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Track 2. "Haul the Woodpile Down," Robert Winslow Gordon Collection [Gordon Cyl. 50 Cal. 104 B] [mp3]
Track 3. "Roll the Old Chariot Along," Robert Winslow Gordon Collection [Gordon Cyl. 50 Cal. 104 A] [mp3]
One of the Center's most important early collections was made by Robert Winslow Gordon. Gordon was a free-lance writer and a dedicated folk song collector who recorded more than 900 wax cylinders in locations that ranged from the San Francisco waterfront, to the Appalachian Mountains, to coastal Georgia. Gordon advocated strongly for the creation of an "archive of folk song" at the Library of Congress, and in 1928, the Librarian of Congress appointed him the Library's first "specialist and consultant in the field of Folk Song and Literature." Earlier, while working in California from 1917 to 1924, Gordon recorded over 300 shanties and sea songs from workers on the San Francisco waterfront, including these two energetically sung work songs. Select this link to view a photograph of the collector. (For more about Gordon and his collection, visit: Folk-Songs of America: The Robert Winslow Gordon Collection, 1922-1932). Rights and permissions.
Track 4. Alberto Mendes performs "Minha mai e pobresinha," 1939. The WPA California Folk Music Project Collection. [available in mp3, RealPlayer, and wav]
During the Great Depression, California became the destination for many Americans seeking employment and escape from the failed farms of the Dust Bowl. Federal Government agencies, including the Works Progress Administration (WPA), The Farm Security Administration (FSA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), established migrant work and training camps for thousands of desperate and displaced Americans. These agencies also supported the study and documentation of California’s long-established musical traditions, as well as those of the newly-arrived migrant workers.
Three American Folklife Center collections preserve the results of these documentation projects, including the WPA California Folk Music Project, a major research initiative which was directed by folklorist Sidney Robertson Cowell. Her research was funded by the WPA and cosponsored by the Music Department of the University of California, Berkeley and the Library of Congress (for more about this project go to California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties).
Cowell recorded the music of a remarkable number of ethnic groups throughout California. An example of the diversity she found in 1930s California is this Portuguese fado, sung by Alberto Mendes of Richmond, California on February 11, 1939. Mendes accompanied himself on the viola d'arame, a type of Portuguese guitar, which he had made himself [AFC 1940/001: AFS 3860 A1]. Select this link to view a photograph related to this selection. Rights and permissions.
Track 5. Warde Ford sings the British ballad "The Lowlands Low," 1938. [AFC 1940/001: AFS 4194 A2 & A3] [available in mp3, RealPlayer, and wav]
Track 6. Ethnographer Sidney Robertson Cowell comments on the Ford family and their songs, 1938 [AFC 1940/001: AFS 4194 A4] [available in mp3, RealPlayer, and wav]
Sidney Robertson Cowell's California fieldwork includes many traditional British ballads, including this recording of "The Lowlands Low." The singer, Warde Ford, had moved from upstate New York to Wisconsin, and finally, to California, in search of work. Ford was a talented singer who came from a singing family. He and his brothers knew an enormous number of traditional songs and ballads, and Cowell eventually recorded more than 200 of their tunes. She comments on their contributions in Track 6. These recordings were made in Central Valley, California, on December 25, 1938. These recordings are presented via the American Memory site, California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties. Select this link to view a photograph related to this selection. Rights and permissions.
Track 7. "Camel’s Caravan" performed by the Aslanian's Armenian Orchestra, 1939. [AFC 1940/001: AFS 4244 A1] [available in mp3, RealPlayer, and wav]
Another example of folksong collector and scholar Sidney Robertson Cowell's extensive contributions to the American Folklife Center's archive is this instrumental piece, "Camel's Caravan," performed by the Aslanian's Armenian Orchestra. Cowell recorded the group in Fresno, California on April 23, 1939. She was among the first collectors to recognize and document the rich ethnic diversity and vibrant musical traditions of California rapidly growing population. "Camel's Caravan" is presented via the American Memory site, California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties. Select this link to view a photograph related to this selection. Rights and permissions.
This well-known British ballad was recorded by Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin at Arvin FSA Camp, August 1, 1940.The singer, Lois Judd, is accompanied by Rosetta Spainhard. Scroll down for an overview of tracks 8-11.
This classic British ballad wassung for Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin by Mrs. O.C. Davis, and recorded on August 4, 1940, at the Shafter FSA camp. Scroll down for an overview of tracks 8-11.
This popular American fiddle tune, recorded on August 13, 1941 at the Arvin FSA Camp, features Charles Henry on fiddle, Nolan Duncan and Bernice McGinty on guitar, and F.A. Firkins playing rhythm on the bones. Scroll down for an overview of tracks 8-11.
Track 11. Camp elections at Farm Security Administration Camp, Visalia, California. [AFS 4132a1] [mp3]
Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin's disc recorder captured this vignette of resettlement camp life that would otherwise been lost. Because they were there and recording, we can still listen as Tex Pace announces the results of recent camp elections and asks for help with the Visalia FSA Camp newspaper on August 7, 1940. Scroll down for an overview of tracks 8-11.
Tracks 8 – 11: These four examples come from AFC's Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection. In 1940 and 1941, these two young folksong collectors traveled through California documenting songs, stories, and oral histories of migrant workers living in resettlement camps run by the Federal Government's Farm Security Administration (FSA) in central California. These camps assisted the huge numbers of economic refugees who traveled to California in search of work during the Great Depression. Todd and Sonkin used disc recording equipment supplied by the Archive of American Folk Song, which later became the American Folklife Center's archive. Their field recordings preserve a rich body of traditional American folk songs and instrumental music as well as stories and narratives that provide insights into daily camp life. Select this link to view a photograph related to this selection. These selections are presented via the American Memory presentation of this collection titled Voices from the Dust Bowl. Rights and permissions.
Track 12. "CCC Blues" sung by Jimmie Collins and recorded by Margaret Valiant at the Brawley Migratory Camp, 1939. [AFS 3563 A2] [mp3]
One of the Archive's most interesting early collections was compiled by Margaret Valiant, an intrepid woman who traveled widely documenting music and traditions of the American Southwest and California. During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established to employ young men, who were required to send home a significant portion of their $25 monthly salary. Many complained about the discipline and conduct expected of them, and this tune, the "CCC Blues," sung by Jimmie Collins, expresses their frustrations. Margaret Valiant recorded it for the Farm Security Administration at the Brawley Migratory Camp in 1939 (Margaret Valiant Southwest and California Recordings Collection). Rights and permissions.
Track 13. Performance of traditional Chinese "Drum Song of Fengyang," 1943. [AFS 7014 side one, song #3] [mp3]
Since 1962, California has been America's most populous state, but it has always been among the most culturally diverse. Its cultural wealth is reflected in many of the Center's collections. Chinese immigrants first came to California in the mid-1800s as a result of the gold rush, bringing their language and traditions with them. This recording of the "Drum Song of Fengyang" was made in San Francisco by Rulan Chao (Pian) and Margaret Speaks in August, 1943. In this traditional Chinese song, the wife complains about her useless husband, and the husband complains about his wife, who has big feet and cannot embroider (Chinese Music Recording Project Collection. Performer unknown). Rights and permissions.
Track 14. Selection from the Mrs. Randolph Huntington Miner / Tales of Early Pioneer Life in California Collection, 1948. [AFS 8966-8967 AFS 8966 side B] [mp3]
In addition to instrumental music and songs, the American Folklife Center actively collects oral histories and spoken narratives. The stories of Mrs. Randolph Huntington Miner, a Los Angeles socialite whose family was among the first Anglo-Americans to settle in California, were recorded at the Library of Congress in April, 1948. She shared recollections of her early life and recounted colorful stories of early pioneer life that had been passed down in her family. In this excerpt, she speaks about the influence of Hispanic and Native American cultures as well as local food and herbs. Rights and permissions.
Track 15. Filipino and Portuguese. Ethnic Broadcasting in America Project Collection. [AFS 23,021 RYA 2889];
In October 2000, the U.S. Congress passed a law directing the American Folklife Center to collect and preserve oral histories of American wartime veterans. With this mandate, the American Folklife Center launched the Veterans History Project (VHP) and enlisted the efforts of volunteers throughout the nation to record interviews with veterans according to the Center's guidelines, and then submit their interviews to the Library for preservation. To date, VHP volunteers have conducted over 60,000 interviews. (For more information and more online interviews, go to the Veterans History Project).
This recording comes from an interview with Manuel Castro Perez, who was a recent immigrant from Mexico to the United States when he enlisted in the Navy in 1943. He recalled his WWII experiences during an interview with Jesse M. Diaz in 2003. This link navigates to a page with several excerpts, as well as the entire interview. Used by permission of Mr. Manuel Castro Perez. Rights and permissions.
In 2001, the American Folklife Center acquired the International Storytelling Collection (AFC 2001/008), the world's largest collection of recorded storytelling performances. The collection includes performances of traditional storytellers recorded at the annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee, from 1974 to the present. In this example, California storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki, who is of Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and Scottish descent, tells a tale entitled "Black Hair," a ghost story about a samurai. Select this link to view a photograph related to this selection. Used by permission of Brenda Wong Aoki. Rights and permissions.
The American Folklife Center is proud to be the repository for the StoryCorps Collection of oral history interviews. Since its founding in 2003, the non-profit, New York-based StoryCorps organization has documented more than 10,000 interviews. Using recording booths and two specially outfitted mobile recording trailers that travel to cities and towns throughout the United States, StoryCorps invites pairs of people, (usually family members or lifelong friends), to interview each other and tell stories about their lives and experiences. In this excerpt from a 2006 interview recorded in San Diego, Tony McGee asks his father, Edward, about his firsthand experiences with segregation. They discuss how his father's integrated highschool football team helped the community adjust to desegregation as well as the lingering segregation Mr. McGee encountered in the South during his military service. These oral history interviews were recorded as part of the StoryCorps Mobile Tour. Such interviews are provided courtesy of StoryCorps , a nationwide initiative of Sound Portraits Productions to record and collect oral history interviews. Excerpts were selected and produced by the staff of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Rights and permissions.
To celebrate the Library of Congress’s bicentennial, the American Folklife Center's Local Legacies Project worked from 1999-2000 to record a "cultural snapshot" of traditions and celebrations throughout America at the turn of the millennium. The Librarian of Congress encouraged each member of the U.S. Congress to have people in their home states and districts document activities, sites, and events that reflected their community's cultural heritage. The resulting photographs, recordings, and local cultural information are preserved in the American Folklife Center’s archive. (For more information, go to the Local Legacies Project)
These examples are two clips from California: The first, from "Voices of the Valley: Stories of Anderson Valley Elders Collected by Anderson Valley Youth," features young Kesley Harnest interviewing newspaper owner and community activist Bruce Anderson about his life in Anderson Valley. In this section of the interview, he explains the development of the local secret language called "Boontling," or "Boont," in Boonville, the largest town in Anderson Valley. In the second recording, Boonville resident Bobby Glover provides an example of "Boont" or "Boontling." He recites "A Night Before Christmas" in Boont. Boont, which folklorists believe was invented by local youths about 1890, has been widely studied by linguists and scholars. Select this link to view a photograph related to this selection. Used by permission of Mitch Mendosa. Rights and permissions.
On September 12, 2001, the day after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93, the American Folklife Center called upon the nation's folklorists and ethnographers to collect, record, and document America's reaction. More than 200 interviews were collected, and these are already being used as a historical and cultural resource for researchers (for more information go to the September 11, 2001, Documentary Project). In this example from the collection, interviewer Kathleen Kuczynski documents Donna Hedman's reaction to the attacks. The interview was recorded in Irvine, California on November 4, 2001. Used by permission of Donna Hedman and Kathleen Kuczynski. Rights and permissions.
As part of its continuing commitment to document American culture, the American Folklife Center regularly presents free public concerts in collaboration with state and regional folklorists highlighting traditional music and dance traditions. These performances are recorded and added to the Center's archive, and made available online as part of the "Homegrown Concert Series." This selection features Chicano music from California in a concert entitled "Cantos de mi Cantón" or, in English, "Songs of My Home." The two performing groups are Agustín Lira and Alma and Quetzal. The performance was recorded at the Library of Congress on September 14, 2011.
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