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Kumbaya: History of an Old Song

In honor of African American History Month, we thought we’d present a classic article from Folklife Center News. This one concerns the early history of the African American spiritual “Kumbaya,” also known by other titles such as “Kum Ba Yah,” “Come By Yuh,” and “Come By Here.”  In the years since this article was first published, […]

Frederick Douglass: Free Folklorist

This blog post about the abolitionist Frederick Douglass is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. This is part one of a two-part article, part two, “Frederick Douglass: ‘I Am a Man,’” can be found at the link. I have often […]

Stories Above and Beyond: The Medal of Honor

This is the second blog post in a series relating to the Medal of Honor. Today, in advance of Veterans Day, the Veterans History Project (VHP) debuts a new online portal built to share the stories of Medal of Honor recipients in our collection. Through this feature, entitled “Stories Above and Beyond,” we offer access […]

From “Mule-een” to New Orleans: Just What Was Lead Belly Saying?

Introduction The great American songster Lead Belly, first recorded by John A. and Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1933, is a towering figure in global popular music. In some cases, his influence can be clouded, or hard to understand, because of his own enigmatic personality and because of the fragmentary nature of […]

Billy Bragg, Skiffle Historian and Singer, Visits the Library July 21

This blog post about the singer-songwriter Billy Bragg is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. Billy Bragg will be here for a book talk, July 21 at 7:00 pm in the Mumford Room of the James Madison Memorial Building. […]

“I Didn’t Done the Crime”: Stavin’ Chain’s “Batson” and the Batson Case

Note: This is the third in a series of posts about the murder ballad “Batson.” This one discusses the version of the ballad performed by Wilson Jones, aka “Stavin’ Chain,” in light of the real-life Batson case. In previous blog posts about the murder ballad “Batson,” I looked at early versions collected by Robert Winslow […]

“No One Can Ever Forget It”: Stavin’ Chain’s Performance of “Batson”

Note: This is the second in a series of posts about the murder ballad “Batson.” This one discusses the performance recorded by John A. and Alan Lomax from a trio of musicians including Wilson Jones, a.k.a. Stavin’ Chain, in 1934. A little while back, I presented for the first time anywhere a version of the […]

“When I First Got Ready For the War,” a Song of World War I

This is one of two articles, each focusing on one ethnographic recording of an African American song of World War I. To read the article about “Trench Blues” select here. African Americans left to serve in World War I, beginning one hundred years ago in June 1917, landing in France on June 25. They had […]

A Few Examples of Dads’ Traditions

A celebration of fathers and fatherhood took a long time to be established as a nation-wide observance.  Mother’s Day was being locally observed as it was being promoted in the 19th and early 20th century, and became a regular holiday in May in 1914 by presidential proclamation. Father’s Day was locally celebrated around the country […]

“Oh, Mama”: A Mother’s Love and the Murder Ballad “Batson”

Note: This is the first in a series of posts about the murder ballad “Batson.” This one discusses previously unpublished versions of the song from manuscript collections at AFC. Introduction The ballad “Batson,” collected by John and Alan Lomax from Wilson Jones (whose nickname was “Stavin’ Chain”) and two accompanists, has long been a well-known […]