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Five men stand on stage. One sings into a microphone.

Caught My Eye and Ear: Calypso Photos and Recordings, 1946-1947

Posted by: Stephen Winick

This post looks at photos and recordings of some important calypso stars of the 1940s New York music scene, Macbeth the Great (Patrick MacDonald), Duke of Iron (Cecil Anderson) and Lord Invader (Rupert Grant). The 1947 photos are part of the William P. Gottlieb collection at the Library of Congress Music Division, while the recording of a full-length 1946 concert by the three performers is part of the American Folklife Center’s Alan Lomax Collection. These collections shed light on an interesting time in American music, before the emergence of rock and roll, when calypso and related Caribbean styles were vying for popularity with other folk music genres. In 1944, the Andrews Sisters had a major hit with Lord Invader's "Rum and Coca-Cola." In 1956, Harry Belafonte's "Calypso" became the first million-selling LP record. During the period between those milestones, it looked possible that calypso could emerge to be one of the leading styles of American pop music. Performers like Duke of Iron, Macbeth, and Lord Invader engaged in friendly competitions like the ones documented by Gottlieb and Lomax, using witty lyrics, catchy music, and personal charisma to fascinate audiences on stage and on record. Find the photos and a link to the concert audio in this blog post.

Two portraits, A half-length portrait of the seventeenth century playwright, Ben Jonson. and

Knock Knock! Who’s There? Metafolklore, Jokes, and Shakespeare

Posted by: Stephen Winick

In this post, we discuss the frequently repeated claim that William Shakespeare originated the knock knock joke. The claim is an example of metafolklore, in that it’s a traditional story, or creation myth, told about a kind of joke. The story is based on a passage from “Macbeth” in which a porter declaims a monologue which includes the phrase “knock knock. Who’s there?” After we look at this fun passage from the perspective of the knock knock joke, we present new evidence: an earlier (and funnier) joking use of “knock knock. Who’s there?” in a play by Shakespeare’s friend Ben Jonson. While it’s possible to conclude that Jonson originated the knock knock joke, we also point out that both Jonson and Shakespeare were drawing on a deep well of folk culture, which included all kinds of jokes, including set dialogue routines. It's eminently plausible that among those routines was the "knock knock, who's there" opening that eventually evolved into modern knock knock jokes.

A man and a woman sit on chairs on a small stage.

Botkin Folklife Lectures Plus: Michael Ford, Mississippi Ethnographer, Photographer, Filmmaker, and Author

Posted by: Stephen Winick

Enjoy two video interviews with the ethnographer, photographer, and filmmaker Michael Ford. Michael first visited the American Folklife Center in 2014, soon after we were able to acquire his significant collection of materials documenting traditional life and culture in the hill country of northern Mississippi. Michael first moved to Mississippi in the 1970s after receiving his BFA in photography and film from Rochester Institute of Technology and an MS in broadcasting and film from Boston University. Michael became captivated with his new home, and soon became a part of community life. He completed an apprenticeship in a local blacksmith's shop and began to realize that local life and culture was rapidly changing. He spent several years documenting music, local farming practices, and other aspects of community life, primarily in Lafayette, Marshall, Tate, and Panola Counties in Mississippi. He shot over 16,000 feet of 16 mm film, recorded many hours of interviews and music, and took over 1000 still photographs. These have formed the basis of films, books, and more. As a special treat, we include links to streaming video of several of his films, exploring traditions of blues music, blacksmithing, quilting, and more! As usual for posts in this series, you'll find two embedded videos and a set of links to explore.

A black and white up-close photo of Lottie Espinosa playing her guitar

Celebrating California Gold: AFC’s New Story Map on the Northern California Folk Music from the 1930s Collection

Posted by: Michelle Stefano

The American Folklife Center announces its new Story Map, California Gold: Sidney Robertson Cowell, 1930s California Folk Music, and the American Folklife Center, which follows the folk music collector, Sidney Robertson on her late 1930s trip to document musicians, singers, and their families and communities in California.

A man plays guitar and sings with an American flag in the background.

Homegrown Plus: American Roots Music with Rev. Robert B. Jones, Sr.

Posted by: Stephen Winick

We're continuing the Homegrown Plus series with an entertaining and educational concert and interview by Reverend Robert B. Jones, Sr., an inspirational musician and storyteller celebrating the history, humor, and power of American roots music. His deep love for traditional African American and American music is shared in live performances that interweave timeless stories with original and traditional songs. For more than thirty years Robert has entertained and educated audiences of all ages in schools, colleges, libraries, union halls, prisons, churches and civil rights organizations. He brought that inspiration here to the Library of Congress on February 15, 2024, as part of the Homegrown series as well as the series "Live! At the Library," and as part of our celebrations of Black History Month. As an ordained minister and a Baptist pastor, Rev. Jones has an unwavering faith the cultural importance of sacred and traditional American roots music. At the heart of his message is the belief that our cultural diversity is a story that we should celebrate, not just tolerate. This concert included blues, spirituals, gospel, rock, and even a touch of hip hop, delivered with voice, acoustic guitar and harmonica. Watch for the special sequence in which Rev. Jones is joined by his wife Sister Bernice Jones, his daughter Arnecia Jones, his son Robert Jones II (aka R.J.), and his daughter-in-law, R.J.'s wife, Sister Rosa Warner Jones. As usual for this series, you’ll find a concert video, an interview video, and a set of links to explore.

Image of janitor Rubi Andazola, custodial lead at University of Colorado Boulder. Photograph by Cynthia Torres. 2021.

Custodians and Janitors: New Occupational Folklife Project Collection Launched!

Posted by: Douglas D. Peach

In this post, Nancy Groce (Senior Folklife Specialist at the American Folklife Center) highlights "Custodians and Janitors in Colorado" -- a new collection available from the American Folklife Center's Occupational Folklife Project. The collection, documented by Cynthia Torres, features interviews about the occupational culture and experiences of custodians and janitorial workers in the state of Colorado. The post gives an overview of the collection and features an interview with Torres about her field research. Torres was awarded an Archie Green Fellowship by the American Folklife Center in 2021 to undertake research for this collection.

Five men in suits and ties.

Homegrown Plus: Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers

Posted by: Stephen Winick

It's time for another Classic Edition of Homegrown Plus! Embedded in this blog post, you'll find two concert videos (from 2009 and 2013) with the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers, a 2013 interview video, and a set of links to explore. The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers, which since those days has shortened its name to the Brotherhood Singers, is a jubilee-style, a cappella, sacred gospel quartet from Covington, Kentucky. Over 30 years ago, Ric Jennings formed the quartet out of the renowned Ninth Street Baptist Church Men's Choir. Since the beginning, this community-based quartet has sung in churches, at special gospel programs, anniversaries, song services, and other sacred music events. In addition to continuing the traditional community role of the gospel quartet, the Brotherhood has expanded their reach to a global audience, performing both spiritual and secular songs. Enjoy their music in these classic videos!

Two interviewers with interviewee, standing in the streets of New Orleans.

COVID Recollections: “People Make the World Move”- Pandemic Stories from New Orleans-Area Service and Hospitality Workers

Posted by: Douglas D. Peach

In this post, guest authors Sara T. Bernstein and Elise Chatelain, members of Dismantle Media and Culture Alliance, describe their experiences documenting the COVID-19 experiences of service and hospitality workers in New Orleans as part of the American Folklife Center's COVID-19 American History Project. This post is the first in a new Folklife Today blog series titled, "COVID Recollections." The series features stories, dispatches, and reflections from the COVID-19 American History Project, a Congressionally funded initiative to create an archive of Americans' experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic at the American Folklife Center.

Billy MxCrea African American performer photographed with KJohn A. Lomax for a Library recording trip, Jasper, Texas, 1940

“We have our work cut out for us”: A Conversation with Sarah Bryan, Executive Director of the Association for Cultural Equity

Posted by: Guha Shankar

This interview by AFC staff member, Guha Shankar, with Sarah Bryan, Executive Director of the cutural arts organization, the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), highlights ACE's work in producing a range of programs and publications that raise public awareness of the richness and diversity of global expressive culture. ACE works in collaboration with the Library in several areas. particularly initiatives that center on the merican Folklife Center's seminal Alan Lomax collecton of world music, song and dance recordings.