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Hidden Folklorists on the Folklife Today Podcast

Man and woman, seated, in formal 19th century clothes.

Allan Pinkerton and Joan Carfrae Pinkerton. LC Prints and Photographs Division. For complete information, visit the original here. [//hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.07127]

Episode seven of the Folklife Today Podcast is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on iTunes, or with your usual podcatcher.

Get your podcast here!

Ralph Ellison, photographed in 1960 by a United States Information Agency staff photographer. NARA reference number 306-PSA-61-8989.

In this fascinating episode (we hope!), John Fenn and I, along with Library of Congress staff members Stephanie Hall, Michelle Stefano, and Muhannad Salhi, explore the work of “hidden folklorists,” that is, people whose folklore work is sometimes overlooked because they came from marginalized communities, or were more famous for other activities.

We drew on a lot of previous blog posts to write this episode, which looks at four folklorists or folklore families:

We used a lot of fun and interesting audio in this blog, including incidental music. The full audio for almost all the music and audio examples is available on the Library’s website in the following locations.

First, the audio examples that we mention along the way:

Ledward Kaapana plays guitar in the Coolidge Auditorium. Photo by Stephen Winick

One note: because Ralph Ellison collected the story “Sweet the Monkey” from Leo Gurley in writing and not on an audio recorder, no audio exists for this story.  Because of this, we asked our good friend Solomon HaileSelassie to perform a dramatic reading. As we say in the podcast, the language he used, including mild racial slurs for white people, was the language written down by Ellison, and reflects informal communication between African Americans at the time. We don’t think it’s offensive, but we apologize if anyone does. The podcast includes the entire reading, so there’s no additional audio to serve you here!

Now, on to the incidental music.  We decided to add this to the episode after we recorded our own voices, so we didn’t thank the artists aloud in the episode itself. All the more reason to list them here and point you to their great performances. Many thanks to them for allowing us to record their wonderful music!

Finally, here’s a correction to the podcast: in the episode, I say the Jeannie Robertson recording is from 1953. Although Lomax did record Robertson singing “Jimmie Raeburn” in 1953 as well as in 1958, we actually used the later 1958 recording, so 1958 is the correct date. I apologize for my error!

Langston Hughes: Experimental Folklorist

Langston Hughes is mostly remembered selectively as a “folk” and jazz poet, or author of black vernacular blues and jazz poetry. While Hughes did dedicate himself to creating and reinterpreting these genres throughout his life and career, the core of his work is actually in collecting and experimenting with folklore across spaces and media. In Harlem and abroad, Hughes operated as what scholar Daphne Lamothe calls a “native ethnographer,” adapting his work during and beyond the Harlem Renaissance across genres to the discourses of anthropology, folklore, and sociology in a mode reminiscent of that of sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, civil rights activist, songwriter, and author of the local history book Black Manhattan James Weldon Johnson, choreographer Katharine Dunham, and many others. Specifically, Hughes was an ethnographer of black vernacular culture, transcribing different kinds of linguistic and musical performance and reinterpreting those transcriptions in and as his own texts.

Alistair Cooke: Radio and TV Icon, Hidden Folklorist

This article about the broadcaster, journalist, and writer Alistair Cooke is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. An earlier version of the article appeared in Folklife Center News, Volume 27, Number 1-2, Winter/ Spring 2005. The English-born journalist, broadcaster, […]

“The Gal Who Will Use the Recording Machine:” Insights into the Sarah P. Jamali Collection

This blog post is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. One of my favorite ways to explore our collections is to leaf through the folders of the correspondence file cabinets in our reading room, where I often come across […]

Becky Elzy and Alberta Bradford: Spiritual Folklorists

This blog post about the “Two Sweet Singers” Becky Elzy and Alberta Bradford is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. In preparing this post, I was greatly aided by Shane K. Bernard, the archivist at Avery Island in Louisiana, […]

Frederick Douglass: “I Am A Man”

This blog post is the second of two about the abolitionist Frederick Douglass (celebrating his 200th birthday) and part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. The first post, “Frederick Douglass: Free Folklorist,” is available at this link. The 1850s brought new […]

Edward Avery McIlhenny: Spicy Folklorist

This blog post about the naturalist, ornithologist, and hot sauce innovator E. A. McIlhenny is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. In preparing this post, I was greatly aided by Shane K. Bernard, the archivist at Avery Island in Louisiana. Edward Avery […]

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 […]

Nicholas Ray: frustrated folklorist

This blog post about the filmmaker Nicholas Ray is part of a series called “Hidden Folklorists,” which examines the folklore work of surprising people, including people better known for other pursuits. Nicholas Ray (1911-1979)—iconoclastic filmmaker, writer, friend to trouble, and…folklorist? To those who know the name, Nicholas Ray is most readily recognized as the director who brought […]