August 12, 2009 American Folklife Center Acquires Collection from National Council for the Traditional Arts

Symposium, Concert Celebrates Public Folklore

Press Contact: Erin Allen (202) 707-7302
Public Contact: American Folklife Center (202) 707-5510

The National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) has donated its collection to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. An unparalleled assemblage of archival recordings of folk music, the collection contains classic recordings of now-legendary artists, such as Tommy Jarrell, Elizabeth Cotten, Wade Mainer, John Cephas, Edith Butler and the Blind Boys of Alabama, as well as the only extant recordings of many artists.

NCTA began using professional portable recording equipment to document its festivals and concerts some 30 years before other presenters of folk arts, and as a result the NCTA collection has excellent sound quality. These historic recordings are now being digitized, and many of them are available to researchers in the Folklife Reading Room at the Library of Congress.

In celebration of the acquisition and in honor of folklorists Joe Wilson and the late Archie Green, the American Folklife Center will host a two-day event including a tribute, a symposium and a concert Sept. 10-11 in the Coolidge Auditorium, ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

Archie Green was a pioneer in documenting the expressive cultural traditions of working people such as miners, tinsmiths, textile workers, railroad workers, coal miners and cowboys. He was a noted labor historian, carpenter, union organizer, shipwright and also an emeritus university professor of folklore and English. Believing that the federal government had a vital role to play in documenting, supporting, revitalizing and disseminating America’s grassroots knowledge and arts, Green spent nearly 10 years lobbying Congress to establish a national center that would preserve and present American folklife. His efforts prevailed, and on Jan. 2, 1976, then-President Gerald R. Ford signed into law the American Folklife Preservation Act, authorizing an American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Green was further honored by the Library on Aug. 16, 2007, when the Librarian of Congress bestowed a Living Legend Award.

Joe Wilson grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountain area of eastern Tennessee, where he was profoundly influenced by the traditional music of that region. He is a folklorist and served as the executive director of NCTA from 1976 to 2004. He now serves as chairman of NCTA and also manages NCTA’s Blue Ridge Music Center. In his career, he has produced 42 large-scale music festivals in 11 states, 21 national tours by musicians and dancers, nine international tours that visited 33 nations, and 131 LP and CD audio recordings of various forms of folk music. In 2001, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a National Heritage Fellowship to Joe Wilson.

“Legends and Legacies: An American Folklife Center Celebration of Public Folklore” will feature spoken tributes, musical performances, panel discussions and rare glimpses at archival treasures. The events are free and open to the public, but registration is required. Registration will be available through the center’s website at

Kicking off the event will be a tribute to Archie Green on Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. An afternoon of speakers and musical performances will celebrate his life and achievements. Among the presentations by union leaders, folklore scholars, and family members, the American Folklife Center will present musical tributes by fiddle and banjo duo Eddie Bond and Josh Hall, and by the Northern Neck Chantey Singers.

A concert at 8 p.m., “Legends & Legacies: Celebrating Joe Wilson and the NCTA Collection,” will feature performances by blues harmonica master Phil Wiggins; Irish-American accordion and fiddle musicians Billy McComiskey and Brendan Mulvihill; Kiowa and Comanche music and dancers led by Tom Ware; southwest Virginia old-time string-band music by the New Ballard Branch Bogtrotters; and high-energy gospel brass from the Sweet Heaven Kings, a United House of Prayer shout band. All these artists have participated in the National Folk Festival and NCTA touring programs. During the concert, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) will present the Library’s “Living Legend” award to Joe Wilson for his lifelong work in public folklore.

The second day of presentations will begin at 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, featuring speakers who have an intimate knowledge of the NCTA collection and who will provide a rare opportunity for attendees to view and discuss some of the treasures and highlights of this collection.

For more information on this event, visit

Founded in 1933, the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) is the nation’s oldest folk-arts organization. In the 1930s, NCTA broke ground by inventing the multi-ethnic folk festival, a radical innovation for presenting the arts of many nations in one event. NCTA’s work has grown to include a nationwide touring program, the creation and programming of large-scale festivals and special events, the planning of cultural programs in national parks, and numerous other activities. For more information, visit

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The center includes an archive of folk culture, which was established in the Library in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.


PR 09-153
ISSN 0731-3527