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Article Regional Song Sampler: The Midwest

Noble Sissle
Singer, composer, and Broadway star Noble Sissle of Indianapolis, Indiana. Select the link to view his biography.

Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The Midwest includes both the Great Lakes states and the Great Plains states. The states bordering the Great Lakes, as well as the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, had access to maritime transportation routes that nurtured and supported industry. The Great Plains states are often referred to as America's bread basket, due to vast agricultural production, particularly of wheat and corn. Because of its proximity to many transportation routes, Chicago, Illinois became the premier metropolitan center of Midwestern America. As Chicago grew, it became one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. It drew large numbers of African Americans from the South, as well as immigrants from nearly every nation in the world, serving as a destination for workers seeking jobs, including songwriters and performers. An influx of African American talent in the early twentieth century created urban centers in the Midwest for blues, jazz, and gospel music. Chicago became a major center for commercial recording.

Return to Mapping the Songs of America


  • "Way Out West in Kansas," sung by Billy Murray and Ed Smalle. Composed by Carson Robison, who was from Oswego, Kansas. Victor, 1924. (audio)
  • "I'm Sad and I'm Lonely," sung by Carl Sandberg. The American poet, Carl Sandburg, was originally from Galesburg, Illinois. He learned folk songs in his early life as an itinerant laborer and often performed them at readings of his poetry. (audio)
  • "Sweet Home Chicago," performed by Honeyboy Edwards. Honeyboy Edwards was originally from Mississippi, but moved to Chicago in the early 1950s to further his performing career. (audio)
  • "I'm Just Wild About Harry," performed by Vaughn De Leah. Composed by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. Noble Sissle was from Indianapolis, Indiana, and female vocalist Vaughn De Leah was born in Mount Pulaski, Illinois. (audio)
  • "Sketches of a Life," "Overjoyed," and "My Cherie Amour" performed by Stevie Wonder and orchestra. The first is an instrumental piece, followed by two songs performed as an encore. Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw, Michigan. (webcast)
  • "Michigan I-O," a Michigan lumberman's song sung by Lester Wells. Recorded in Traverse City, Michigan, by Alan Lomax in September 1938.
  • Natasinh Dancers: Lao Dance Troup from Iowa. (webcast)
  • "The Milwaukee Fire," sung by Robert Walker in 1941. Robert Walker ran a lumber camp in Wisconsin. His nephews, Warde, Pat, and Bogue Ford, learned many of their songs from him and from other lumbermen in the camp. Recordings of the Ford brothers are also available in this presentation. (audio)
  • Hethu'shka Society Song, (Omaha song) performed by Francis La Flesche, Sr. and Francis La Flesche, Jr. Ethnologist Francis La Flesche, working with Alice Cunningham Fletcher, documented this song sung by his uncle and his cousin, who share the same English name with him. Recorded in Nebraska in 1896.
  • "Starving to Death on a Government Claim," performed by Vance Randolph. Folklorist Vance Randolph was from Pittsburg, Kansas, and here he sings the Kansas version of a classic pioneer complaint song. The Lane County referred to in the song is in Kansas. A Colorado version of this song also exists. (audio)
  • "Belle Missouri, My Missouri," lyrics by Howard Clynden. A song from the Civil War urging Missourians to join the Union side. (sheet music).
  • "Jesse James," sung by E. A. Briggs of Medina, Texas. The outlaw Jesse James was regarded as a folk hero by many, as is apparent in this ballad about his death. He was shot in his home in St. Joseph, Missouri by Robert Ford. Recorded by John A. and Ruby Lomax, May 5, 1939.
  • "Manabus Tells the Ducks to Shut Their Eyes," sung by Louis Pigeon. Menominee song recorded by Frances Densmore in Keshena, Wisconsin, 1925.
  • "Take a Trip on the Canal" and "We're Going to Pump Out Lake Erie." Captain Pearl R. Nye performs songs he learned on the Ohio and Erie Canal. Recorded in Akron, Ohio by Ivan Walton, September 22, 1938.
  • "The Dreary Black Hills," performed by Harry Stephens. Recorded in 1942 by Alan Lomax. This is a complaint song of a prospector in the Black Hills of South Dakota during the gold rush of 1874.
  • D. W. Groethe performs songs and poetry learned and composed in North Dakota. He currently lives in Montana. (webcast)
  • Ho! for Kanzas (songbook) composed by Frederick H. Pease 1839-1909, lyrics by Lucy Larcom, 1857. Frederick H. Pease was a composer and music instructor at the Michigan State Normal School. Lucy Larcom was a New England poet.

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