of the many stars who have performed this song.

Another test of a song's greatness is its longevity. The 1973 movie Paper Moon uses the 1936 recording of the ballad by the Blue Sky Boys as part of its soundtrack. A truly popular song will be recorded by both male and female artists, and so it is here. Female singers vary the lyrics slightly.

The long-running bluegrass music radio show on WAMU-PBS uses "Banks of the Ohio" as its theme.

Finally, if you want to discover the popularity of a particular song or a version of that song, search such places as eBay, where any number of Olivia Newton-John's vinyl recordings of the song are for sale decades after its release.

A covered bridge on the Ohio RiverA covered bridge on the Ohio River
The Ohio River begins life in modern-day Pittsburg and flows for almost a thousand miles, where it joins the mighty Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. The Ohio was once an important trading route, and in the 1800s farmers and manufacturers sent their produce down the Ohio, then on to New Orleans via the Mississippi. And nowadays with railroads and trains and highways with trucks, the ever-flowing Ohio River is still used to transport bulk materials like coal and grain.

And if you want to explore the banks of the Ohio, there are so many places, as it borders the states of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.

But you could consider a visit to Owensboro in Kentucky, the home of bluegrass music and the radio show using "Banks of the Ohio" as its theme.

And it's not just the Ohio River banks which can catch your eye. The city itself has a few unusual attractions. It claims the title of the BBQ Capital of the World and holds a major cooking festival in the second week of May every year.

You can relax on the banks of the Ohio every Friday for 16 weeks around summer when the free concerts known as "Friday After 5" are held in tranquil surrounds. Family activities, live bands, and all sorts of popular entertainment are held right beside the Ohio River.

In fact, Owensboro has many a proud boast about its cultural and community events. There's a pumpkin festival called PumpFest every September, there's one of the biggest Christmas Parades you'll see around Thanksgiving, and the Men Who Cook festival, which features celebrity amateur cooks who compete for the coveted Silver Spoon awards. It's a hugely popular event, which raises funds for needy folk in the area.

Owensboro has impressive bridges that span the banks of the Ohio, the International Bluegrass Music Museum, some glorious gardens, one of the oldest synagogues in the United States, and is the birthplace of Johnny Depp. What more could you want?

Cen Fox
January 28, 2010
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