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Category: AFC History

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.

Side by side head and shoulders portraits of two women.

Announcing a New Cohort of AFC Summer Interns

Posted by: Nicole Saylor

The American Folklife Center is pleased to announce the selection of three summer interns who will work on public programs, outreach activities and descriptive access work. One intern comes to us from the Utah State University folklore studies program, and two are supported by the AFC Internship Fund. Hanna Salmon is a PhD candidate in Ethnomusicology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research examines how Palestinian storytellers foster affective atmospheres through their performances. Maggie Jones has just graduated magna cum laude from First Nations University of Canada’s Indigenous Languages Program with a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics. They have an interest in Algonquian languages, Indigenous oral history, language revitalization, and journalism. Melanie Kimball is earning an MA in folklore studies at Utah State University. Her research interests include supernatural legends, folk beliefs, vernacular religion, and ethnomusicology. Her thesis investigates how people use music as an apotropaic and folk remedy for fear. Since 2017, the AFC Internship Fund has supported 12 paid internships. It was started by a generous donation from the late Peter Bartis, a former staff member. As the American Folklife Center approaches its 50th anniversary in 2026, we are committed to building this fund to help train a new generation of cultural workers.

Sketch of FWP writer and poet Sterling A. Brown

The United States vs. Sterling A. Brown – John Edgar Tidwell

Posted by: Guha Shankar

In this guest blog, Dr. John Edgar Tidwell, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Kansas, focuses on the critical importance of Sterling A. Brown's work as Editor on Negro Affairs for the Depression-era Federal Writers' Project, and his efforts in the struggle against racial inequality by "authenticat[ing] the representations of Blacks in the American Guide Series travel guides." The response to his work by authorities speaks volumes about the repressive political climate that sought to suppress any research and analysis of societal conflict and injustice such as Brown's. Dr. Tidwell presented a version of these remarks at an AFC symposium in June 2023 to mark the publication of the anthology, Rewriting America: New Essays on the Federal Writers’ Project (2022), which critically examines the FWP on its 80th anniversary. It is most appropriate to publish this blog today, since it was 45 years ago today, on November 16, 1978, that the Library of Congress celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Archive of Folk Song with a day-long symposium featuring, among others, Alan Lomax, song-collector and archivist for the Archive in its early years; David "Honeyboy" Edwards, master blues singer and later a Grammy recipient; and Sterling A. Brown, author, poet, and guiding figure in the FWP.

Heather Hodges Headshot

AFC Board of Trustees Names New Chair Heather Hodges

Posted by: Nicole Saylor

Heather Hodges was elected chair of the American Folklife Center Board of Trustees at the fall board meeting September 15, 2023. Lori Pourier, CEO of the First Peoples Fund, was elected vice chair. Heather replaces Amy Kitchener, Executive Director for the Alliance of California Traditional Arts, who served as Board chair from 2019-2023. Heather is the Director of Institutional Advancement at the Historic New Orleans Collection, where she raises awareness and finds resources to support the museum's work. Heather has served on the AFC Board since 2020, and her collaborations with AFC date back to 2017. We are thrilled to have her leading the Board in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of AFC in 2026. She sat down with me recently to talk about her background and her vision for her new role.

Text of image says Library of Congress, Folklife

AFC Welcomes a New Trustee to the Board: Heather Obernolte

Posted by: John Fenn

  The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress welcomes a new Congressional appointee to the Center’s Board of Trustees: Heather Obernolte, Ph.D. Appointed to the Board by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, she will serve a term that expires June 1, 2028. With a long history as a volunteer and community activism, she …

Sports in the Collections of the American Folklife Center

Posted by: John Fenn

This guest post is from Doug Peach, a Folklife Specialist here at the Library of Congress. In it he describes materials that the Center has drawn on recently for two collection displays focused on sports and community. Introduction The American Folklife Center is, perhaps, best known for its collections of music and storytelling—and for good …

24 people pose for a photo

Ukrainian Musicians Visit American Folklife Center

Posted by: Stephen Winick

On Wednesday, July 5, and Friday, July 7, 2023, the American Folklife Center (AFC) welcomed a delegation of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American musicians to the Library of Congress. The musicians—Shchuka-Ryba, Bozhychi, Mariya Kvitka, Yaroslav Dzhus, Katya Chilly, and Ukrainian Village Voices—traveled to Washington, D.C. to perform at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Joining the groups were representatives from the Maidan Museum in Kyiv, Ukraine, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, and Dr. James Deutsch—a curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Find out about their visit, and about many of AFC's Ukrainian collections and programs, in this blog post!