This is a guest blog post from Spring 2019 intern Brittney Meadors working at the American Folklife Center. Brittney is a first year graduate student at Howard University pursuing a Masters degree in Classical Voice and certification in International Affairs. Her internship was initiated by Dr. Carla Hayden (Librarian of Congress) and Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick (Howard University President) resulting in the Archives, History, and Heritage Advanced Internship Program.
This spring semester, I had the tremendous opportunity to work with two engaging and inspiring collections at the American Folklife Center that spoke directly to my educational and artistic passions.
I assisted my mentor, Ann Hoog, with the Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian collection as well as the Pete Welding collection. The Jackson-Christian collection consists of manuscripts, photographs, and cans of moving image film containing documentation produced by Jackson from the 1960s through the 1980s. The interviews and performances took place in prisons in Indiana, Missouri, and Texas. The Pete Welding collection includes over 700 audio recordings of extensive oral history interviews and performances from prominent musicians in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of the musicians in the collection are jazz, blues, and ragtime performers.
For the Jackson-Christian collection, I was responsible for rehousing manuscript materials. This was a great developmental task for me because I did not have prior experience handling archival materials. Along with rehousing documents and photographs, I generated a container list in a spreadsheet that will eventually be used to create an online finding aid to the collection. While working on this project, I immersed myself in collection. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the jokes the prisoners told, which were often taboo, and the documentation of how the prisoners expressed themselves through song and dance. Some of the prisoners composed songs or improvised dances, while others sang traditional “drinking songs” and songs from their culture.
My work on the Pete Welding collection involved listening to audio recordings of interviews and performances from folk, blues and ragtime artists. This collection was more extensive and required me to be precise in describing the musicians’ relationships, music, and career through the interviews Welding conducted. After attending an LC Archives Forum discussion on exploring archival relationships, I gained knowledge on the importance of including the lineage and relationships of the musicians’ teachers, mentors, and band members. The decisions I make in determining the importance of a piece of information or a relationship does impact the degree to which my documentation of the collection can be used for finding aid.
As a professional musician, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audio recordings from the Welding collection. It expanded my knowledge about artists I was not previously familiar with, as well as subgenres of music such as the electric blues.
My favorite performance from the Welding collection was a six-part recording of the Johnny Otis Show. Johnny Otis was an American musician, composer, producer, and talent scout. He would often feature new talent on his radio show that aired in the 1980s. I became familiar with Big Joe Turner and Gene “Mighty Flea” Conners by listening to interviews of these artists from the collection. Otis also invited rock n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and soul artists such as Delmar “Mighty Mouth” Evans and Don “Sugarcane” Harris to perform. I appreciated the Johnny Otis Show recordings because he was adamant about giving new musicians a chance to be recognized, which is the same goal Pete Welding had in conducting interviews and performances. He wanted to make sure these great artists’ voices were heard and preserved for generations to come.
My favorite interview from the Welding collection was an in-depth four-part series with Pete Robinson. He discussed his jazz band (Contraband) and told a story of his personal journey through the study of classical and popular music. I related to his story because we both studied classical music literature when we were young, lost interest in the technical aspects of classical music, got exposed to popular music, and later regained an appreciation for classical music.
I am grateful for my time at the American Folklife Center and the Library of Congress. In thirteen weeks of experience-based professional development I learned a great deal of information on the archival process, engaged directly with the work pursued by AFC, expanded my understanding of popular music, and explored the environment at the Library of Congress.