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LISTEN: Dirk Powell, “I Ain’t Playing Pretty Polly” (with Rhiannon Giddens)

Aug 5, 2020

LISTEN: Dirk Powell,

Artist: Dirk Powell
Hometown: Lafayette, Louisiana
Song: “I Ain’t Playing Pretty Polly” (with Rhiannon Giddens)
Album: When I Wait for You
Release Date: September 4, 2020
Label: Compass Records

In Their Words: “I grew up playing and singing ‘Pretty Polly.’ I was really proud to have learned a unique version of it in the ‘overhand’ banjo style from my grandfather in Kentucky. One evening I was singing it during a soundcheck and heard the words ‘he stabbed her through the heart and her heart’s blood did flow’ coming out of my mouth… and I just stopped cold in the middle of the verse. I thought about my grandmother, my mother, my daughters. I thought about pervasive violence against women and the way men are given the bulk of the story in songs like these, and often some kind of twisted romantic glory or sympathy, and I said to myself, ‘I’m never singing this song again.’ I will not give any more energy to the stories of men who hurt, abuse, and kill women. Period.

“For some people, there are complexities — some say the songs are a needed warning to young people, or just dramatic tales, or that tradition trumps looking at them this way. But, for me… I’m just never singing them again. I’m done. I’ve seen the looks of hurt and confusion on my daughters’ faces when violent words like these are accepted or brushed aside. And I’ve seen fear in my grandmother’s eyes as she gave warnings to my sisters about men. Instead, I choose to sing, as I do here, about women like my Aunt Myrtle and men like my Uncle Clyde, who were together from the 1930s to the 2000s. Their relationship was full of love and sweetness and gratitude and respect. Those are the stories I actually know, from my own life, and those are the stories I’m going to tell.” — Dirk Powell


Photo credit: Joan Baez

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LISTEN: Dirk Powell,
LISTEN: Dirk Powell,