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The Third Season of the ‘America Works’ Podcast is Here!

Half-length portrait of Popcorn the Circus Comic, whose given name is Thomas Sink. In the background, in a mirror, the photographer can be seen shooting the photo. name is

Popcorn the Circus Comic, also known as Thomas Sink, will be featured in Season 3, Episode 6 of “America Works.” Find his interview and related materials here.

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is kicking off 2022 with the much-awaited third season of “America Works,” a podcast series celebrating the diversity, resilience and creativity of American workers in the face of economic uncertainty. The new season, launched today, features riveting stories from a teacher and workers at a circus, a meat plant, a vineyard, and a now-closed Boeing factory, among others. The first episode is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and at loc.gov/podcasts. Subsequent episodes will be released each Thursday through March 10, 2022.

You can read more about the series below, or find more resources alongside the Library’s press release at this link.  But, if you just want to jump to the podcast itself, they’ll be at the link below, with the most recent episode on top:

Get Your Podcasts Here!

 

Graphic shows a farm, a factory, an American flag, and the words "America Works" and "LOC Podcasts."

Graphic by Shawn Miller for the Library of Congress.

The eight-episode series, part of the American Folklife Center’s ongoing “Occupational Folklife Project,” aims to introduce listeners to a diverse range of voices and perspectives within the changing American workforce. Each 10-minute episode includes workers whose narratives add to the wealth of our shared national experience.

“The eloquence, optimism, and insights of American workers never fail to impress me. Especially during these trying times, I feel honored to help ensure that their stories become part of our national record by being documented and archived here at the Library of Congress,” said Nancy Groce, host of “America Works” and senior folklife specialist at the American Folklife Center. “This podcast series features highlights of these interviews and reassures me that America still works.”

While economic experts predict a full global recovery, employers and workers have faced a tumultuous few years and rising inflation is fueling additional anxiety in many American homes.

Given these challenges, the stories told in “America Works” are a timely reminder of the spirit and grit of the American workforce and they will be added to the historical record of the nation’s library.

The third season of “America Works” includes:

Episode 1— Mario Cervantes, a Hispanic former skilled factory worker for Boeing aircraft in Wichita, Kansas, discusses his family’s long ties to the company and his disappointment that the aviation giant, a community mainstay for over eight decades, shut down its operations there.

Episode 2— Roberta Washington, an African American architect based in New York City, discusses her work designing various public works projects, including the African Burial Ground Interpretive Center for the National Park Service. She also discusses the challenges of being a Black professional in a field that, especially when she started, was dominated by White men.

Episode 3— Henrietta Ivey, a home health care professional in Detroit, Michigan, talks about her pride in helping clients stay in their homes safely and with comfort and dignity. She says home healthcare professionals often encounter hurtful comments, lack of respect and challenging work environments.

Episode 4— Delores Fortuna, a professional potter and owner of Fortuna Pottery in Galena, Illinois, explains how she discovered her love for pottery as a college student and later helped establish annual “pottery tours” to introduce the public to local artisans.

Episode 5— Kira Fobbs, an elementary school teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, since 1996, discusses how her multiethnic heritage helped shape her career teaching 3rd and 4th graders and special education students. She explains that she had pursued a law degree to “help change the world” but instead became a teacher to change the culture “by changing the kids.”

Episode 6— Thomas Sink, a retired circus performer better known as “Popcorn the Circus Comic” in Mead, Oklahoma, spent more than three decades entertaining audiences throughout the Midwest. Despite the high turnover and other challenges that come with the job, Popcorn points out he remained a clown because “it’s a neat life… and I loved the audiences.”

Episode 7— William (Bill) Hatch, a winery worker and owner of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard in Leesburg, Virginia, transformed his multi-generational family dairy and cattle farm into a successful winery. He explains that he started with just over a thousand vines and has transitioned to “more fun” as one of more than 280 wine growers in Virginia. Clients never complimented his milk, but they love his wine, he says.

Episode 8— Komla “Sam” Ewu, a meatpacking plant worker in Beardstown, Illinois, left a prestigious but unprofitable career as an English teacher in his native Togo and migrated to the United States in 2011 after winning a visa lottery. Ewu says he’s grateful because, while he’s “just a meat cutter” performing a grueling job, he is pursuing his American Dream and working hard to bring his family stateside.

Each “America Works” episode is based on a longer interview from the American Folklife Center’s Occupational Folklife Project, a multi-year initiative to document workforce culture. Over the past 12 years, fieldworkers from the American Folklife Center have interviewed more than 1,200 working Americans, documenting their experiences in more than 100 professions. More than 500 of these full-length interviews are now available online.

The first two seasons of “America Works,” launched in August 2020 and April 2021, respectively, are also available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and the Library of Congress website. Listen and subscribe at this link.

 

Homegrown Plus: Iona Fyfe

Welcome to another post in our Homegrown Plus series, in which we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with  Iona Fyfe, who is a folksinger from Aberdeenshire in the North East of Scotland. Iona is recognized as one of Scotland’s finest young ballad singers, rooted deeply in the singing traditions of the North East. Winner of Scots Singer of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2018, Iona has been described by Global Music Magazine as “one of the best Scotland has to offer.” In her Homegrown concert, Iona sang a variety of traditional ballads associated with her part of Scotland. She also honored the American Folklife Center by taking what we call the “Archive Challenge”: learning a song from one of our archival recordings. In Iona’s case, the song was “The White Fisher,” as sung by Bell Duncan in the James Madison Carpenter collection. In our conversation, Iona and I talked about a lot of topics, including the influence of great archival collections on Scottish folksinging; the importance of regional identity in Scottish music; the experience of getting a traditional music degree from a conservatory; the influence of teachers like Rod Paterson, Margaret Bennett, and Ian Russell; and Iona’s plans to draw further on AFC’s James Madison Carpenter collection. Watch both videos right here in this blog post!

Homegrown Plus: Changüí Majadero

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re happy to be continuing the series with the Cuban American band Changüí Majadero. Founded by tres guitarist and vocalist Gabriel García, Changüí Majadero was the result of García’s pivotal pilgrimage to the Guantanamo region of Cuba, where he learned the musical style called changüí from the living masters of the style. He says he was inspired to spread the spirit of Cuban folkloric music mixed with a dash of East Los Angeles grit. The band’s concert included songs they learned during research in the American Folklife Center archive, along with other songs from their repertoire. Our conversation with Gabriel provides an introduction to the band and to the unusual style known as changüí, including the instruments, rhythms, and history of this important musical tradition.

Homegrown Plus: Joe Jencks

In the “Homegrown Plus” series we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with our friend Joe Jencks, who is an accomplished singer-songwriter but also a lover of traditional songs, especially work and labor songs. For his Homegrown concert, he performed an entire set of songs from the AFC archive, making this concert also an example of an artist taking the Archive Challenge. We’re delighted that Joe took the challenge, and we think he did a fantastic job in his exemplary concert video. You can watch his concert, his interview video, and a bonus Archive Challenge song from Folk Alliance International, all in this blog post!

Saint George and the Hacker: A Zoom Meeting Mummers Play

The American Folklife Center’s 2021 Mummers play is about a zoom meeting that gets invaded by a hacker who won’t let the participants leave until he gets a bitcoin ransom. 2021 has felt like a zoom meeting that wouldn’t end, so we hope our audience can relate! Find a video of the play and the complete annotated script in this blog!

Home for the Holidays? Take the New VHP Field Kit With You!

The following is a guest blog post by Owen Rogers, a Veterans History Project (VHP) liaison specialist. The Veterans History Project heard your feedback and released a new how-to Field Kit that’s more user-friendly than ever. Whether you’re virtually visiting veterans,  or spending personal time with family members who served in the military, bring the […]

Scrooge’s Prize Turkey: Victorian Christmas Foodways in Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”

This post is part of an occasional series about ethnography and folklore in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.  Find the whole series here! In our last look at the foodways of Dickens’s classic story A Christmas Carol, we examined the joy the Cratchits take in their small but serviceable Christmas goose, as Scrooge and the Ghost […]

Caught My Ear: Dance Tunes in the National Jukebox from Collections by Cecil Sharp

Many divisions of the Library of Congress have fascinating collections that are closely related to folklife and that complement collections in the American Folklife Center. The Recorded Sound Section is a part of the Library that works closely with the American Folklife Center in a variety of important ways. Among their holdings are recordings related […]

Cooking the Cratchits’ Goose: Urban Foodways in Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol reveals an interesting fact about Victorian London: many working class people lacked cooking facilities, with only a hearth fire in their homes. In this post, we’ll see some of their strategies for cooking a meal by looking at the Cratchits, the only working class family depicted in the book in a detailed way. We’ll also look beyond the Cratchits to other London families in the same boat, and show how Dickens expresses social and political ideas about foodways through Scrooge and his interactions.