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Getting Inspired from Home on the Folklife Today Podcast!

Episode eighteen of the Folklife Today Podcast (or Season 2, Episode 6) is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher.

Get your podcast here!

John Fenn shot this selfie while self-engineering a session for the latest episode of the Folklife Today podcast in his Maryland home studio.

We’re proud to get to this point, since it’s the first episode of the podcast that we’ve created from our homes, while unable to return to our offices or studio in the Library of Congress due to the social distancing measures imposed by Covid-19.  As I say in the podcast itself, I was impressed by how quickly local and national news programming on TV adjusted to allow guests to be interviewed in their own homes using available technology, and our approach on the podcast was similar. My intrepid co-host John Fenn researched tools for recording podcasts remotely, selected a platform, and set up a mysterious studio in an undisclosed location in Maryland. Because everyone other than John is being recorded to his computer over the internet through VoIP, the sound quality isn’t what we could achieve in our Jefferson Building studio with a mic for each guest hard-wired to the recorder and our great engineer Jon Gold in charge, but it’s more than good enough for us to keep bringing you folklife content while the Library of Congress decides how to safely resume onsite operations.

Lottie Espinosa seated with guitar, 1939. Find the archival scan here.

Since our own creation of this podcast required inspired work from home, we decided to make that the subject of the episode too. We based it on a series of blog posts in which our staff members discuss collections and items that have been inspiring them while they are working at home. In the episode, John Fenn and I talk to three AFC staff members, Allina Migoni, Michelle Stefano, and Maya Lerman, about what’s been inspiring to them in this strange and difficult time.  We also talk about some of the materials that have been inspiring us!

As always, when we play audio excerpts in the podcast, we try to include the complete audio here on the blog.  In this case, we asked our three guests to include those items in their own blog posts before releasing the episode, so rather than embed them all here, I’ll link to those posts below:

Allina Migoni’s blog, which is online at this link, includes a discussion of Spanish-language materials which helped her reconnect with her family in a series of phone calls. It includes full audio of a set of paso dobles played by Julio Gomez’s orchestra; the song “Atotonilco” played by Olive Flores, Frank Cunha, and Joaquim Flores; the iconic Mexican love song “Cielito lindo” performed by Lottie Espinosa, and a medley performed by Puerto Rican band Los Amantes in Chicago.

Maya Lerman’s blog, which can be found here, includes her reflections on the John Cohen collection and some linked and embedded video of Cohen. It also introduces us to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project collection, with audio of of the Whit Sizemore Band and of the great fiddler Tommy Jarrell.

Tommy Jarrell (fiddle) and Blanton Owen (banjo) play at a dance at Dix Freeman’s house, Oak Grove, Surry County, North Carolina, 1978. Photo by Lyntha Scott Eiler. Find the archival scan here.

Michelle Stefano’s post, which you can find here, explores the blues and jazz clubs of 1977 Chicago, as documented by the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project. There are embedded blues performances by Mary Lane and by Sylvia and John Embry.

Mary Lane performing at Theresa’s Lounge, July 11, 1977. Photo by Jonas Dovydenas. AFC 1981/004: b53460.  Find the archival scan here.

In my own segment, I talked about Zora Neale Hurston’s recordings, especially her rendition of the song “Uncle Bud,” and the amusing verbal exchange she had on the recording before singing it, involving Herbert Halpert, Stetson Kennedy, and Carita Doggett Corse.  I wrote about that here, on the No Depression website, in the early part of our work-from-home adjustment.

Which brings us back to John Fenn. John is going to blog about his experiences with the Juan B. Rael collection at a later time, but for now let’s just share the full versions of the two audio clips we used in the podcast.  The first was “Valse del Coyote” by fiddler Adelaido Chavez of Antonito, Colorado, and his brother, guitarist Adolfo Chavez of Romeo, Colorado.  Adelaido was 68 years old and Adolfo was 65 when Rael recorded them in 1940. Hear them in the player below!

John’s second selection was “Los Bienaventuados,” a topical song on which the Chavez brothers were joined by the singer Amado Trujillo. In the words of Enrique Lamadrid:

Los Bienaventurados” (“The Blessed Ones”) is a kind of parody of the “Sermon on the Mount” sung to the tune of “The Irish Washerwoman.” The list of the blessed includes male and female readers and newspaper subscribers and chastises them for their credulity and flights of fancy. The allusion to widespread, home-taught Spanish language literacy contradicts the stereotype of illiteracy among Hispanos.

Hear that amusing song in the player below:

As usual, although we provide all the archival songs and other audio in the blog, and although we love the written word, we also think it really comes alive in the podcast format. Since the episode is about us and what we’re doing, it’s also nice for you to hear our voices telling you. So, needless to say, we really want you to listen!

So, just for ease of reference, here’s the link to the podcast one more time.

Thanks for listening, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time!

Keeping Busy in Chicago

This post is part of a series called Staff Finds During Difficult Times, in which staff members discuss collections and items that have been inspiring them while they are working at home during the Covid-19 pandemic or in other difficult circumstances. Find the whole series here! While working from home these weeks, I have been grateful […]

Remote fieldwork: tech considerations

My colleague here at the American Folklife Center, Michelle Stefano, offered an opening post for this series on remote fieldwork by reflecting on the relationships sitting at the core of ethnographic documentation. In many ways her post explored the “why” behind conducting remote fieldwork, even when it might feel challenging or discordant in comparison to […]

Inspiration for an Archivist: John Cohen, Tommy Jarrell, and the Blue Ridge.

This guest post by AFC archivist Maya Lerman is part of a series of posts called Staff Finds During Difficult Times, in which staff members discuss collections and items that have been inspiring them while they are working at home during the covid-19 pandemic or in other difficult circumstances. Maya discusses her work on the John Cohen collection and the Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project Collection. The blog includes embedded old-time music and interviews with John Cohen and Tommy Jarrell.

“The Sun’s Gonna Shine In My Back Door Someday”: Songs Of Hope In A Time Of Fear

This guest post by Jennifer Cutting is part of a series of blog posts highlighting performances by contemporary artists at special “Archive Challenge” showcase stages, both at the Folk Alliance International conference, and at the Library of Congress as part of the Homegrown concert series. (Find all entries in the series here!) In both of […]

Homegrown Plus: John McCutcheon Takes the Archive Challenge!

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with John McCutcheon, an American folksinger, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. McCutcheon is regarded as a master of the hammered dulcimer, and in the concert displayed jaw-dropping proficiency on guitar, banjo, autoharp, mountain dulcimer, fiddle, jawharp, piano, body percussion, and other instruments. McCutcheon is a master performer whose 36 albums have earned 6 Grammy nominations. For this concert, McCutcheon did something else that was very special to us: he took the Archive Challenge, playing exclusively material from American Folklife Center collections. The oral history is filled with fascinating stories of his long career.