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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Maggie Greenwald
Produced by Richard Miller
Written by Maggie Greenwald
Starring Janet McTeer
Michael Davis
Michael Goodwin
Jane Adams
E. Katherine Kerr
Emmy Rossum
Pat Carroll
Music by David Mansfield
Cinematography Enrique Chediak
Editing by Keith Reamer
Distributed by Trimark Pictures
Release date(s) January 25, 2000
Running time 109 min
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,800,000 (estimated)
Gross revenue $3,050,934

Songcatcher is a 2000 drama film, directed by Maggie Greenwald. It is about a musicologist researching and collecting Appalachian folk music in the mountains of western North Carolina. Although Songcatcher is a fictional film, it is loosely based on the work of Olive Dame Campbell, founder of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.



Set in 1907, Dr. Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer), a professor of musicology, impulsively visits her sister Eleanor (Jane Adams), who runs a struggling rural school in Appalachia, following a denial in a promotion at the university where she teaches. There, she makes a discovery of her lifetime – a treasure trove of ancient Scots-Irish / Ulster Scots ballads, songs that have been handed down every generation, preserved intact by the seclusion of the mountains. With the goal of securing her promotion, Lily ventures into the most isolated areas of the mountains to collect the songs. With the help of a musically talented orphan named Deladis Slocumb (Emmy Rossum) who has made her home with Eleanor, Lily begins collecting the ballads, and soon finds herself increasingly enchanted - not only by the rugged purity of the music, but also by the raw courage and endurance of the local people as they carve out meaningful lives against the harshest conditions. But she is unable to help and becomes privy to the struggles to save their land from Earl Giddens, who is working for coal magnate Ambrose McFarland (Steve Boles). At the same time, Lily finds herself troubled by a crisis of conscience when she finds that Eleanor is engaged in a lesbian love affair with her co-teacher at the school.

Experiencing a slow sea change both in her perception of the mountain people as savage and uncouth and of her sister's sexuality as immoral, Lily begins to demonstrate the changes in her outlook. Emphatic that the culture of the mountain deserves to be shared with outsiders lest it be destroyed completely, she attends a garden party with Reverend Merriweather (Jim Hayes), Ambrose and his wife Clementine (Rhoda Griffis), a local arts and crafts collector. Lily convinces Clementine to purchase several paintings of mountain landscape and vegetation done by a local, hoping that more collectors will follow in this line and the cultural heritage of the mountain will become known.

She meets Tom Bledsoe (Aidan Quinn) - a handsome, hardened war veteran and talented musician - and, despite some initial resentment, eventually falls into a love affair with him.

In the final act, Fate discovers Eleanor and her lover, Harriet, kissing in the woods near the schoolhouse. That night, Fate and another mountain native set fire to the school building, burning Eleanor, Harriet, and Deladis out of their home and destroying all of Lily's transcriptions of the ballads and all her phonograph recordings.

Lily is faced with the choice as to whether she will resume the hard work of collecting all the ballads once again, or whether she will try to bring the mountain music to the rest of the country more directly. She, Tom, and Deladis decide to go down the mountain to make and sell phonograph recordings of mountain music. Meanwhile, Cyrus Whittle, a recently-hired professor from England, comes to the area on a collection foray of his own, ensuring that the ballads will be recorded in the manner that Lily had originally intended as well.


Actor/Actress Character name
Janet McTeer Professor Lily Penleric
Michael Davis Dean Arthur Pembroke
Michael Goodwin Professor Wallace Aldrich
Greg Russell Cook Fate Honeycutt
Jane Adams Elna Penleric
E. Katherine Kerr Harriet Tolliver
Emmy Rossum Deladis Slocumb
Pat Carroll Viney Butler
Stephanie Roth Haberle Alice Kincaid
Aidan Quinn Tom Bledsoe
Bart Hansard Hilliard
Erin Blake Clanton Polly
David Patrick Kelly Earl Giddens
Kristin Hall Isabel
Michael Harding Reese Kincaid
Taj Mahal Dexter Speaks
Muse Watson Parley Gentry
Iris DeMent Rose Gentry
Rhoda Griffis Clementine McFarland
Steve Boles Ambrose McFarland
Jim Hayes Reverend Merriweather
Josh Goforth Will
Don Pedi Barn Band - Dulcimer
Sheila Kay Adams Barn Band - Banjo
Bobby McMillon Singer at Barn Dance
Hazel Dickens Singer at Barn Dance
Andrea Powell Josie Moore
Danny Nelson Uncle Cratis
David Ducey Postman Johnson
Steven Sutherland Cyrus Whittle
Shawn Lindsay Dancer at Barn Dance



Songcatcher: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture
Soundtrack by various artists
Released January 23, 2001
Genre Country
Film score
Label Vanguard
Producer David Mansfield
Professional reviews

The film's score was written by David Mansfield, who also assembled a roster of female country music artists to perform mostly traditional mountain ballads. Some of the songs are contemporary arrangements, and some are played in the traditional Appalachian music style. The artists include Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Maria McKee, Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch and Patty Loveless. Singers Emmy Rossum, Iris DeMent, and Hazel Dickens, who appeared in the film, are also featured on the soundtrack.

The soundtrack album inspired the 2002 follow-up album by Vanguard Records, Songcatcher II: The Tradition That Inspired the Movie, that compiled recordings of some of the songs selected for the film as performed by authentic Appalachian artists. The recordings are mostly from the 1960s, out of the Vanguard vaults.


Track listing

  1. "Fair and Tender Ladies" (Traditional, performed by Rosanne Cash) - 2:56
  2. "Pretty Saro" (Traditional, performed by Iris DeMent) - 2:54
  3. "When Love Is New" (Composed and performed by Dolly Parton) - 5:16
  4. "Barbara Allen" (Traditional, performed by Emmy Rossum) - 0:43
  5. "Barbara Allen" (Traditional, performed by Emmylou Harris) - 4:35
  6. "Moonshiner" (Traditional, performed by Allison Moorer) - 3:34
  7. "Sounds of Loneliness" (Composed by Patty Ramey, [performed by Patty Loveless) - 3:44
  8. "All My Tears" (Composed and performed by Julie Miller) - 3:11
  9. "Mary of the Wild Moor" (Traditional, performed by Sara Evans) - 3:51
  10. "Wayfaring Stranger (Traditional, Maria McKee) - 3:24
  11. "Wind and Rain" (Traditional, performed by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings) - 3:25
  12. "The Cuckoo Bird" (Traditional, performed by Deana Carler) - 3:33
  13. "Score Suite # 1" (Composed by David Mansfield) - 5:01
  14. "Conversation With Death" (Traditional, performed by Hazel Dickens) - 3:01
  15. "Score Suite # 2" (Composed by David Mansfield) - 4:58
  16. "Single Girl" (Traditional, performed by Pat Carroll) - 1:04

Further reading

  • Scarborough, Dorothy (1937). A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains: American Folk Songs of British Ancestry. New York, New York: Columbia University Press.

External links


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