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Podcast: Episode 14, on “The Dodger,” is Ready for Listening

Episode Fourteen of the Folklife Today Podcast (or Season 2, Episode 2) is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on iTunes, or with your usual podcatcher.

Emma Dusenbury draws water from her well in Mena, Arkansas. Photo by Vance Randolph. AFC 1941/001. Vance Randolph Collection. [More Information]

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The episode presents a deep dive into a single song, known either as “The Candidate’s a Dodger” or simply as “The Dodger.”

A woman sits in a chair with a microphone in front of her. A man kneels to her right, sharing the microphone. Another man kneels to her left, recording her on a disc-cutting machine. Seven men and a little girl are lined up behind her, some of them carrying musical instruments.

Myra Pipkin (center) and her husband Frank (right) being recorded by Charles Todd (left), in Shafter FSA Camp, 1941. Photo by Robert Hemmig. AFC 1985/001. [More Information at //hdl.loc.gov/loc.afc/afcts.p009]

In the episode, Thea Austen, Jennifer Cutting, and I look at the classic folksong , discussing the song’s meanings in oral tradition, its use by Aaron Copland as an art song, and its involvement in political controversy in the 1930s, when Charles Seeger first published it. We examine the song’s history and lay out new evidence about its relationships to other folksongs and to a musical theater song from 1840s England. We also discuss the possibility that Charles Seeger, a founder of ethnomusicology and a pioneering federal folklorist, was himself a “dodger!” The episode includes performances by folksingers Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, and Peggy Seeger, as well as baritone Thomas Hampson, and five field recordings from the Library of Congress.

The episode was based on three blog posts here at Folklife Today about “The Dodger.”  The first one, which you can find here, presents most of the audio we included in the podcast, including five archival versions of “The Dodger” by Emma Dusenbury, Nancy Humble Griffin, Myra Pipkin, Neal Morris, and the trio of Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, and Peggy Seeger. It also includes Thomas Hampson’s performance of Aaron Copland’s art song arrangement of “The Dodger,” and discusses the history of its collection and the political controversy it caused in the 1930s.

An elderly woman sits in a round-backed wicker chair

Nancy Humble Griffin, photographed in 1941 by Alan Lomax. AFC 1941/037. [More Information]

The second blog about “The Dodger,” which you can find here, looks at the song’s roots in musical theater and in earlier folksong tradition. When we published it, it significantly changed our understanding of the story of “The Dodger,” showing the song to be older than was previously known. It also showed that the song was known in England before America, and that similar songs in Australian folk tradition owe their roots to the same English sources. Among American sources, it identified a family of songs known as “A Chapter of Cheats” or “Rigs of the Time” in Britain, and “Hard Times” or “Hard Times, Boys” in the United States. In the podcast episode, we play a snippet of a version of “Hard Times, Boys” which shares a verse with “The Dodger.  You can hear the whole song in the player below.

Pete Seeger plays banjo and sings into a microphone,

Pete Seeger performs in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress, March 16, 2007. The audio in the podcast of Pete singing and talking about “The Dodger” is from this night. AFC Robert Corwin Collection.

The third blog about “Dodger,” which you can find here, looks more closely at the political controversy that erupted around the song in the 1930s, which reportedly threatened 13 million dollars of the Resettlement Administration’s budget on the grounds that the song insulted politicians! It revisits the 1884 presidential election between Grover Cleveland and James G. Blaine to see if the song might be based on that campaign. In the end, it shows there’s little evidence for that idea, and suggests that Charles Seeger, one of the founders of ethnomusicology, one of my most distinguished predecessors as a federal folklorist, and the man who first published “The Dodger,” also qualifies as a magnificent dodger himself.

The blogs, linked above, provide a bit more detail in their analysis of the song. They also provide a lot of great visuals, including photos or videos of all the singers of “The Dodger,” and a song sheet from the 1930s with artwork by Jackson Pollock’s older brother, Charles. But one thing they didn’t include was segments of insightful analysis from Wayne Shirley, a former music specialist for the Library of Congress Music Division, who retired some years ago. For that, you need to listen to the podcast episode itself. For the moment, it’s the only place in the world that audio is available, although the video it came from may go live on loc.gov again some day.

And, where can you get that Podcast again?  Glad you asked!  Once again, find Episode 14 of the Folklife Today Podcast at this link!

 

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