Toward a Mass Culture, 1890-1930
Advances in technology and the incorporation of business around the turn of the nineteenth century gave rise to an increasingly homogenized mass culture. The Lomaxes were especially sensitive to the impact of this mass culture on distinctive regional folk traditions in Texas and in the South. Observations such as the following speak to the power and speed with which mass culture was disseminated, changing American culture. They can be found by doing a full-text search on radio, popular, and jazz.
We are finding some new stuff and re-recording some of the last of the old. The gang work songs, sung in wild abandon, seem definitely gone. I can't find 'em anymore after only 2 years. And the old spirituals are following: Chief causes, I think, the radio and education.
Hattie Ellis is a blues singer who is very popular on the radio program sent out from the Texas State Penitentiary . . . in one week Hattie received 3,000 "fan" letters . . . Hattie's singing is fast becoming "throaty" as she strives to imitate the professional "blues" singers.
Have students listen to Hattie Ellis's songs and ask them to describe the difference between them and other blues songs in the collection. Do they find evidence of Lomax's assertion that she is imitating professional singers? Students may want to search for Web sites outside of the Library of Congress to find out more about popular blues music from the thirties.
. . . the pupils are all of Mexican families . . . It is interesting that when Mrs. Lomax asked them how to spell certain titles they shook their heads, saying that they could not spell Spanish words. Their written and spoken school work is all done in the English language.