Ballads what Bob Dylan, a Boxer from New Jersey, 80's hair bands, and church bombings in Alabama have in common

Ballads are a popular form of poetry that is analyzed and discussed due to its interesting and controversial concepts and poetic form. The word Ballad comes from the French word ballares which means "dance songs" and also where we get the word ballet from.

The popularity of ballads actually began in Europe around the medieval period and worked its way to the Americans in the later 19th century. Ballads continued to gain popularity into the late 20th century in pop music with metal and hair bands from 80's introducing power ballads or love ballads as a single, or "one off" tracks, to attract soft rock fans. "Never Say Goodbye" by Bon Jovi, among many others, has been played at every Prom ever since 1989, and chances are you danced to it with your 6th grade crush in the most awkward fashion at your middle school end of the year dance.

Never say goodbye, never say goodbye You and me and my old friends Hoping it would never end Never say goodbye, never say goodbye Holdin' on, we got to try Holdin' on to never say goodbye

Conventions of Ballads

Ballads were originally created to accompany expressive dance and were sang by the performers in time with that dance. The lyrics, usually stories that explained an aspect of a specific culture or history of a people, were then separated from the dance and passed down from generation to generation orally.

The poetic form of ballads are plot driven and tell a narrative tale that builds up to a dramatic ending. Ballads cover a variety of subject matter, but mostly concern one or more of the following: love, religion, personal tragedy, crime, and politics. Ballads also have a very specific rhyme scheme with ABABBCBC being the most common. This is more of a guideline rather than a rule; however, as some ballads break away from this scheme.

"Here Comes the Story of The Hurricane"

When it comes to the modern interpretation of the ballad, no other song has done more for style than "The Hurricane" by Bob Dylan. The ballad is based off of the life story of Rubin"Hurricane" Carter, a boxer from Paterson, NJ who was falsely accused and wrong convicted of a triple homicide in 1966.

After originally being arrested on the night of the murder because they fit the description of the suspects ("two Negroes in a white car"), Rubin Carter and John Artis were charged with the murders of three patrons at Lafayette Bar & Grill in Paterson, NJ after two eye witnesses, Alfred Bello and Arthur D. Bradley, made positive identifications of the men. Even though there was no evidence linking Carter and Artis to the crime, they were both found guilty of the triple murder and sentenced to three life prison terms.

The story of "The Hurricane" was brought into the limelight by many social and political activists of the time, one being the wildly popular singer and songwriter Bob Dylan. Dylan penned "The Hurricane" as a way of bringing attention to the social injustice he felt was put upon a man solely because of the color of his skin.

The story of Rubin Carter's life was also made into a film starring Denzel Washington as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. You can learn more about the life of Rubin Carter here.

You can listen to "The Hurricane" below and heard the conventions of a ballad used throughout the song (WARNING: Language).

"Bombingham, Alabama"

The 1960's in the United States was a tumultuous time. Around the same time that Rubin Carter was fighting for his life, in the south, the Civil Right movement was in full swing and often met with opposition. Protests and demonstrations (many led by Dr. Martin Luther King himself) turned violent and a string of bombings targeting African-American churches in Birmingham, Alabama brought the struggle of the Civil Rights movement into every American home. Watch the clip below to get some background on the events surrounding the bombings in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 and the story of Denise McNair.

"The Ballad of Birmingham" - Go to Google Classroom to complete the assignment for Dudley Randall's poem.


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