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Citizen DJ and Collaborative Programming at American Folklife Center, Part 1

This guest post is the first in a series about collaborative programming the American Folklife Center has recently supported involving the Library’s Citizen DJ platform. The post comes to us from Solidarity Studios, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, IL but working worldwide to connect youth with music making skills, empowering narratives, and each other. […]

The Green Book and African American Travel with Candacy Taylor on the Folklife Today Podcast

Season 3, Episode 4 of the Folklife Today Podcast is ready for listening! In this episode, John Fenn and I interview Candacy Taylor, whose latest project is documenting sites associated with the Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Taylor discusses the dangers inherent in travel for Black people during an era where racial discrimination was legal and open racism was common. She fills us in on the origins of the Green Book. We discuss sites such as Dooky Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans, where owner Leah Chase slapped the hand of President Barack Obama for adding hot sauce to her famous gumbo, and where she fed a young Michael Jackson her signature sweet potato pie. We also discuss the historic Hampton House, a Jewish-owned hotel in Miami, where a young boxer named Cassius Clay met Malcolm X and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and where Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced his most famous speech.

Freedom Summer 1964 – SNCC remembers

At the conclusion of his 2014 keynote address on guarantees enshrined in the Constitution but historically denied to African Americans, Bob Moses – freedom rights activist, educator, and MacArthur Genius award winner – summarized the state of the nation thus: “And we are a country that lurches. We lurch forward and backward, forward and backward. […]

What Was the Green Man?

This is our second post about the Green Man, a figure from traditional folk culture. It traces the meaning of the phrase “Green Man” from the 16th to the 20th centuries, providing a wealth of historical references to “green men,” which were wild men covered in leaves, often armed with clubs. The post is richly illustrated with appearances of the Green Man in paintings, sculptures, engravings, and other artworks.

New Collection Online: the Italian Americans in the West Project

Italians in the United States are commonly associated with communities in cities in the east. But during the course of research on ranching culture in Nevada between 1978 and 1982, American Folklife Center researchers met Italian American ranchers and found architectural evidence of Italian settlement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Italians, like […]

Katherine Dunham’s Ethnographic Research in the Caribbean

Katherine Dunham is perhaps most famous for her influence on modern American dance with the introduction of African and Caribbean dance movement. That work began with ethnographic work in the Caribbean in 1936. Films made during her research have been put online by the Music Division of the Library of Congress in Selections from the […]

Jennifer Lopez, Plus Pete Seeger, Bernie Sanders, Sea Shanties, and More at No Depression

Over at No Depression, read my musings about the 2021 inauguration, including Jennifer Lopez’s rendition of “This Land is Your Land” and the song’s journey from its author Woody Guthrie to its performances at the Obama and Biden inaugurations. You’ll read about the song’s appearance at the 2009 inauguration, where it was led by Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger. We’ll also revisit a classic rendition of “This Land” by Senator Bernie Sanders. Embedded throughout the piece you’ll find some video treasures from the AFC archive: three versions of “This Land is Your Land” sung entirely or partially in Spanish. We’ll also take a side trip into the January 2021 sea shanty craze on social media, and hear Springsteen’s version of the classic shanty “Pay Me My Money Down,” as well as the Alan Lomax field recording of the Georgia Sea Island Singers.

African American Art Dolls and Puppets for Identity and Healing

On February 18, 2020, the Library of Congress hosted an unusual event, a celebration of African American dolls and puppets sponsored by the American Folklife Center’s Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series. Folklorist Camila Bryce-Laporte and fellow artist, Dr. Deborah Grayson,  presented several artists from Maryland and the District of Columbia. The event also included a wonderful […]

A Deep Dive Into Sea Shanties

We couldn’t help notice that sea shanties have been getting a lot of attention lately. The American Folklife Center has one of the greatest collections of sea shanty field recordings in the world. This blog post provides an introduction to sea shanties, including links to audio, video, and texts of many songs in the American Folklife Center’s collections. It’s lavishly illustrated with photos and artwork depicting ships, sailors, and singing. It covers the history of shantying and the different kinds of shanties for different tasks, and emphasizes the African American and Afro-Caribbean contributions to shanties. It also provides a link to our new podcast on sea shanties. There are even guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen and Thomas Hampson. Don’t miss it!