Finding Aids to Individual Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/FISK UNIVERSITY MISSISSIPPI DELTA COLLECTION
Library of Congress
American Folklife Center
The Library of Congress/Fisk University Mississippi Delta Collection consists
of audio recordings, manuscript materials, and moving images. The materials
in this collection are products of a two-year joint field study conducted
by the Library of Congress and Fisk University. During the summers of 1941
and 1942, Alan Lomax, the head of the Archive of American Folksong at the
Library of Congress, teamed up with members of the faculty at Fisk University.
The goal of the partnership was to carry out an intensive field study documenting
the folk culture of a specific community of African Americans in the Mississippi
Delta region. The rapidly urbanizing commercial area of Coahoma County,
Mississippi, with its county seat in Clarksdale, became the geographical
focus of the study. The field workers recorded secular and religious music,
sermons, children's games, jokes, folktales, interviews, and dances. The
materials from this field trip in the Library's holdings include 521 manuscript
pages, 96 phonographic discs, and 5 minutes and 33 seconds of motion picture
Access and Reproduction: Access to the collection is
unrestricted. Duplication of sound recordings and motion pictures may be
governed by copyright.
Library of Congress Subject Headings: Afro-American children's
games, Afro-American churches, Afro-American dance, Afro- American Family
Religious Life, Afro-Americans Folklore, Afro- American musicians, Afro-American
preaching, Afro- Americans Religion, Afro-Americans Social life and customs,
Afro- Americans Songs and music, Ballads, Blues (music), Community life,
Community organization, Delta (Miss. : Region), Gospel music, Interviews,
Levees, Mississippi, Mississippi River, Oral history, Oral tradition, Railroads
Songs and Music, Railroad Employees, Religious life, Sermons, Singing games,
Southern States, Southern States Social Conditions 1865-1945, Speeches,
addresses, etc., Spirituals (Songs), Square dance music, Tales, Tall Tales,
United States Race Relations, Wit and humor, Work songs.
Other Key Subjects: Clarksdale, Coahoma County, field
hollers, levee camps, lying contests, testimonials. Researchers: Alan Lomax,
Charles Johnson, Lewis Jones, John W. Work III. Informants: Charles Berry,
William Brown, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Sidney Hemphill, Eddie James House
Junior "Son House," Turner Junior Johnson, O.C. King, Henry Simms "Son
Simms," Tubby Ford Smith, Will Starks, Asa Ware, Mackinley Morganfield "Muddy
Primary Language: English.
1 3-1/2-inch disk
10 12" acetate discs Original field
86 16" acetate discs Original field
12 10" reel-to-reel audiotapes Preservation copies
5 minutes and 33 seconds Original footage
of a 900 ft. reel of 16mm
SI., color film
5 minutes and 33 seconds Preservation Copy
of a 1" black-and-white,
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
The Fisk University Mississippi Delta Collection consists of a
portion of the documentary materials resulting from a field project
conducted in 1941 and 1942 through the cooperation of the Library of
Congress Archive of American Folksong and Fisk University in
Nashville, Tennessee. The aim of the field project was to "explore
objectively and exhaustively the musical habits of a single Negro
community in the Delta, to find out and describe the function of
music in the community, to ascertain the history of the music in the
community, and to document adequately the cultural and social
backgrounds for music in the community" (see folder 7). The Coahoma
County area, the economic and social center of the Mississippi
Delta, was chosen for the study.
The study stemmed from discussions between Alan Lomax and members of
the faculty at Fisk University. The head of the department of
sociology, Dr. Charles Johnson, advocated an intensive cultural and
historical study of the African Americans living in the Delta
region. Alan Lomax believed that such a study could be best realized
through the exploration of the folk culture of the Delta region. In
particular, Lomax felt that recording the music of the Delta would
give a voice to African Americans and would allow them to express
honestly their own views about their history and present situation.
This project was the first racially mixed field study in the Deep
South. Racial tension was high in the Delta at the time of the
study, and cooperation was necessary. Fisk University needed the
backing of the federal government in the form of the Library of
Congress, while Alan Lomax needed the help of black scholars to
overcome racial suspicion and to facilitate rapport with informants.
Dr. Charles Johnson supplied graduate-student fieldworkers from the
sociology and anthropology departments of Fisk University. Professor
of sociology Dr. Lewis Jones led the field team in compiling a
systematic survey of the folklore of the region. The Library of
Congress supplied the recording equipment and recording discs and
the services of Alan Lomax as a fieldworker and co-editor.
Folklorist and composer John Work from Fisk University also
participated in some of the Coahoma County fieldwork with Alan Lomax
and Lewis Jones. However, Work's major responsibility in this field
project was the transcription of the recordings.
The resulting materials consist largely of recordings of
performances of secular and religious music. These recordings
include blues songs, field hollers, ballads, game songs, gospels,
and spirituals. The collection also contains recordings of spoken
materials including interviews, sermons, testimonials, speeches,
jokes, lying contests, and folktales. Charles Berry, William Brown,
David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Sid Hemphill, Son House, Turner Junior
Johnson, Son Simms, Will Starks, and Asa Ware are a few of the
performers recorded in this collection. The collection also holds
the first recording of MacKinley Morganfield, "Muddy Waters."
The manuscript component of the collection includes training
materials for the field team, song lists, correspondence, the
transcription of an interview with S. L. Mangham, various reports
and miscellaneous documents, and disc jackets inscribed with notes.
The collection also includes approximately five and a half minutes
of silent motion picture footage. This footage includes shots of the
State Missionary Baptist Convention, various children's games,
dances, and informant Charles Edwards playing the guitar.
This collection also includes a database of the recordings and
manuscripts. The searchable database is stored on a 3 « diskette
housed in folder 14 in this collection. A concise hard copy of the
database is included in the attachments of this collection guide.
Attachment A gives an explanation of the database, attachment B is
the hardcopy of the recording database, and attachment C is the
hardcopy of the manuscript database.
The materials in this collection include a portion of the materials
produced by this research project. At least two other documents
were produced by Fisk University after 1942: the transcriptions of
the recordings made by John Work, and a short, unpublished monograph
about the research project by Lewis Jones. These documents have
never been in the Folk Archive and their locations are unknown.
Also, several scholarly articles have noted that the project's
fieldnotes are located in the Folk Archive. However, at the time of
the production of the present reference guide, these fieldnotes
could not be located [9/8/98].
A complementary source of information about this research project is
found in the first four chapters of Alan Lomax's book about the
Mississippi Delta, THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN. Pantheon Books:
New York, 1993.
COLLECTION INVENTORY AND DESCRIPTION
Folder 1 The Library of Congress/Fisk University Mississippi
Delta Collection Guide (This document)
Folder 2 Preparatory and Training Materials. Materials used in
training for the research trips. (22 pp.)
Recommended reading list by Alan Lomax.
List of training recordings left at Fisk University.
Outline detailing suggested field procedure for the
research trip. This document contains a questionnaire to
be used during the study and a list of genres,
institutions, events, and types of musicians to be studied
during the project.
Document instructing the field workers in the following
areas: Analyzing Repertoire, Transmission of Musical
Knowledge, Social Esthetics, Folk History of Music in the
Community, and Language and Conceptions in Song.
Survey and questionnaire to be used when interviewing
Folder 3 Preliminary Reports
Reports used to inform the researchers about
geographical and sociological conditions in the
Mississippi Delta region. (30 pp.)
Report on Preliminary Work in Clarksdale,
Mississippi." This report details the impact of an
increase in the wages of cotton workers in the late
summer of 1941.
Report written by Lewis Jones containing general
sociological information about the Coahoma County
region during the summer prior to the 1942 field
trip. Jones uses the following subheadings:
Conditions Affecting Observations, General
Observations on the Area, Recording, Secular Music,
and Plans for July Trip. The "Plans for July Trip"
itinerary includes event dates and possible
Folder 4 Recording Lists for AFS 6109 and 6604-6677
Four copies of an inventory of recordings in this
collection. This inventory provides such information
as song titles, performers, and locations of
recordings. The four copies contain handwritten notes
in pencil. (108 pp.)
Folder 5 Recording Lists for July and August of 1942
Inventories of recordings made in July and August of
1942. The information in this file is of the same
content and nature as the documents in folder 3. The
information in this folder, however, is presented in
a different order and without AFS numbers. (56 pp.)
Folder 6 Interview with S. L. Mangham
Life history of a middle class African American who
worked as a bank teller and performed music as a
hobby. His story provides insight into the
professional, economic, and musical culture of
Coahoma County. Mangham was a student of the composer
W. C. Handy. (17 pp.)
Folder 7 Lists
Lists and other materials pertaining to the
Mississippi Delta field trips. (184 pp.)
List of genres and songs recorded during the field
trip. This list includes texts to the songs "Seemo"
and "Hop Brer Rabbit."
Document entitled "Supplementary Song List" organized
Document that lists numbers that are not AFS numbers.
Page of notes handwritten by Alan Lomax.
Lists of the recordings of the following artists:
William Brown, David Edwards,
Turner Junior Johnson, and MacKinley Morganfield
Inventory of equipment brought on the Mississippi
Document entitled "List of Records on Machines in
Clarksdale Amusement Places."
Photocopy of a page of the original fieldnotes
written by Alan Lomax. These notes refer to
interviewing Robert Johnson's mother and recording
List of the scenes in the film-footage section of
Folder 8 Correspondence: 1939-41
Correspondence from April 26, 1939, to November 14,
1941. This folder also includes the correspondence
prior to the conception of the research project.
Correspondence with individual informants can be
found in folder 10. This folder is organized
Folder 9 Correspondence: January-September 1942
Correspondence from January 21, 1942, to September
23, 1942. This folder is organized chronologically.
Folder 10 Correspondence: October, 1942-January, 1947
Correspondence from October 4, 1942, to January 2,
1948. This file includes inquiries and requests
pertaining to the collection by persons not involved
in the actual research project. This folder is
Folder 11 Correspondence: By Individual Informant
Correspondence with the following informants: Sidney
Hemphill, Jim Henry, Son House, Ulysses Jefferson,
Turner Junior Johnson, Caroline Joyner, MacKinley
Morganfield (Muddy Waters), and Lucius Smith. This
file is organized alphabetically.
Folder 12 Correspondence: Thank-You Letters
Official Library of Congress thank-you letters sent
Folder 13 Articles by John Cowley
Copy of published scholarly article "Really the
Walking Blues: Son House, Muddy Waters, Robert
Johnson and the development of a traditional blues."
The article discusses the origins of the Mississippi
Delta Blues. Cowley cites the Mississippi Delta
Collection throughout the article.
Copy published article "The Walking Blues." This
article discusses the Mississippi Delta Collection as
it existed in the Folk Archive in February of 1974.
Box 2 Disc Jackets
Eleven disc jackets containing handwritten notes that
identify recording locations, informants, and song
titles for recordings AFS 6606-6608, 6626, 6636,
6639, 6643, 6647-6648, 6667, and 6673.
Box 1, Folder 14 One 3-1/2-inch computer disk
containing a searchable database of the recordings
and manuscripts in the Fisk University Mississippi
6109, 6604-6673 Approximately 32 hours of
Reference audiotape copies are available for
listening purposes in the Folk Archive Reading
5 minutes and 33 seconds of the Fisk University
Mississippi Delta Collection. Motion picture footage
taken by Alan Lomax during his research in 1942. The
original footage is located in the Motion Picture,
Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division of the
Library of Congress. The original footage from this
collection was shot in black-and-white, without
The film footage for this collection is located on a
standard videocassette. The footage begins at 30.50
and ends at 36.23 when videocassette begins at 0:00
on a standard VCR. The following log is based on a
document listing the scenes in this motion picture
footage entitled "Coahoma County, Mississippi, 1942"
that can be found in folder 6.
30.50 State Missionary Baptist Convention" Crowd - Song
Salesman of the Bowles Music Co.
Children's Games, Friars Point, Mississippi
30.12 A. "Sally Walker"
31.41 B. "Pulling the Skiff"
32.02 C. "Merrimac"
Children's Games and Songs, Coahoma County Training School
32.15 A. Long shot of "Lazy Motion"
32.29 B. Close-up of "Lazy Motion"
32.39 C. "Take Your Outside Partner"
32.50 D. Long shot of "Down by the Green Apple Tree"
32.57 E. Long shot of "How many miles to Bethlehem?"
33.06 F. "Who' de cat?"
33.07 G. "Hop burr Rabbit in the Pea-Vine"
33.15 H. "Foot movements for G."
33.25 I. "Good Ole Man"
33.35 J. "Satisfy"
33.42 K. "Pulling the Skiff"
33.49 L. "Shoo Fly"
33.56 M. "Did You Ever See a Monkey do the Motion?"
34.05 N. Untitled
34.15 O. "London Bridges Falling Down"
Children's Games on Plantation in Northwest part of
34.29 A. Untitled
34.34 B. Bopping
34.43 C. Untitled
34.49 D. Rope Skipping
35.01 E. "Pulling the Skiff"
35.12 F. Untitled
35.15 G. Untitled
35.19 H. Buck Dance by an Old Man
35.42 I. "Chicken Scratch"
35.47-36.23 Charles Edwards, playing guitar and harmonica
Lomax, Alan. THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN. Pantheon Books, New
York: 1993. Library of Congress call number:ML 3521.661 1993
This book includes an extensive bibliography.
The Library of Congress has published a number of albums containing
sample recordings from the Fisk University Mississippi Delta
Collection. The albums are as follows:
AFRO-AMERICAN BLUES AND GAME SONGS. AFS L4. First published 1942.
AFRO-AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC FROM TATE AND PANOLA COUNTIES, MISSISSIPPI.
AFS L67. First published 1978.
AFRO-AMERICAN SPIRITUALS, WORK SONGS AND BALLADS. AFS L3. First
NEGRO BLUES AND HOLLERS. AFS L59. First published 1962.
Negro Work Songs and Calls. AFS L8. First published 1943.
The above albums are currently in the process of being re-released
in CD format thanks to a collaborative project between the Library
of Congress and Rounder Records. AFS L59 has already been re-
released as Rounder 1501.
There is a list of the Commercial uses of the Folk Archive field
recordings, including recordings from this collection, in the
Folklife Reading Room. The list can be obtained from the librarian
at reference desk.
The recordings table includes information about the recordings that
was obtained primarily from the AFS card catalogue and from the
documents in folders 4 and 5. Each recording in the collection is
represented by one database record and the information in the fields
is as follows:
AFS-Identifies the recordings by Archive of Folksong numbers.
TITLE-Song titles for the recordings. Titles have been entered
exactly as they appear in the card catalogue and the documents
in folders 4 and 5. Misspellings and grammar mistakes have been
retained from the original documents. Some of the original
titles simply describe the nature of the recordings. For
example some recordings are named generically "interview."
INFORMANT 1,2,3,4,5-Lists informants recorded. Nicknames are
placed in the following informant field. Names were entered as
they appear in the original documents.
GENRE 1,2-Catagorizes recordings by genre, instrument, or other
qualifiers. Other qualifiers include speeches, prayers,
interviews, etc. These genres were obtained primarily from
consulting documents in folder 7, the recordings, and Alan
Lomax's book, THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN. The fields are
incomplete due to a lack of information in the above sources.
Also the categories are not always clear. Spirituals and Gospel
are closely related for example.
RECORDER 1,2-Names the researcher present at the recording
LOCATION-Location of the recording.
DATE-Date of recording.
DURATION-Length in minutes and/or second of the recording. This
field has not been entered yet.
SOUND QUALITY- On occasion researchers described the recording
quality of the machinery and these descriptions are noted.
Besides those notes this field has not been entered.
SENSITIVE MATERIAL- Refers to any words in titles that might
offend any one using the National Digital Library. Also
identifies delta marked recordings.
NOTES- Contains extraneous information that may or may not be
useful to a researcher.
The manuscript table tabulates the documents in the collection. Each
database record listed vertically represents an individual document.
The fields listed horizontally are as follows:
FOLDER NUMBER- Denotes the folder in which the document is
stored. A list of the folder names is found in the collection
ID#- Number potentially will be used by the National Digital
Library to identify the documents in the collection in the
likelihood of the collection being presented on-line. The ID#
has no use for researchers.
TITLE- If the document has an obvious title, the entry is true
to that title (including misspellings and punctuation errors).
Most of the documents are, however, without titles and are,
therefore, labeled [untitled]. Correspondences, for example,
are without titles.
DATE- This field contains the dates the documents were written
as specifically as is possible with the materials in this
collection. The date is written as year/month/day.
AUTHOR- Nicknames are not included in this table and brackets
are used for authors not explicitly named in the text.
RECIPIENT- Nicknames are not included in this table and
brackets are used for authors not explicitly named in the text.
PAGE NUMBERS- On occasion page number totals also include
receipts or smaller pieces of paper attached to the main
COPIES- Number of photocopies and duplicates held in this
RELATED AUDIO- AFS numbers of documents that are related to or
mentioned in the documents.
SENSITIVE MATERIALS- Lists any words or phrases that may
potentially offend someone using possible future Web site.
Lomax identified sensitive materials with delta symbols.
Documents containing delta notations are noted in this field.
NOTES- Any extraneous information that may or may not be
helpful to researchers.
Entries that are blank or incomplete indicate either that the field
is incomplete as noted above or that the information is not
available. For example, the genre or duration fields in the
recordings table have yet to be completed. In some cases, names,
dates, and other information are not found in the collection. In
those cases as much information as is possible has been displayed.
For example, in case where a document is dated January of 1942
without a specific date, the entry would appear 1942/01. The unknown
date will simply not be included.
In some cases entries have been editorialized. For example, some
letters seem to be almost certainly written in the hand of Alan
Lomax while his signature is not explicit. Also, titles for certain
manuscripts have been constructed in order to make those manuscripts
stand out. In any case that entries have been editorialized they are
enclosed in brackets. Editorialized entries appear as follows:
[Lomax, Alan], [Mackinley Morganfield Recordings], or [dust