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Archive: 2024 (26 Posts)

A woman sings into a microphone

Natalie Merchant’s Concert Event Part 2: Archive Treasures Family Sing-Along

Posted by: Stephen Winick

Watch Natalie Merchant’s June 15 sing-along concert at the Library of Congress right here on the blog! The singer, songwriter, activist, and folklife advocate helped the Library mark the opening of the new David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery with a very special Family Day sing-along presentation. Around the sing-along and her evening concert, she spent a week in residence at the Library doing research, meeting with staff, and participating in the gallery opening and June Family Day activities. Natalie Merchant, who has remained one of America's most literate and literary pop stars since her days with the band 10,000 Maniacs in the 1980s and 1990s, is also an enthusiast and advocate of traditional folk music and a member of the American Folklife Center's Board of Trustees. In this important leadership and advisory role, she spends time imagining new ways to help the Center further its mission--including this sing-along. Alongside a few of her own compositions, the sing-along featured mostly traditional folksongs which have connections to our unparalleled archival collections. In this blog, you can watch the sing-along itself and then explore these archival connections, including source recordings, photographs, links, and the stories behind the songs.

A woman sings into a microphone with her hand up.

Watch as Natalie Merchant Sings the Treasures of a Nation–Including AFC Archival Treasures

Posted by: Stephen Winick

Watch Natalie Merchant’s June 13 concert at the Library of Congress right here on the blog! The singer, songwriter, activist, and folklife advocate helped the Library mark the opening of the new David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery with a very special "Live! at the Library" concert presentation. Around the concert, she spent a week in residence at the Library doing research, meeting with staff, and participating in our June Family Day activities. Merchant, who fronted the band 10,000 Maniacs during its most successful years and went on to a solo career of sustained depth and brilliance, is also a member of the American Folklife Center's Board of Trustees. Alongside a few of her own compositions, the concert featured mostly traditional folksongs which have connections to our unparalleled archival collections. In this blog, you can watch the concert itself and then explore these archival connections, including source recordings, photographs, links, and the stories behind the songs.

A woman stands in front of a card catalog

Public Event Highlights Two Books and Major AFC Collections

Posted by: Stephen Winick

The authors of two new books, Sheryl Kaskowitz (A Chance to Harmonize: How FDR's Hidden Music Unit Sought to Save America from the Great Depression—One Song at a Time) and Catherine Hiebert Kerst (California Gold: Sidney Robertson and the WPA California Folk Music Project), return this week to the Library of Congress to discuss the remarkable New Deal folksong collecting career of Sidney Robertson (later known as Sidney Robertson Cowell), whose recordings are held in the American Folklife Center. In her work recording songs for the federal government during the mid- to late-1930s, Robertson captured a diverse and multifaceted soundscape of the Great Depression. The conversation will be moderated by American Folklife Center's Director Nicole Saylor and will include a selection of the songs from the collections. The event, which is sponsored by The John W. Kluge Center and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, occurs Wednesday, June 26, 2024 at 4:00 pm EDT in room LJ 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building. In this post, we'll fill you in on the event, the authors, and the books.

A man sits on a desk in an office lined with books

AFC Fellowship and Award Recipients 2024

Posted by: Stephen Winick

The American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress is pleased to announce the 2024 recipients of its competitive annual fellowships and awards programs: the Archie Green Fellowship and the Gerald E. and Corinne L. Parsons Fund Award. This year, these awards went to six projects throughout the United States, whose proposals were reviewed and selected by internal and external panels at the American Folklife Center. Laurena Davis of Clifton, Colorado, received an Archie Green Fellowship for “Taking Stock: Ranching Women of Western Colorado.” Dr. Sarah Beth Nelson of Whitewater, Wisconsin, received Archie Green support for “Community Builders: Library Workers in Wisconsin.” Documentary filmmaker Sophie Dia Pegrum of Woodland Hills, California, received an Archie Green Fellowship for her project “Guardians of the Bees,” featuring interviews with beekeepers. Folklorist Kathryn Noval of Silver Spring, Maryland, received Archie Green funding for her research project “Professional Body Piercers in the 21st Century: Rooted in Passion.” Dr. Sophie Abramowitz, (Brooklyn, New York) received a Parsons Award to support onsite research in AFC collections for the expanded LP reissue of "Jailhouse Blues: Women’s a cappella songs from the Parchman Penitentiary, Library of Congress Field Recordings, 1936 and 1939." Finally, L. Renée, (Virgina), a poet and writer, received a Parsons Award to support her research on Black communities in coal mining and tobacco farming towns of Southwest Virginia and West Virginia.

A man speaks to an audience

Cormac Ó hAodha and the Múscraí Gaeltacht: Botkin Plus Podcast!

Posted by: Stephen Winick

We're back with another entry in the Botkin Plus series AND another episode of the Folklife Today podcast! In this entry, we'll provide the video of a Botkin Lecture and a podcast interview, both of them featuring Cormac Ó hAodha. Cormac is the most recent Lovelace Fellow (aka Lomax Scholar) at the Library of Congress's John W. Kluge Center. That's a fellowship established within the Kluge Center especially for the study of the Alan Lomax collection, one of the American Folklife Center's signature collections. Cormac comes from the village of Cúil Aodha in the Múscraí Gaeltacht of Co. Cork in Ireland, a recognized heartland of the Irish language and traditional Irish-language singing. He is conducting in-depth research on the material Lomax collected some 73 years ago from singers in the Múscraí singing tradition, the same singing tradition Cormac grew up in and is a part of. Some of the people recorded by Lomax are Cormac's relatives, and his research seeks to illuminate their songs, their language, and their traditions. Follow the link to the post, the video, and the podcast!

Two head-and-shoulders portraits of the same man

Caught My Eye: “Iron Head” Baker and “The Mighty Blue Goose”

Posted by: Stephen Winick

In or about 1942, Alan Lomax sketched out a draft or proposal for a children's picture book, "The Story of the Mighty Blue Goose." The book, which Lomax planned to have fully illustrated by an artist, was to be based on "The Grey Goose," a song he had recorded for the archive alongside his father in 1934. Lomax credited the singer as the book’s main author: “Iron Head” Baker, a Texas prison inmate and trusty who sang about 60 songs for the Lomaxes. In 1936, Baker was paroled and spent three months collecting songs across the South with John A. Lomax, returning to prison in 1937. Like many of Alan Lomax’s projects, the book appears to have been interrupted by World War II and his departure from the Library of Congress. This is a shame, because Lomax was clearly onto something. "The Story of the Mighty Blue Goose" would have been inspirational on several levels. An homage to African American culture credited to a Black man and his white assistants, it would have been an inspiring children's book and a significant accomplishment in the legacies of the Lomaxes and of Iron Head Baker.

Homegrown Plus: Blues with Phil Wiggins (1954-2024)

Posted by: Stephen Winick

The passing of harmonica virtuoso and blues master Phil Wiggins on May 7, 2024, was a sad event for the music world, and particularly for the American Folklife Center. Phil was one of the most celebrated musicians in the blues nationwide, and one of the most important roots musicians of any kind in the Washington area. For those reasons among others, AFC has featured Phil in concerts probably more often than any other musician during the last few decades. In this post, we'll bring together most of Phil's appearances that were shot on video, show you some never-before-seen photos of Phil, and pay tribute to a longtime friend of the Center.

Three women standing together, half-length portrait

Celebrating the Online Launch of the Fiftieth Occupational Folklife Project – And How It Got There!

Posted by: Stephen Winick

In mid-April, the American Folklife Center posted another noteworthy Occupational Folklife Project (OFP) collection to the Library’s website. We are excited to point out that it was the 50th collection of oral history interviews with contemporary American workers to be made available online. In this post we celebrate the milestone and highlight the contributions of Steve Berkley and Matthew Smith, two of the many hardworking AFC staff members who do the complicated behind-the-scenes work of processing Archie Green Fellows’ fieldwork projects, accessioning them, and making them available to online patrons.

Five people outdoors holding musical instruments

Homegrown Plus: The Berntsons, Andrea Hoag, and Loretta Kelley

Posted by: Stephen Winick

We're continuing the Homegrown Plus series with a couple of classic concerts of Scandinavian music.  Way back in 2009 we presented the Berntsons, a Norwegian American band who learned their music in rural Wisconsin before moving to Virginia. The Berntsons were joined onstage by the trio of Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer. Among them they played pump organ, fiddle, Hardanger fiddle, six-string and twelve-string guitars, and double bass. Six years later, Hoag and Kelley returned with their fiddles for a program we called "A Tour of Norwegian and Swedish Fiddle Styles." Among them, the Berntsons, Hoag, Kelley, and Pilzer have earned Grammy awards and nominations, they've played on concert stages and at folk festivals nationwide, and, most importantly, they are preserving a living tradition of Nordic folk music for us to enjoy. Back in those days, we were recording interviews primarily on audio, but we did ask for extended essays on the performers. So in this post, you'll find both concert videos along with those essays provided by the musicians.