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The Kingston Trio “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley”

Written by on June 10, 2024

“The Story Behind “Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley”

“Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley” is a classic American folk song that has captivated audiences for generations. The song, also known as “Tom Dooley,” tells the tragic tale of Tom Dula (pronounced “Dooley” in the local dialect), a Confederate veteran who was convicted of murdering his lover, Laura Foster, in 1866 in Wilkes County, North Carolina.

Historical Background

The story begins with Tom Dula’s return from the Civil War. He resumed his relationship with Anne Foster Melton, his childhood sweetheart, despite her being married to another man. However, Tom also became romantically involved with Laura Foster, Anne’s cousin. The love triangle took a dark turn when Laura was brutally murdered, having been stabbed to death with a large knife.

Tom Dula was arrested and tried for Laura’s murder. Despite his claims of innocence, he was convicted and hanged on May 1, 1868. The case drew significant attention due to the sensational nature of the crime and the involvement of multiple lovers.

The Song’s Origins

Shortly after Tom Dula’s execution, a local poet named Thomas Land wrote a song about the tragic event, cementing its place in American folklore. The song has been passed down through generations and became part of the Appalachian “sweetheart murder ballads” tradition.

In the 1920s, the song was recorded by G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter and later by Frank Proffitt, who learned it from his aunt, Nancy Prather. Nancy’s parents had known both Laura Foster and Tom Dula, adding a layer of authenticity to the song’s narrative.

The Kingston Trio’s Revival

The song gained widespread popularity in 1958 when The Kingston Trio recorded their version of “Tom Dooley.” Their rendition reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and was in the top 10 on the Billboard R&B chart. The Kingston Trio’s version of the song has sold over six million records. It was selected as one of the American Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the National Endowment for the Arts, and Scholastic Inc.

The Kingston Trio’s success with “Tom Dooley” brought the song to a new generation of listeners and solidified its place in American music history. The song’s haunting melody and tragic lyrics resonate with audiences today.



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