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Homegrown Plus: From the Mountains to the Sea with Jeff and Gerret Warner

Gerret Warner stands while Jeff Warner sits next to him on a high stool. Gerret's hand touches Jeff's back. Jeff plays a concertina. Both men are singing.

Gerret (left) and Jeff Warner, performing in the Library of Congress Mumford Room on July 20, 2018. Photo by Stephen Winick for AFC.

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. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with From the Mountains to the Sea: The Folksong Collecting Work of Anne and Frank Warner, an unusual presentation in our series.  From the Mountains to the Sea is a two-hour live presentation with multimedia, focusing on the Anne and Frank Warner collection, one of the great treasures in the American Folklife Center archives. The collection contains a wealth of material gathered by the husband-and-wife team of folklorists from 1938 to 1966, as they traveled through rural America in search of old songs. The show is presented by Jeff and Gerret Warner, the sons of Anne and Frank Warner. This performance was held in the Library’s Mumford Room on July 20, 2018. The event was co-sponsored by the Folklore Society of Greater Washington.

Jeff and Gerret got their start as musicians backing up their father on his recordings and performances. They have been renowned performing musicians for more than 50 years. Career musicians and filmmakers, they created this multimedia presentation about the Warner collection, featuring not only their own performances, but also the voices of the singers recorded by their parents across rural America, along with corresponding photographs of the tradition bearers and their homes. It is full of the warmth of the Warners and the country wit of their new friends.

Gerret and Jeff Warner, standing side by side and singing.

Gerret (left) and Jeff Warner, performing in the Library of Congress Mumford Room on July 20, 2018. Photo by Stephen Winick for AFC.

Jeff and Gerret grew up listening to the songs and stories of the traditional singers their parents met during their folksong collecting trips, and they offer valuable insights into the lives and adventures of one of the nation’s most eminent families of folksong collectors. In so doing, they contribute immensely to our understanding of the Warner collection, one of the most important in the American Folklore Center archives.

A woman stands, holding up a banjo for the camera. Two men look on.

Left to right: AFC director Betsy Peterson, Gerret Warner, and Jeff Warner. Betsy is holding up Frank Warner’s banjo, which was given by Jeff and Gerret to AFC. Photo by Stephen Winick for AFC.

The Anne and Frank Warner collection contains such seminal field recordings as North Carolina farmer Frank Proffitt’s rendition of the murder ballad “Tom Dooly.” This field recording was adapted and recorded in 1958 by The Kingston Trio, whose version became a number one hit, won the very first Grammy in country music, and set off the folk boom of the 1960s.

Frank Warner was also a popular folksinger, and during this concert the Warners’ sons did AFC the honor of donating his banjo to the Center–a banjo that was signed by a host of luminaries from the world of folklore and American culture.

In the first player, watch From the Mountains to the Sea:

In the oral history, I talked with Jeff and Gerret about the importance of Anne and Frank Warner to American folk music, and they reminisced about their lives interacting with some of the greatest names in folk.

View the oral history in the second player, below:

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information and full transcripts on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the oral history at this link.

Jeff and Gerret were also featured in the very first Folklife Today podcast episode, and that interview was recorded at the same time as the oral history above.  As an added bonus, find the podcast at this link!

Read more about Jeff Warner at his website.

Read More about Gerret Warner at his website.

The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress.  For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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