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Agriculture is another traditional mainstay of Rhode Island’s economy and culture. As part of the 1979 Rhode Island Folklife Project, American Folklife Center fieldworker Gerri Johnson interviewed apple grower Frieda Steere about her childhood on a Rhode Island farm in the 1920s and 1930s, and her marriage to a man from Greenville whose family owned Steere Orchards, the state’s oldest and largest apple orchard.
In track six, she talks about her own life and recounts a history of Rhode Island orchards and the families that owned them. Information about important historical events often comes up unexpectedly during oral history interviews. In track seven, Mrs. Steere vividly recalls surviving the infamous 1938 Hurricane. Select this link to view a photograph related to this selection. Used by permission of H. James Steere. Rights and permissions.
The American Folklife Center’s Local Legacies Project (1999-2000) was undertaken to celebrate the Library of Congress’s bicentennial and record a “snapshot” of local traditions and celebrations throughout America at the turn of the millennium. In 2000, the Librarian of Congress encouraged each member of the U.S. Congress to have people in their states and districts document activities, sites and events that reflect their community’s cultural heritage. The resulting photographs, recordings, and community cultural information are deposited in the American Folklife Center's archive.
This sample is an excerpt of a celebration of “Gaspee Days” in Warwick Rhode Island’s Pawtuxet Village. Documented in 1993 by a local television station, this community-based festival began in 1963 to commemorate the running aground and subsequent burning of the HMS Gaspee, a British revenue schooner on June 9, 1772, during an era of hostilities that ultimately led to the American Revolution. The excerpt features fife-and-drum bands, a deeply-rooted community tradition in Rhode Island and coastal New England. Used by permission of Cox Communications. Rights and permissions.
Visit the Local Legacies Project for more examples from this collection.
Track 9. Interview with Eric and Ella Thomas Sekatau, Rhode Island Folklife Project Collection, 1979. [AFC 1991/022:AFS 22,329]
When European settlers arrived in the early seventeenth century, Rhode Island was home to members of the Narragansett, Niantic, and Wampanoag nations. Descendants of these people still make their homes in Rhode Island.
As part of the 1979 Rhode Island Folklife Project, American Folklife Center fieldworker Tom Burns interviewed husband and wife Eric and Ella Thomas Sekatau, members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Charlestown, Rhode Island. In this excerpt recorded in the tribal longhouse, they describe the “August Meeting,” an annual picnic with ancient roots, which serves as both a social gathering and an opportunity to discuss more serious tribal issues. The couple also talk about their church and its importance in the retention of the Narragansett language, and Native American foodways. This is an excellent example of how important cultural information is often remembered and orally transmitted by members of a community through stories and memories. Used by permission of Dr. Ella Thomas Sekatau. Rights and permissions.
Track 10. Interview with Romeo Berthiaume on French Canadian soirées. Rhode Island Folklife Project Collection, 1979. [AFC 1991/022:AFS 22,358]
Track 11. Romeo Berthiaume sings "La Soupe aux Pois." Rhode Island Folklife Project Collection, 1979. [AFC 1991/022:AFS 22,358]
In 1790, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was the site of America’s first textile mill and by the nineteenth century, the state was among the most industrialized in the United States. Mill work attracted a large number of immigrants. Many of these new residents were French Canadians from nearby Québec, who brought with them their songs, foods, and traditions. During the 1979 Rhode Island Folklife Project, fieldworker Gerri Johnson interviewed Woonsocket resident Romeo Berthiaume, who was well known for his dedication to the preservation of French Canadian music and culture. Johnson visited Berthiaume at his family home numerous times to record his vast musical repertoire and document his stories of and recollections about French Canadian life in Rhode Island. In this excerpt, he discusses traditional “soirées” — parties during which participants would take turns performing. He also sings "La Soupe aux Pois," a well-known song by Albert Larrieu (1872-1925) about pea soup, a popular, traditional Québécois food. As is the case with this example, many of Larrieu's songs have entered the oral tradition. Mr. Berthiaume passed away in 1980, the year after these recordings were made. Select this link to view photographs related to this selection. Used by permission of Romeo G. Berthiaume. Rights and permissions.
Track 12. Anthony Matthews sings “Come Ye Disconsolate.” Rhode Island Folklife Project Collection, 1979. [AFC 1991/022:AFS 22,229]
Rhode Island has had a vibrant African American Community since the seventeenth century. This sample was recorded during Communion Sunday Service at the Community Baptist Church in Newport on September 2, 1979. During the Communion Sunday Service, American Folklife Center fieldworker Michael Bell documented soloist Anthony (Tony) Matthews’s moving rendition of Thomas Moore’s early nineteenth-century hymn “Come Ye Disconsolate.” Several members of the congregation responded in traditional African American style to the singer’s message and artistry. Select this link to view a photograph related to this collection. Rights and permissions.
Track 13. Interview with George Peter Ducharme. Veterans History Project Collection, 2004. [AFC/2001/001/24906]
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’s Veterans History Project (VHP) enlisted the efforts of volunteers throughout the nation to interview veterans according to The Folklife Center's guidelines, and to submit their recorded interviews to the Library for preservation. To date, VHP volunteers have conducted over 60,000 interviews. This sample comes from an interview with Korean War veteran George Peter Ducharme of Harrisville, Rhode Island, who served from 1952 to 1954 in the U.S. Army, 24th Infantry Division, in the Yangu Valley, Korea. The interviewer is Tabitha L. Marsden, who was a student at Burrillville High School in 2004 when this interview was recorded. Select this link to hear the entire interview. Used by permission of George Ducharme. Rights and permissions.
Track 14. Len Cabral tells the story of “Coyote and the Stars.” International Storytelling Collection, 1992. [AFC 2001/008: International Storytelling 88 FEST11]
In 2001, the American Folklife Center acquired the International Storytelling Collection (AFC 2001/008), the world’s largest collection of recorded performances, manuscripts, sound recordings, graphic materials, moving images, electronic media, and artifacts that relate to storytelling. The collection includes the performances of traditional storytellers at the annual National Storytelling Festival presented annually in Jonesboro, Tennessee, from 1974 to the present.
Among the artists documented is the well-known Rhode Island storyteller Len Cabral. His repertoire reflects his Cape Verdean and African heritage. In this excerpt, recorded in 1992, he opens with a Cape Verdean greeting song and then tells a American Indian story about “Coyote and the Stars.” Used by permission of Mr. Len Cabral. Rights and permissions.
As part of its continuing commitment to documenting American culture, the American Folklife Center regularly presents the Homegrown Concert Series; free public concerts, in collaboration with state and regional folklorists, highlighting traditional music and dance traditions. These performances are carefully recorded and added to the Folklfe Center's archive and website. On April 12, 2006, the Homegrown concert featured Armenian virtuoso musicians David and Levon Ayriyan from Johnston, Rhode Island. This excerpt is taken from that concert in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. Select this link for the flyer essay and the webcast of the entire Homegrown concert. Used by permission of David and Levon Ayriyan. Rights and permissions.
Track 16. Interview with Makna Men on coming from Cambodia. StoryCorps Collection, 2007. [MBX002769]
Track 17. Muriel Mackie: Childhood; Pearl Harbor; Air Raid Warden. StoryCorps Collection, 2007. [MCX002775]
In June 2007, StoryCorps’s MobileBooth East visited Providence, Rhode Island. We have selected excerpts from two interviews that reflect the diversity of stories being documented by StoryCorps and that are enriching the American Folklife Center’s narrative holdings. On track 16 Cambodian immigrant, Makna Men, is interviewed by his friend, Lindsay French, reflecting on his arrival in the United States; the challenges he and his brothers faced in assimilating; and the remarkable determination and courage of their mother, which led to their success in a new land.
On track 17, Muriel Mackie is interviewed by her son, Daniel, about her experiences growing up in Rhode Island, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and her service as an air raid warden during World War II.
These oral history interviews were recorded as part of the StoryCorps Mobile Tour. Such interviews are provided courtesy of StoryCorps (www.storycorps.net), a nationwide initiative of Sound Portraits Productions to record and collect oral history interviews. Excerpts were selected and produced by the American Folklife Center. Rights and permissions.
Track 18. Irish music performed by the Greencastle Band. Rhode Island Folklife Project Collection, 1979. [AFC 1991/022:AFS 22,251]
The Irish are one of Rhode Island’s largest immigrant groups and their descendants continue to maintain many of the traditions their ancestors brought with them to Rhode Island. One of these cultural traditions is the céilidh, an informal social gathering at which traditional music and dance are performed by and for members of the community at a public hall or restaurant. The Irish Ceilidhe Club of Rhode Island in Cranston was founded in 1956 by the local Irish community to encourage Irish-Americans to celebrate and share their cultural heritage. On November 30, 1979, as part of the American Folklife Center’s Rhode Island Folklife Project, folklorist Michael Bell documented an evening of performances, which concluded with an appearance by the local Greencastle Band. Used by permission of Mr. Ed McGuirl. Rights and permissions.
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