See biography by A. H. Fox Strangways and M. Karpeles (rev. ed. 1967).
The revival of the Morris dances started when Mary Neal, the organiser of the Esperance Girls' Club in London, used Sharp's (then unpublished) notations to teach the traditional dances to the club's members in 1905. Their enthusiasm for the dances persuaded Sharp to publish his notations in the form of his Morris Books, starting in 1907.
Between 1911 and 1913 Sharp published a three-volume work, The Sword Dances of Northern England, which described the obscure and near-extinct Rapper sword dance of Northumbria and Long Sword dance of Yorkshire. This led to the revival of both traditions in their home areas, and later elsewhere.
At a time when state-sponsored mass public schooling was in its infancy, Sharp published song books intended for use by teachers and children in the then-being-formulated music curriculum. These song books often included arrangements of songs he had collected with piano accompaniment composed by Sharp himself, arrangements intended for choral singing. Although, it has been alleged that had they heard them, traditional singers (who in England virtually always sang a cappella) might well have found Sharp's piano parts distracting, the arrangements with piano accompaniment did help Sharp in his goal disseminating the sound of English folk melodies to children in schools, thus acquainting them with their national musical heritage.
The schools project also explains Sharp's bowdlerization of some of the song texts, which, at least among English folk songs, were often full of erotic double entendres, when not outright bawdy and or violent. However, he did accurately note such lyrics, which given the prudery of the Victorian era could never have been openly published, in his field notebooks, thus preserving them for posterity. An example of the transformation of a formerly erotic song into one suitable for all audiences is the well-known "The Keeper." In the later twentieth century, some folk song scholars, such as Dave Harker, Vic Gammon, and Georgina Boyes, have accused Sharp of dishonest distortion in doing this. These "revisionist," scholars, were doubtless in part motivated by an understandable reaction to the haigiographical treatment of Sharp in the first half of the twentieth century. Dave Harker's harsh criticisms of Sharp (and those of his "revisionsist" followers), however, reflect an idiosyncratic Trotskyist Marxist framework that views any and all folk song collecting, scholarship, and attempts at revival as malign forms of appropriation and exploitation by the bourgeoisie of the working class. The writings of these British writers (and by extension their adherents in the U.S., such as David Whisnant, Benjamin Filene, and Robert Christgau) are now themselves in turn coming under scrutiny as overly harsh, exaggerated, distorted, and unjust (see Mike Yates' "Jumping to Conclusions" ("Enthusiasms" No. 36 (2003) Musical Traditions) and C. J. Bearman' "Cecil Sharp in Somerset, Some Reflections on the Work of Dave Harker," Folklore April, 2002).
Sharp's work coincided with a period of nationalism in classical music, the idea being to reinvigorate and give distinctiveness to English classical composition by grounding it in the characteristic melodic patterns and recognizable tone intervals and ornaments of its national folk music. Among the composers who took up this goal was Ralph Vaughan Williams, who carried out his own field work in folk song in Norfolk. The use of folk songs and dance melodies and motifs in classical music to inject vitality and excitement, is of course as old as "La Folia" and Marin Marais' "Bells of St. Genevieve" ("Sonnerie de Ste-Geneviève du Mont-de-Paris"), but the attempt to give music a sense of place was novel to nineteenth-century Romanticism and its concommitant invention of Historicism.
In 1911 Sharp founded the English Folk Dance Society which promoted the traditional dances through workshops held nationwide, and which later merged with the Folk Song Society in 1932 to form the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The current London headquarters of the EFDSS is named Cecil Sharp House in his honour.
During the years of the First World War, Sharp found it difficult to support himself through his customary efforts at lecturing and writing, and decided to make an extended visit to the United States. The visit, made with his collaborator Maud Karpeles during the years 1916–1918, was a great success. Large audiences came to hear Sharp lecture about folk music, and Sharp also took the opportunity to do field work on English folk songs that had survived in the more remote regions of the southern Appalachian Mountains, pursuing a line of research pioneered by Olive Dame Campbell. Traveling through the mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, Sharp and Karpeles recorded a treasure trove of folk songs, many using the pentatonic scale and many in versions quite different from those Sharp had collected in rural England. Generally, Sharp recorded the tunes, while Karpeles was responsible for the words.
Sharp was greatly struck by the dignity, courtesy, and natural grace of the people who welcomed him and Karpeles in the Appalachians, and he defended their values and their way of life in print.
Sharp's work in promoting English folk song dance traditions in the USA is carried on by the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS).
Maud Karpeles lived on for many decades after Sharp, and gradually succeeded in converting the collected Sharp manuscript materials into massive, well-organized volumes. These books are now out of print, but can be found in some libraries.
For a sampling of English folk songs as they emerged from Sharp's editorial pen along with his piano accompaniments, see:
Sharp also wrote up his opinions and theories about folk song in an influential volume:
The following is a biography of Cecil Sharp: