The following is a guest post from AFC Folklife Specialist Nancy Groce.
A previous Folklife Today blog, “Botkin Lectures to Go!,” drew readers’ attention to an engaging and readily accessible AFC resource: the more than 100 AFC Botkin Lectures on a wide variety of folklore and folklife topics that are currently available free-of-charge through the Library of Congress. As we pointed out, these talks could be used as supplementary educational materials for the classroom, included in public programming, or just enjoyed for personal enrichment. In conjunction this month’s celebration of African American History Month, this blog highlights some of the outstanding Botkin Lectures that feature African American folklife, history, and culture as well as a number of complementary performances produced as part of AFC’s renowned Homegrown Concert Series that featured African American music and dance and ensembles from African immigrant communities throughout the United States.
Since 2003, the American Folklife Center has sponsored the prestigious Benjamin A. Botkin Lecture Series. Curated by AFC staff, the Botkin Lecture Series annually invites 10-12 prominent scholars, researchers, authors, and experts from across the United States and around the world to the Library to present public talks on a wide variety of folklife related topics.
Over the years, the Botkin Lecture Series has featured numerous exceptional presentations on African American culture. For example, the AFC “catalog” of past Botkin videos available for online viewing includes these four excellent talks on African American musicians and performing artists:
- “‘A Bourgeois Town’: Lead Belly in Washington, D.C.,” presented by Lead Belly family members Terika Dean of Lead Belly Estate and Alvin Singh of the Lead Belly Archive (2015)
- “I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy,” a book talk by author and researcher Bob Riesman (2012)
- “Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues,” an illustrated lecture and book talk by noted folklorist William R. Ferris from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (2010)
- “Mister Jelly Roll, Mister Lomax and the Invention of Jazz,” a combination Homegrown Concert and lecture presented by the eminent folklorist, writer, and jazz scholar John Szwed and the noted jazz pianist Dave Burrell (2006)
African American material culture and verbal arts can be explored through the AFC online videos of two memorable Botkin Lectures, including:
- “The Will to Adorn: Reflections on African American Identity and the Aesthetics of Dress,” presented by folklorist and Smithsonian Institution Curator Diana Baird N’Diaye (2013)
- “Making a Way Out of No Way: Martin Luther King’s Use of Proverbs for Civil Rights,” presented by the noted folklorist and internationally renowned proverb scholar Wolfgang Mieder from the University of Vermont (2011)
Readers can learn more about African American occupational culture, oral history, and genealogy by viewing these two outstanding Botkin lectures:
- “American Roots: Hairdressers and Beauty Shop Culture in America,” by Archie Green Fellow and independent scholar Candacy Taylor (2014)
- “Daisy Turner’s Kin: An African American Family Saga,” by folklorist Jane Beck, Executive Director Emeritus and Founder of the Vermont Folklife Center (2016)
Oral history documentation has always been an important component of the AFC’s activities as well as a significant part of our archival holdings and this is also reflected in the Botkin Lecture Series. In recognition of AFC prominence in this field, on May 12, 2009, the U. S. Congress passed The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-19) authorizing a national initiative by the Library of Congress (LOC) and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The legislation instructed us to “conduct a survey of existing oral history collections with relevance to the Civil Rights movement to obtain justice, freedom and equality for African Americans and to record new interviews with people who participated in the struggle, over a five year period beginning in 2010.” Videos of the more than 100 powerful oral history interviews collected during this important joint LOC/Smithsonian Civil Rights History Project can be accessed here.
In addition, to these online oral history interviews, and leading up to the 2016 opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History on the National Mall, the American Folklife Center joined with Smithsonian staff to present the lecture series “Many Paths to Freedom: Looking Back, Looking Ahead at the Long Civil Rights Movement.” Talks and lectures related to this special initiative currently available on the AFC website include:
- “We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns: The Kids Who Fought for Civil Rights in Mississippi”, presented by illustrator and journalist Tracy Sugarman (2009)
- “Selma, the Voting Rights Act & Reel History,” presented by Gary May, Professor Emeritus of History, Delaware University (2015)
- “Memorialization and Justice as an Ancestral Imperative: Two American Cases,” presented by anthropologist and Smithsonian Research Associate Ken Bilby (2015)
- “Documenting the Freedom Struggle in Southwest Georgia,” with filmmaker, photographer, and Civil Rights worker Glen Pearcy and Virginia Tech professor of history David Cline (2014)
- “The Long Black Freedom Struggle: African American Soldiers in WWI & Korea,” with Duke University historian Adriane Lentz-Smith and Virginia Tech professor of history David Cline (2014)
- “Locality & Nation: Civil Rights & Voting Rights in the Deep South, 1963-1966,” with historians Hasan Kwame Jeffries ( Ohio State University) and Thomas F. Jackson (University of North Carolina) (2014)
- “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible,” presented by Charles E. Cobb Jr., journalist and a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, followed by a discussion with Rex M. Ellis, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (2014)
HOMEGROWN CONCERTS: AFRICAN AMERICAN PERFORMANCES AVAILABLE ONLINE
In addition to the Botkin Lectures, AFC staff also curates the popular Homegrown Concert Series, which annually presents a dozen or more free public concerts by outstanding practitioners of traditional music and dance representing the diversity and vitality of folk cultures and grassroots community arts throughout the United States. Like the Botkin Lectures, AFC’s Homegrown Concerts are presented as “open documentation sessions,” which are video recorded both to enrich the LOC collections and for later posting on the LOC/AFC website. To make sure that we are getting the very best artists from across America, we work closely with state and local folklorists and community experts who advise us on artists and regional performance traditions.
African American and African immigrant groups have been a mainstay of AFC’s Homegrown Concert Series programming since its inception. Dynamic performances celebrating African heritage that might be of interest to educators, public programmers, and individual listeners include
AFRICAN AMERICAN SACRED & GOSPEL HOMEGROWNS
- The Legendary Ingramettes: African American Gospel Music from Virginia, July 21, 2016
- The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers R&B and Gospel from Kentucky, August 7, 2013
- The Singing and Praying Band: African American A Capella Sacred Music from Delaware and Maryland, August 23, 2012
- The McIntosh County Shouters — Gullah-Geechee Ring Shout from Georgia, December 2, 2010
- Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers — Quartet Style A Capella Gospel Music from Kentucky, July 16, 2009
- The Zionaires — Gospel Music from Maryland and Delaware, July 24, 2008
- Reverb, gospel/inspirational harmony group from Washington, DC. Special event for African American Heritage Month, February 7, 2007
AFRICAN AMERICAN BLUES, DANCE, AND STORYTELLING HOMEGROWN
- Dance Battle with Urban Artistry, February 22, 2017
- The Sherman Holmes Project with Brooks Long and Phil Wiggins, April 15, 2015
- Phil Wiggins and Friends: Acoustic Blues and Dance from Maryland, August 5, 2014
- Opalanga Pugh — African American storytelling from Colorado with Askia Touré on voice and drum, May 28, 2008
- James “Super Chikan” Johnson & Richard Christman — Blues Guitar from Mississippi, May 23, 2006
AFRICAN IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES IN THE UNITED STATES
- Libaya Baba: Garifuna Music and Dance from California and New York, July 2, 2013
- Balla Kouyaté and World Vision — Traditional Malian Music from Massachusetts, April 28, 2010
- Negrura Peruana — Afro Peruvian Music and Dance from Connecticut, October 12, 2005
The AFC staff is hard at work planning the upcoming season of Botkin Lectures and Homegrown Concerts . We would love to welcome you in person at these events here in Washington! However, we also hope you will explore the Center’s trove of online resources featured in this article, both for your programming and classroom needs as well as for your personal enrichment and for just plain enjoyment. Please sign up for the RSS feed to get announcements about upcoming events, or check the events announcement page to ensure you know what’s coming up.