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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 […]

“People Who Stood Up”: Mississippi Women in the Civil Rights Movement

This guest blog post comes to us courtesy of Catherine Turner, a high school senior working at the American Folklife Center this Spring on her service project for Park School in Baltimore, MD. Catherine is entering Brown University in Fall 2017, and has spent the last six weeks diving into the collections at the Library […]

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Folklorist

This blog post about the novelist Ralph Ellison is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. Ralph Ellison was born in 1914 in Oklahoma City.  The grandson of slaves, he grew up to be a brilliant writer, who produced short […]

Cutting the Tension – VHP Narrators’ Cracks, Jokes and Quips

The following is a guest blog post by Owen Rogers, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP). Among VHP’s oral histories, memoirs and correspondence, we frequently find humorous anecdotes about jokes, pranks and creative punishments. This post began as an “April Fools” ruse developed from some of the more absurd scenarios recounted by veterans […]