I Wonder as I Wander: The Life of John Jacob Niles


I Wonder as I Wander: The Life of John Jacob Niles

Access Type

Online access to this book is restricted to the University of Kentucky community.


Access this book

Download Full Text


Louisville native John Jacob Niles (1892–1980) is considered to be one of America's most influential musicians. As a composer and balladeer, Niles drew inspiration from the deep well of traditional Appalachian and African American folk songs. At the age of 16 Niles wrote one of his most enduring tunes, “Go 'Way from My Window,” basing it on a song fragment from a black farm worker. This iconic song has been performed by folk artists ever since and may even have inspired the opening line of Bob Dylan's “It Ain't Me Babe.” This book offers a rich portrait of the musician's character and career. Using Niles's own accounts from his journals, notebooks, and unpublished autobiography, the book tracks his rise from farm boy to songwriter and folk collector extraordinaire. Niles was especially interested in documenting the voices of his fellow World War I soldiers, the people of Appalachia, and the spirituals of African Americans. In the 1920s he collaborated with noted photographer Doris Ulmann during trips to Appalachia, where he transcribed, adapted, and arranged traditional songs and ballads such as “Pretty Polly” and “Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair.”

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-2598-5 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-3981-4 (epub version)




John Jacob Niles, Composer, Balladeer, Folk songs, African American, Music, Musician


Appalachian Studies | Cultural History | Music | United States History


Foreword by Rick Kogan.