Top of page

AFC acquires the songbooks from your childhood

Share this post:

book cover with title and two people dancing
Handy Play Party Book (1940)

This is a guest post by Todd Harvey, acquisitions coordinator at the American Folklife Center (AFC).

The American Folklife Center is pleased to announce a major acquisition, the Cooperative Recreation Service collection (AFC 2016/051) donated to the Center by fiddler, scholar, and publisher Bruce Greene.

The Cooperative Recreation Service is a publishing company founded during the 1930s by Katherine and Lynn Rohrbough. Known for its hundreds of pocket-sized booklets of games, songs, and dances from the United States and around the world, in its heyday the company gave structure to entertainment in summer camps, Girl Scout gatherings, and church halls. These publications provided a foundational element of American vernacular community singing and dancing during the mid-20th century. At present, Greene and company do business as World Around Songs, based in Burnsville, NC.

The Handy Play Party Book from 1940, it provides song texts, melodies, and dancing figures to common early 20th century play party songs such as “Skip to My Lou” and “Jim Along Josie.”
The Handy Play Party Book, 1940, provides song texts, melodies, and dancing figures to common early 20th century play party songs.

The Handy Play Party Book is a well-known example. Published originally in 1940, it provides song texts, melodies, and dancing figures to common early 20th century play party songs such as “Skip to My Lou” and “Jim Along Josie.” It serves as a practical contemporary publication to Benjamin Botkin’s American Play-Party Song (1937).

But the Rohrboughs did not limit themselves to American genres, instead publishing early anthologies of songs from Japan (1958),

Swing High: Korean Folk Recreation was published in 1954.
Swing High: Korean Folk Recreation (1954)

Vietnam (1956), Hungary (1957), and Korea, to name a few. Swing High: Korean Folk Recreation was published in 1954, an historically brief time after the cessation of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula. It was assembled by the Rohrboughs and a team of teachers and students, and contains games, songs, and tales designed to help American children better understand counterparts from the other side of the globe.

Such was the impetus behind Songs of Many Nations (1941), which, like many of the booklets, had a specific intended audience. The front piece describes this booklet as, “Excellent musical help for Youth Rallies, Church Recreation, Congregational Singing, Camps, Conferences, and Summer Schools. Developed for use in The United Church of Christ.” If you wonder how “Go Tell It on the Mountain” or “Kum Ba Yah” came into popular usage, you might consider the impact of this widespread publication.

Bruce Greene enjoys a deserved reputation as a performer and collector of Kentucky fiddle music. To build his repertoire during the 1970s,Bruce traveled the state, learning and recording tunes. He produced a number of published recordings of his fiddling, and his field recordings may be found in the famed Berea College Special Collections & Archives. The Library of Congress is proud to include Bruce Greene among our donors.

Songs of Many Nations (1941)
Songs of Many Nations (1941)

The Cooperative Recreation Service collection includes all of the essentials of publication: approximately 60 linear feet of correspondence, copyright and permission files, paste-ups, negatives, and a full run of publications. It will contribute to AFC’s international reputation as a research center for the 20th century folk music and dance revivals. Recent acquisition such as the “Izzy Young collection,” the “Indian Neck Folk Festival collection,” the “Caffe Lena collection,” the “Lou Curtiss collection,” and many others document that generation who grew up attending summer camps and local gatherings with activities guided by Cooperative Recreation Service booklets. In acquiring the collection, AFC has preserved on behalf of the American people the papers of a publishing company that exerted a profound influence on the folk song revivals of the mid-20th century.


Comments (4)

  1. This is great news, Todd. I have had a camp song research project in mind for several decades! Hope when I retire I can spend some quality time at AFC doing actual research!

  2. Absolutely tremendous, Todd! Congratulations. Now Steve and others can search for Rohrbaugh’s source for “Kum Ba Yah” which he first published in January 1956. Keep us posted!

  3. Great work, but please correct the spelling of the names of my grandparents Katherine and Lynn Rohrbough. Thank you.

    • It’s fixed! Apologies. Thanks so much for letting us know.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *