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Folklife Today Podcast Wraps Season One with Chicago Ethnic Arts Project

This is a joint blog post written with Michelle Stefano.

Episode Twelve of the Folklife Today Podcast is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on iTunes, or with your usual podcatcher.

Jazz Alley, 50th and Langley, Chicago, vendor’s truck, July 10, 1977. Photo by Jonas Dovydenas. Find archival file here.

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This is a special episode for us, in that it also marks the end of the first season of our monthly podcast series. We’ve been working on the season for considerably more than a year. It’s been a long, somewhat bumpy, but always enjoyable road, with principal podcast architects Stephen Winick, John Fenn, and Jon Gold drawing on the expertise and voices of the entire American Folklife Center staff, the voices and minds of special guests from around the Library of Congress and beyond, and the smarts and hard work of several sets of interns. So we should thank all the staff and interns of AFC, especially John and Jon. We have also worked closely with staff from many of the Library of Congress’s other divisions, including the Office of Communications (especially John Sayers), the Office of the Chief Information Officer (especially Bill Kellum, Laura Moiseev, and Tracey Salley), and the Music Division (especially Mike Turpin and Jay Kinloch). Without all of these people and many more, we wouldn’t have made our first episode, let alone our first season.

So, what’s the deal with this episode? The hosts, Stephen Winick and John Fenn, dig into the online Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection with several guests from the AFC: Ann Hoog, Carl Fleischhauer, and Michelle Stefano.  Michelle also drafted the script, participated in all levels of the production, and wrote a good part of this blog post!

Made available on the Library’s website in 2016, the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection comprises a vast array of cultural materials from a 1977 cultural research and documentation project. It was the first in a long line of AFC field surveys across various regions of the U.S.

Mrs. Apostolopoulos, manager of the Greek needlework shop called Yarn and Canvas, Ltd., 4658 N. Western Ave., Chicago, being interviewed by fieldworker Peter Bartis, April 21, 1977. Photo by Jonas Dovydenas. Find the archival file here.

As Ann Hoog points out in the podcast itself:

The Chicago Ethnic Arts survey was organized by the AFC, but it was co-sponsored with the Illinois Arts Council, which is now known as the Illinois Arts Council Agency. […] It was led by 14 folklorists who were directed by AFC and who fanned out across the city in a wide range of neighborhoods and suburban areas over the course of several months. They amassed 344 sound recordings, 14,141 photographs, 269 folders of manuscript materials, and 2 video recordings, as well as publications, ephemera, administrative files, and, of course, field notes and reports … totaling more than 20 linear feet of shelf space. As a whole, it provides significant insights into the multi-layered histories and cultures of Chicagoland in the late 1970s. It includes cultural, spiritual, and arts practices of roughly twenty-five cultural communities: Polish American parades, Greek American embroidering traditions, street murals and musical performances of Puerto Rican and Mexican American communities, to name only a few. Again, the collection’s greatest strength is its wide-angle view into the region’s cultural diversity at a time of great political, economic, and social change.

John Katsikas, santouri player, Oak Park, Illinois, June 7, 1977. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer. Find the archival file here.

As it’s a large collection full of rich resources, we attempted to highlight particular collection items that we find most interesting. There are so many stories that can be told from the collection, but we were especially lucky to have had the opportunity to talk with Ann Hoog and Carl Fleischhauer, who both worked on the collection at different stages of its journey.

Ann was instrumental in preparing the collection for its online presentation and chose to focus on the fact that Chicago’s African American communities are the most represented communities in the collection. She references the numerous photos of the city’s “Jazz Alley” at 50th Street and Langley Avenue, on the South Side, as well as the great musical clubs, such as the Checkerboard Lounge, and musicians, such as Muddy Waters, Jr.

Ann also spotlights an interview with James Mack, a jazz musician, composer and educator, who was from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and moved to Chicago as young boy. He became Chicago’s foremost arranger for R’n’B commercial hit records.

And what’s better than getting to speak with Carl, who worked on the actual survey throughout 1977 Chicago! Along with Jonas Dovydenas, Carl focused on media documentation — sound recording and still photography — in support of the professional folklorists who were central to the field visits throughout the city. Carl highlights his time spent with John Katsikas, a Greek American Santouri player. We also get to hear an interview conducted by folklorist Jens Lund with Paul Sveinbjörn about Icelandic American activities and traditions in the Chicago region.

John Fenn takes us to Latinx communities at the time, and highlights an interview with the Chicago-based, Puerto Rican artist and muralist, Gamaliel “Bobby” Ramírez. In the mid-1970s, he founded an organization called El Taller, which was an artistic collective for young Latinx community members. He also spotlights Ms. Edith Wilson, the celebrated blues and jazz singer and actress, who was born in Kentucky and moved to Chicago when she was young. Here she is performing at the “Jazz at Noon” concert series held in the Marina Towers, right on the Chicago River.

Mrs. Edith Wilson at the Marina Towers businessman’s jam session, “Jazz at Noon,” Chicago, Illinois, May 20, 1977. Photo by Jonas Dovydenas. Find the archival file here.

Michelle has been working with fostering more dynamic engagement with the online collection in its source context of Chicago, as discussed in this blog post. So she chose to focus on one of her favorite features of the collection: interviews and photos of community and neighborhood-based cultural heritage centers and museums throughout the city. At the time of the field survey, many were relatively new and, in turn, a good number of their founders and other key staff members and community leaders were interviewed by the AFC fieldworkers, such as we heard with Gamaliel “Bobby” Ramírez and the El Taller artistic collective. So Michelle chose this interview with the late artist and art historian Dr. Margaret Burroughs, the founder of the Du Sable Museum of African American History. The Museum was founded by Burroughs, with her husband, in 1961.

Last but not least are Steve’s picks! As Steve says in the podcast, he got his start in folklore by studying and participating in the Irish music scene in New York and Philadelphia, and has known Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll for many years, so he first thought about playing Liz’s recordings from the collection. He also worked closely with Mick Moloney, the main fieldworker in the Irish community, as Mick’s teaching assistant at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1990s. In the podcast he promises to place some materials from Liz and Mick on the blog, so here are the links to Liz Carroll’s recordings from the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection and Mick Moloney’s lecture in our Benjamin Botkin series.

Michael Flatley (left) and Kevin Henry playing flute at the Annual Midwest Fleadh Cheoil, Bogan High School, 79th and Pulaski, Chicago, Illinois, May 8, 1977. Photo by Jonas Dovydenas. Find the archival file here.

In the end, to represent Irish music, Steve chose a recording of an artist who went on to great success after being documented by Mick for the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project: Michael Flatley, the star of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, playing the flute in an Irish music competition. Flatley’s parents were immigrants from Ireland, but he himself was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. He went on to greater fame as a dancer than as a flute player. As a dancer, he has brought his own artistry based on the ethnic folk arts he learned in Chicago to literally millions of people.

On a final note, Steve keeps us on the South Side to listen in on Magic Slim and the Teardrops playing at Josephine’s Lounge on the night of May 21st, 1977.

We’re very proud to wrap Season One of our podcast series with such a vibrant episode full of diverse interviews and folk arts. We’re also happy to say that Season Two is already underway, with a Halloween episode planned for late October 2019.  Thanks for listening, and stay tuned!

One Comment

  1. kevin stewart
    October 1, 2019 at 6:52 am

    I am an American living in Finland. I have been here in the region of Västnyland for three years 2 months. Often as I listen to Finns who have traveled to the United States account for the cities they have visited, Chicago is noticeably absent. Simce living here I have often answered questions asked me, where would you recommend us to visit. I often state Chicago. I state this because while growing up in St. Louis, intracity rivarles trived and often older guys spoke ill of Chicago. Perhaps this was merely that intra city rivalries. I suspect it had to do with television programs like THE UNTOUCHABLES and reputations about Al Capone and organized crime. Like racism, these singular depictions of Chicago paints it as a city to be feared. Broadcast like this one. Arms me with material to remain confident that one day, Finns and others might delve and unearth more about the cultural richness of a city I think deserves such.

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