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Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of "The House of the Rising Sun" is uncertain. Musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake of the 18th century, and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting.There is also a mention of a house-like pub called the "Rising Sun" in the classic "Black Beauty" tale, published in 1877, which was set in London, England, and which may or may not have influenced the song's title.
The oldest known existing recording is by Appalachian artists Clarence "Tom" Ashley and Gwen Foster, who recorded it for Vocalion Records in 1934. Ashley said he had learned it from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley.