In my last blog post, Jennifer Cutting and I explained the background to our Lomax Challenge showcase at last year’s Folk Alliance meeting. (We also presented the first four videos, so check it out here!) At that event, eighteen artists signed up to perform their own versions of songs they learned from Alan Lomax field recordings here in the American Folklife Center archive. I promised to share the rest of the videos in due time, so here is another installment.
This time, I thought I’d present two videos reflecting a lesser-known aspect of our collections: French-language recordings. Two of the showcase artists selected French songs from the Lomaxes’ 1934 field trip to Louisiana. We’ll begin with a version of a little ditty called “Là-bas dans Carencro.” “Là-bas dans Carencro” was sung for the Lomaxes by Edwin L. Stephens, a Louisiana educator and university administrator who was then serving as the first president of Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute (SLI) in Lafayette. You can hear that field recording here. Interestingly, SLI went on to become the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL) and eventually the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL). Back in the 1980s, an effort spearheaded by USL professor Barry Jean Ancelet resulted in the Lomax recordings being duplicated for what is now the Archives of Cajun and Creole Folklore at the Center for Louisiana Studies, which is housed at ULL. So in Louisiana, if you want to hear “Là-bas dans Carencro,” you go to an archive at the same school where Stephens was president when he sang it for the Lomaxes! Many Louisiana artists have done just that, making the Lomax recordings a source for such bands as Beausoleil, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, and Feufollet.
Not to mention The ROAMies, a husband-and-wife duo made up of Rory Partin and Alexa James. Both Partin and James are accomplished singer-songwriters, who have won awards and acclaim from such publications as Billboard Magazine. We were fortunate that they saw the Lomax challenge as an opportunity to do something a little different from their usual styles. You can watch them in the player below.
The second French song was “Je suis né en automne,” which was sung for the Lomxes by the great ballad singer Luneda Comeaux from New Iberia. You can hear that field recording here. In the showcase it was performed by a duo called “Melisande et Alexandre,” who are another wife-and-husband duo, Mélisande Gélinas-Fauteux and Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand. Together, they are half of the quartet Mélisande [électrotrad]. Both are also winners of prestigious Canadian Folk Music Awards, Mélisande as traditional singer of the year for 2014, and Alexandre for his work with the band Genticorum. We were lucky to have them in our showcase—see their video below!
Jennifer and I are now at this year’s Folk Alliance meeting. This year, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the American Folklife Center, we’re running another challenge: this time we’ve asked performers to select recordings from the whole range of the archive, not just Lomax’s work. The showcase will be February 20, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., in room Century C at the Westin Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City. Once again, we’ll have a videographer, and we hope to add those videos the Library’s website and to Folklife Today.