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Songs of Spring on the Folklife Today Podcast

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A picture of Pearl Nye in Akron, Ohio, in a frame shaped like the silhouette of a rabbit
Pearl Nye sent this postcard to John A. Lomax. We think the rabbit silhouette gives it a springtime feeling! Nye identified the picture as a photo of him in about 1913. The skyline is that of Akron, Ohio, showing the B.F. Goodrich factory.  Find the archival scan here.

We’ve had some scheduling challenges which led to an unexpected hiatus, but we’re back with another episode of the Folklife Today podcast! Since springtime keeps threatening to bust through the cold weather, we’re featuring songs of spring. Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher. As usual, I’ll present links to relevant blog posts, videos, and audio selections in this post.  But first:

Get your podcast here!

For this episode, we were joined by AFC’s public events coordinator, Theadocia Austen. In fact, as revealed recently by the New York Times, Thea is an international woman of mystery, and we are lucky she had time to talk with us at all!

Most of the songs in the episode are presented in their entirety, so where possible here on the blog I’ll present a link to the individual song with all the available metadata, along with photos of some of the performers. Here we go!

The first song was a great old ballad of star-crossed love called “Early in the Spring,” sung by canal boat captain Pearl R. Nye, who is pictured at the top of this blog. You can find the song at this link.  Pearl Nye’s whole collection is also online and you can find that at this link.

Four men stand outdoors by a stone wall.
L-r: Bob, John, Ron, and Jim Copper. Jim, at the far right, was Bob’s father. John was Jim’s brother, and Ron was John’s son, so Ron and Bob were first cousins. Promotional photo given to AFC by the Copper Family when they visited in 1994.

Our second song was “When Spring Comes On,” sung by Bob and Jim Copper of the Copper Family. The song, a pastoral harmony song they described as a “spring glee,” was recorded in England in 1951 by Alan Lomax, and can be found at this link courtesy of our colleagues at the Association for Cultural Equity.

The third selection was “Fleurs, Certaines Jolies Fleurs,” recorded in Haiti by Alan Lomax in March 1937. For now, that one must remain exclusive to the podcast! It was sung by Baptiste Pierre. Technically, the podcast only features half of the recording, but Pierre sang the whole song twice, so the podcast features the entire song. You can read more about the Haiti collection here.

Warde Ford, in a hard hat and work clothes, looks out towards the mountains.
Warde Ford, who sings “Nightingales of Spring.” The photo forms part of a group of field materials documenting Warde, Pat, and Bogue Ford performing Anglo-American songs on September 3, 1939, collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell in Boomtown [Central Valley], Shasta County, California. Find the archival scan here.
Our fourth song was “El Alba,” an alabanza or praise song to the dawn. It was sung for John Donald Robb by Ruben Cobos in 1963. Our collection consists of duplicates of Robb’s recordings, whose originals are held by the University of New Mexico. You can hear the full song with its spoken introduction online at the UNM website.

Next, we presented “Nightingales of Spring” as sung by Warde Ford in California in 1938. As we say in the podcast, it’s kind of a crazy story in which a man has been away at war, and on seeing his girlfriend waiting for him, he decides to fool her by pretending to be someone else. More than this, he tells her that her sweetheart is dead but wanted her to marry him instead! When she rejects him, he reveals his true identity. Rather than clobbering him, she agrees to marry him. This is a common situation for such ballads, but hard to imagine in real life! You can find the song with all its metadata at this link.

Young people dance with hoops decorated with flowers.
Folk dancers from the Donauschwaben Club at the Chicago Zither Club spring 1977 meeting, concert, dinner, and dance at Golden Tiara Hall. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer, April 24, 1977. Find the Archival Scan here.

To round off the show, we presented the “Springtime Polka” from the Spring 1977 meeting of the Chicago Zither Club. From all the documentation, this was quite an elaborate gala complete with a concert, dinner, and dance featuring folk dancers from the Donauschwaben Club, pictured above. The meeting was documented as part of AFC’s Chicago Ethnic Arts collection. You can find all the documentation at this link; the polka is toward the end of Part 2 of the sound recording.

That brings us up to speed on the full audio behind the podcast. As always, thanks for reading and thanks for listening!

In case you need that podcast link again…here it is!

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