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Getting Inspired from Home on the Folklife Today Podcast!

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Episode eighteen of the Folklife Today Podcast (or Season 2, Episode 6) is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher.

Get your podcast here!

John Fenn shot this selfie while self-engineering a session for the latest episode of the Folklife Today podcast in his Maryland home studio.

We’re proud to get to this point, since it’s the first episode of the podcast that we’ve created from our homes, while unable to return to our offices or studio in the Library of Congress due to the social distancing measures imposed by Covid-19.  As I say in the podcast itself, I was impressed by how quickly local and national news programming on TV adjusted to allow guests to be interviewed in their own homes using available technology, and our approach on the podcast was similar. My intrepid co-host John Fenn researched tools for recording podcasts remotely, selected a platform, and set up a mysterious studio in an undisclosed location in Maryland. Because everyone other than John is being recorded to his computer over the internet through VoIP, the sound quality isn’t what we could achieve in our Jefferson Building studio with a mic for each guest hard-wired to the recorder and our great engineer Jon Gold in charge, but it’s more than good enough for us to keep bringing you folklife content while the Library of Congress decides how to safely resume onsite operations.

Lottie Espinosa seated with guitar, 1939. Find the archival scan here.

Since our own creation of this podcast required inspired work from home, we decided to make that the subject of the episode too. We based it on a series of blog posts in which our staff members discuss collections and items that have been inspiring them while they are working at home. In the episode, John Fenn and I talk to three AFC staff members, Allina Migoni, Michelle Stefano, and Maya Lerman, about what’s been inspiring to them in this strange and difficult time.  We also talk about some of the materials that have been inspiring us!

As always, when we play audio excerpts in the podcast, we try to include the complete audio here on the blog.  In this case, we asked our three guests to include those items in their own blog posts before releasing the episode, so rather than embed them all here, I’ll link to those posts below:

Allina Migoni’s blog, which is online at this link, includes a discussion of Spanish-language materials which helped her reconnect with her family in a series of phone calls. It includes full audio of a set of paso dobles played by Julio Gomez’s orchestra; the song “Atotonilco” played by Olive Flores, Frank Cunha, and Joaquim Flores; the iconic Mexican love song “Cielito lindo” performed by Lottie Espinosa, and a medley performed by Puerto Rican band Los Amantes in Chicago.

Maya Lerman’s blog, which can be found here, includes her reflections on the John Cohen collection and some linked and embedded video of Cohen. It also introduces us to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project collection, with audio of of the Whit Sizemore Band and of the great fiddler Tommy Jarrell.

Tommy Jarrell (fiddle) and Blanton Owen (banjo) play at a dance at Dix Freeman’s house, Oak Grove, Surry County, North Carolina, 1978. Photo by Lyntha Scott Eiler. Find the archival scan here.

Michelle Stefano’s post, which you can find here, explores the blues and jazz clubs of 1977 Chicago, as documented by the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project. There are embedded blues performances by Mary Lane and by Sylvia and John Embry.

Mary Lane performing at Theresa’s Lounge, July 11, 1977. Photo by Jonas Dovydenas. AFC 1981/004: b53460.  Find the archival scan here.

In my own segment, I talked about Zora Neale Hurston’s recordings, especially her rendition of the song “Uncle Bud,” and the amusing verbal exchange she had on the recording before singing it, involving Herbert Halpert, Stetson Kennedy, and Carita Doggett Corse.  I wrote about that here, on the No Depression website, in the early part of our work-from-home adjustment.

Which brings us back to John Fenn. John is going to blog about his experiences with the Juan B. Rael collection at a later time, but for now let’s just share the full versions of the two audio clips we used in the podcast.  The first was “Valse del Coyote” by fiddler Adelaido Chavez of Antonito, Colorado, and his brother, guitarist Adolfo Chavez of Romeo, Colorado.  Adelaido was 68 years old and Adolfo was 65 when Rael recorded them in 1940. Hear them in the player below!

John’s second selection was “Los Bienaventuados,” a topical song on which the Chavez brothers were joined by the singer Amado Trujillo. In the words of Enrique Lamadrid:

Los Bienaventurados” (“The Blessed Ones”) is a kind of parody of the “Sermon on the Mount” sung to the tune of “The Irish Washerwoman.” The list of the blessed includes male and female readers and newspaper subscribers and chastises them for their credulity and flights of fancy. The allusion to widespread, home-taught Spanish language literacy contradicts the stereotype of illiteracy among Hispanos.

Hear that amusing song in the player below:

As usual, although we provide all the archival songs and other audio in the blog, and although we love the written word, we also think it really comes alive in the podcast format. Since the episode is about us and what we’re doing, it’s also nice for you to hear our voices telling you. So, needless to say, we really want you to listen!

So, just for ease of reference, here’s the link to the podcast one more time.

Thanks for listening, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time!


  1. There is something very energizing about reading about the work LOC personnel are able to accomplish while the library is shuttered.

    Still, there’s nothing like sitting in the LOC reading rooms anticipating the delivery of another cart filled with hard copy files from the depths of the archives.

    In late June 2015 I spent the day at the Library of Congress, sitting in the American Folklife Center’s reading room, reviewing files from the late 1960s and early 1970s about the Hammons family of West Virginia, immersing myself in the manuscripts, correspondence and other written and printed material in the files associated with this project.

    At one point, as I was neatening the two linear feet of files that a librarian brought to my place at a reading table, an envelope spilled out onto the large wooden desk and its contents clattered on the tabletop. Several pieces of twigs, purposefully and carefully notched at the ends by a knife, revealed themselves. The envelope from which they had spilled was labeled “Sherman’s Deadfall.”

    I sat back down at the table, examined the items, and then fitted the contents into their envelope, and looked for the meaning of the twigs in the accessions list contained in one of the large cardboard files brought to me in a shopping cart.

    It seems that at some point in their long running dialogue, Sherman Hammons had described to Carl Fleischhauer how bear traps were built of hand hewn logs in the eastern central West Virginia Mountains where he hunted. The twigs were a miniaturized representation of the traps that Sherman had used in the day, a model he had improvised to make his point.

    Those twigs remind me of the kind of surprising artifact of that massive Library of Congress Hammons Family project that still lurk in those massive files. They were the kind of thing that is just waiting to be re-discovered in those holdings.

    That’s what I miss about sitting in the reading room most: the kind of surprises that might spill out of a hard copy file.

    Still, I’m grateful to the LOC staffers who have gone to great lengths to facilitate access to those files in these days of remote, socially (and intellectually)-distant research work.

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