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 home >> about the center >> annual reports >> 1997 annual report

American Folklife Center Annual Report for 1997

Alan Jabbour, Director

Folklife Center Board Seeks Permanent Authorization

The American Folklife Center ended Fiscal Year 1996 by securing a new congressional authorization, which will expire September 30, 1998. In an effort to facilitate long-range planning and enhance the Center's ability to raise private funds for its programmatic initiatives, the Center's Board of Trustees has launched an initiative to achieve permanent authorization. Board members are asking hundreds of Center supporters from around the country to contact their congressional representatives and enlist their support to that purpose. Early in Fiscal 1998, the Librarian of Congress will write to the chairs of the House and Senate Oversight committees endorsing permanent authorization for the Center and requesting that legislation to that effect be introduced in both houses.

The National Digital Library

The Northern California Folk Music Collection, assembled by Sidney Robertson Cowell for the Works Projects Administration, made its online debut in June at the American Library Association Conference. It is the first collection from the Archive of Folk Culture to become part of the National Digital Library (NDL). With the online title "California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the '30s," the collection includes over eight hundred recordings, accompanying photographs, and field documentation--the largest body of sound recordings the Library has made available through the Internet to date. The collection received over 50,000 hits a month, for its first two months online.

The Folklife Center has made a major commitment to the National Digital Library, and the Library has responded generously to Center efforts. During June, July, and August, four Library of Congress Junior Fellows and two temporary processing archivists worked at the Center through funding provided by Library Services in order to facilitate collection processing and the preparation of materials for NDL. In February, NDL provided a digital conversion specialist to the Center to prepare Folk Archive collections for online presentation; and, in September, NDL announced that it will provide a second digital specialist to work at the Center.

Folk Archive's Historic Recordings Released

Rounder Records, in cooperation with the American Folklife Center and the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, has launched a major project to reissue about twenty compact disc versions of the Folk Archive's historic field documentary recordings. Three CDs are now available: Songs and Ballads of the Anthracite Miners, Negro Blues and Hollers, and Railroad Songs and Ballads. Meanwhile, during the final week in September, Rykodisc released two new compact discs in the Endangered Music series: The Discoteca Collection: Missao de Pesquisas Folkloricas (RCD 10403) and L.H. Correa de Azevedo: Music of Ceara and Minas Gerais (RCD 10404). Both were produced by Alan Jabbour and Mickey Hart from Folk Archive field recordings made in Brazil before World War II.

Ongoing Projects and Activities

Montana Heritage Project

On May 14, a group of students and teachers representing the Montana Heritage Project came to Washington, D.C., to meet with Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and the project's benefactors, Art Ortenberg and Liz Claiborne. In the days that followed, they toured the Library and examined Montana-related materials at the Center and in the Prints and Photographs and Geography and Map divisions. They also visited with Senators Max Baucus and Conrad Burns and Congressman Rick Hill. On June 23-28, the third annual teachers workshop (the "Next Generation Institute") took place at Carroll College in Helena. Alan Jabbour attended and provided a keynote speech at a special luncheon for the participants in the workshop. In June the Liz Claiborne/Art Ortenberg Foundation provided $169,000 in funding for the third year of the Montana Heritage Project, which has been sponsored by the American Folklife Center, the Center for the Book, the Montana Historical Society, and various Montana State agencies.

Federal Cylinder Project

The Federal Cylinder Project was launched by the Center in 1979 to preserve, document, and make available to researchers the cultural heritage of diverse groups (particularly American Indians) documented on cylinder recordings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Center folklife specialist Judith Gray has been awarded a grant of $13,000, provided by Abe and Julienne Krasnoff (through the James H. Billington Fund) to curators at the Library for their own special projects. The Center will use the money to hire additional reference assistance for six months, so as to free Gray to work on the Federal Cylinder Project. She will continue the process of cataloging several major collections, principally Navajo and Pueblo.

Parsons Fund for Ethnography

At the annual meeting of the Parsons Fund for Ethnography Committee, held in January 1997, James Hardin was elected chair. On March 26, the committee met to review applications for the 1997 award. The committee made two awards, one for $1,000 to William Dargan of Durham, North Carolina, for a proposal to index, transcribe, and analyze black lining-out hymn performances in the collections of the American Folklife Center, and another for $200 to Lucy Long of Bowling Green, Ohio, to identify the early-to-mid-twentieth-century repertories and playing styles associated with the Appalachian plucked dulcimer.

Rivers of America Project

Center folklorists Peter Bartis and David Taylor assisted the Center for the Book with its Rivers of America Project by interviewing authors and illustrators who contributed to the "Rivers of America" book series launched in 1937 by publisher Ferrar & Rinehart. On February 3-4, Taylor interviewed Thomas Clark in Lexington, Kentucky; on February 13-14, he interviewed Lew Dietz in Portland, Maine; and on March 28, he interviewed James Taylor Dunn in San Antonio, Texas. On March 6, Peter Bartis interviewed author William Ellis in Cleveland, Ohio; and on March 19, he interviewed William Wellons in Portsmouth, Virginia. The books in the series are rich in local folklore and custom, and the interviews have been added to the Archive of Folk Culture.

Alliance for American Quilts

The Folklife Center has been serving in an advisory capacity to the Alliance for American Quilts for several years. On November 2-3, 1996, Alan Jabbour and David Taylor served as instructors for "Boxes Under the Beds," a workshop on quilt documentation designed by Taylor and cosponsored by the Center and the Alliance. Approximately one hundred people from various parts of the country and abroad participated in the workshop, held in Houston, Texas. On March 15, 1997, Taylor was the featured speaker for the first "Quilt Query" telephone information service provided by the Alliance. On August 1, the Center hosted a planning meeting of the Alliance at the Library of Congress, to discuss a proposal for a grant to support the development of an electronic index of quilts and related topics.

Network Development

Stephanie Hall has completed a general revision of the Center's web site, with improved graphics, improved searching capabilities, and additional materials. To see the revised web site, the URL is

The entire text of the 1997 revised Folklife Sourcebook: A Directory of Folklife Resources in the United States, by Peter Bartis, has been made available online. This edition of the Sourcebook is the largest ever produced and will be made available as an online resource only, where it will be possible to expand and update the data. Other enhancements to the web site include publications such as an essay on Halloween, pages describing services for each state, and various finding aids. The subject guide to ethnographic resources has been expanded, and has become a popular search tool for Center constituents. Pages have been added to the Web site that permit users to read about Center recording projects with Rounder Records and Rykodisc and to link to those companies's web sites to order our recordings.

Stephanie Hall served on the Integrated Library System Team, which wrote a proposal for soliciting bids from commerical vendors for an intergrated library system. She continues to represent Public Service Collections on the Library Services Internet Team and the Library's Internet Operations Team. Hall co-chaired a committee formed to provide recommendations and develop experimental tools to improve navigation and subject access for the Library's Web site.


The Center has obtained through purchase from the Alan Lomax Archives a collection of six single-faced 78-rpm test pressings of legendary blues musician Robert Johnson. These unique recordings contain six songs recorded by Johnson for Columbia Records on November 23, l936, in San Antonio, and on June 20, 1937, in Dallas. Included are a rendition of "Drunken-Hearted Man," which was never issued on 78, and a rendition of "Traveling Riverside Blues," which was never issued on 78, LP, or CD. The purchase price will be used by the Lomax family to generate an inventory of the Alan Lomax collection in New York City. The Center is negotiating with Anna Lomax Chairetakis and her representatives to acquire the Alan Lomax Archives, a large collection of material documenting folk music, dance, and lore from the United States and abroad, accumulated over the years by the former head of the Archive of Folk Culture.

Vida Chenoweth, professor emerita of music at Wheaton College, has donated a portion of her large collection of audio and visual recordings representing many musical traditions from around the world. This year's donation includes sixteen audiocassettes recorded in Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides) in the South Pacific from 1981 to 1995; an audiocassette recorded in Papua New Guinea (East Sepik Province) in 1994; five audiocassettes and seven color slides of the Sabaot collected in Kenya by William Robert Hodges in 1987; five audiocassettes and four color slides of the Daasanech collected in northern Kenya and southwestern Ethiopia by Brian E. Schrag in 1987; six audiocassettes of the Rendille recorded in Kenya in 1987; twelve audiotapes and two audiocassettes of the Auyana-Korena recorded in Papua New Guinea by Dr. Chenoweth in 1969, 1971 and 1978; and three audiocassettes recorded in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific by the donor in 1996.

The Center has acquired from art historian Antoni Sledziewski of Warsaw, Poland, sixteen original Polish paper cut-outs (wycinanki) created by various artists, and two accompanying monographs about the subject. The collection was transmitted by former Center staff member Magdalena Nowacka-Jannotta, of Tucson, Arizona.

The Center has also augmented its existing collection by acquiring thirty new examples of Literatura de Cordel, including one about Thomas Jefferson and the Library of Congress, from the Library's office in Brazil.

Arrearage Reduction

The assignment of four Junior Fellows and two temporary archivists to the Center during the summer months facilitated collection processing as well as the task of preparing collections for NDL projects. Archivist Nora Yeh coordinated both efforts. Collections processed this year include the James Madison Carpenter Collection of British folklore, a world famous collection of folksong and folk plays; the Italian-Americans in the West Project Collection; the Blue Ridge Folklife Project Collection; and the Lowell Folklife Project Collection.

Figures for processing collections for 1997 are:

Additions: 59,178
Clearances: 106,855
Total Arrearage Remaining: 785,182


RECORDINGS: The first three CDs in a series from Rounder Records to reissue the Archive's historic recordings were released this year: Songs and Ballads of the Anthracite Miners, Negro Blues and Hollers, and Railroad Songs and Ballads.

During the final week in September, Rykodisc released two new compact discs in the Endangered Music series: The Discoteca Collection: Missao de Pesquisas Folkloricas (RCD 10403) and L.H. Correa de Azevedo: Music of Ceara and Minas Gerais (RCD 10404). Both were produced from Folk Archive field recordings made in Brazil before World War II.

MONOGRAPHS: In December, the Library published Many Nations: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Indian and Alaska Native Peoples of the United States. Judith Gray wrote the entries for the Folklife Center, the Music Division, and Recorded Sound Reference, as well as sidebars on "Songs and Dances," "Indian Languages and Tribal Names," and "Fur Trade." The volume also includes many color and black-and-white photographs from the Center's collections.

SERIALS: The summer-fall 1996 issue of Folklife Center News, edited by James Hardin, with part 2 of "The American Folklife Center: A Twenty-Year Retrospective," by Alan Jabbour; the winter-spring 1997 issue of Folklife Center News, with an article by Mary Hufford entitled "American Ginseng and the Idea of the Commons," along with articles on the Center's twentieth-anniversary celebration and the Parsons Fund; and the summer-fall 1997 issue of Folklife Center News, with articles on the Montana Heritage Project, by Michael Umphrey; the meeting of folklore department heads, by David Taylor; and other activities.

FINDING AIDS: Finding and Reference Aids Prepared for the Archive of Folk Culture, by Joseph C. Hickerson and Carol B. Moran, is a revised and somewhat condensed version of the "Inventory" of finding and reference aids that has been available since the 1960s; and Ohio Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture, compiled by interns Christopher W. Alberding and Beth A. Sternheimer, is number 23 in the "LC Folk Archive Finding Aid" series.

Public Events

February 5: Nora Yeh presented an illustrated lecture entitled "Southern Sound: The Nanyin Performing Tradition of China," part of the Center's lecture series "Notes from the Field."

February 14: the Center cohosted a reception at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library for the winners of the Aesop Prize. The winners are selected by the Children's Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society.

February 27: Joseph C. Hickerson and Catherine Hiebert Kerst spoke in the National Digital Library Visitors Center on the Archive's resources, the Center's Webpage, and the California Folk Music Project collection to approximately ninety registrants for a "Pre-Conference Folklife Day" in connection with the annual conferences of the Association of String Teachers, the Eastern Division of the Music Educators National Conference, and the Organization of American Kodaly Educators.

March 5: Catherine Hiebert Kerst presented an illustrated lecture entitled "New Deal Woman: Sidney Robertson Cowell and the WPA California Folk Music Project," in celebration of National Women's History Month.

April 3 and 4: the Center hosted a meeting of selected heads and representatives of major folklore departments, along with members of the American Folklore Society's Executive Board, to discuss the future of folklife studies. The meeting was held at the request of the society's president, Dr. John Roberts.

April 9 and 10: four Center staff members participated in a symposium, sponsored by the Library's Center for the Book, concerning the "Rivers of America" book series begun sixty years ago by the publishing firm Ferrar & Rinehart. Peter Bartis and David Taylor assisted with preliminary planning for the event, documented the proceedings with video and still photography, and recorded interviews with some of the "Rivers of America" authors and illustrators in attendance. At the opening reception, Alan Jabbour and Joseph C. Hickerson performed musical selections about American rivers.

July 29: the Folklife Center, in conjunction with the Center for the Book, hosted the premier of the film With Our Hands, a documentary by the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen about its members' work on the construction of notable buildings (including the Library of Congress) and monuments in Washington, D.C. Thea Austen and David Taylor helped organize the event; Alan Jabbour offered opening remarks.


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