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Halloween Songs and Stories on the Folklife Today Podcast AND in No Depression!

Portrait of Bessie Jones, looking right.

Bessie Jones on the set of the “Music of Williamsburg” film, Williamsburg, Virginia, April 28, 1960. (Photo by Alan Lomax. Alan Lomax Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress)

Time is getting short before Halloween, so we’re combining two announcements in this one blog post! First of all, as our readers may remember, we’ve been working with No Depression, The Journal of Roots Music, which is published by the nonprofit Freshgrass Foundation. They’re publishing a column called Roots in the Archive, featuring content from the American Folklife Center and Folklife Today. Find the series at this link, over at their website! We’ve published a new column over there featuring Bessie Jones, singer and National Heritage Fellow, who among many other things was an expert on supernatural folklore about witches, magic, Death, and the Devil. Find that newest “Roots in the Archive” column here!

Our second order of business is to announce the third annual Halloween episode of the Folklife Today Podcast! It’s Episode 20 (or Season 3, Episode 1). Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher.  As usual, I’ll use this blog post to direct you to fuller audio and video of the items we mentioned in the podcast, and to give you more background on the topic.

But first:

Get your podcast here!

In the episode, John Fenn and I are joined by Jennifer Cutting to introduce more of our favorite haunted songs. We talk about their history and background, and mention other versions in our collections. Luckily, as of yesterday they’ve all been featured on the blog, so I can just provide links here to their earlier appearances, which also link to supplementary versions.

Jean Ritchie and Duncan Emrich converse. Emrich has a note pad and pencil. There is a microphone suspended from the ceiling between them.

Jean Ritchie speaks to Duncan Emrich during her 1951 visit to the Library of Congress, when she recorded “The Unquiet Grave.” Library of Congress Photo.

Here goes:

Jean Ritchie’s “The Unquiet Grave” and I. G. Greer’s “The Three Babes” (a version of “The Wife of Usher’s Well”) were both presented in our 2017 post “Ghost Stories in Song for Halloween.”

A. L. Lloyd’s version of “Polly Vaughan,” Lena Bare Turbyfill’s chilling rendition of “Bolakins” (A version of the ballad known as “Lamkin” or “Long Lankin”), and Seamus Ennis’s “A Bhean Úd Thíos (The Woman Of The Fairy Mound)” (An Irish-language ballad sometimes called in English “The Stolen Bride”), were all featured in last week’s post “Haunting Songs for Halloween 2020.

“Tom Devil,” sung in the podcast by a group of men incarcerated at Parchman Farm, including James Carter, was featured in yesterday’s post “Devil Songs for Halloween.”

Close up of James Carter's face

James Carter swings an axe at Parchman Farm in 1959. Photo by Alan Lomax. Alan Lomax Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

So there you have it! If you want to know more about any of the songs in the podcast, or hear any of the alternate versions we talked about, you’ll find all that in the blog post associated with that song. But first, you’ll have to listen to the podcast! So what are you waiting for?

Here’s that podcast link again.

And in case you’ve forgotten, here’s the No Depression link too.

Happy Halloween–we’ll see you in November!

Devil Songs for Halloween

In his book The Folk Songs of North America, in an introduction to one of the American Folklife Center’s finest songs about the Devil, Alan Lomax wrote:

Early America saw the Devil as a real and living personage. Rocks in New England were scarred by his hoofprints, as he carried off maidens, screaming and howling, over the hills, or came after the men who had sold their souls to him in return for money or success. […] A mountain woman tells of the last moments of her mean old husband…’I knowed he war goin’, because all the dogs from fur and nigh come around and howled. Hit wur a dark night. But plain as day, comin’ down yon side the mountain, through the bresh so thickety a butcher knife couldn’t cut hit, I seen the Devil a-comin’. He war ridin’ a coal-black cart, drivin’ a coal-black oxen. The cart come down to the door and stopped. When it come, it come empty. But when it went away, hit had a big black ball in it that war Arzy’s soul. […] Lomax’s passage serves as a fine and atmospheric introduction to our own Halloween exploration of the Devil in folksongs from the American Folklife Center archive!

More About the Business of Scrooge and Marley: an Ethnographic Approach

A few years ago, my esteemed colleague Ellen Terrell wrote an excellent blog post at Inside Adams, examining from a business perspective the firm of Scrooge and Marley, the fictional business at the center of Charles Dickens’s classic work of Christmas literature, A Christmas Carol. I thought I would see what an ethnographic perspective could […]

2019 Mummers’ Play: AFC Mums While Washington Burns

Read the text and see the photos of the American Folklife Center’s holiday play! It’s 1814 and the U.S. Capitol has been burned by the British. President James Madison throws Library of Congress collections in a sleigh and seeks help from Father Christmas and the preservation specialists at the North Pole Library! The latest version of our play, which tours the halls of the Library of Congress. Each year, dressed in costumes that range from striking to silly, we sing, act, rhyme, and dance for other Library staff members and for members of the public. Our performances are based on the ancient tradition of mumming, which has come down to our archive in the form of play scripts, songs, photos, and other items collected in the early twentieth century.

Mumming Up: AFC Mumming on Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The American Folklife Center Mummers will present their annual mummers’ ; play in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress at 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday, December 11. It’s open to the public, so come on in and see us perform! This year’s play is called AFC Mums While Washington Burns: A Conservation Mumming. It’s 1814 and the Capitol has just been burned by the British, so James Madison throws Library collections in a dogsled and heads for the conservators at the North Pole Library.

Spiders and Skin-Changers: Two African American Witch Tales for Halloween

It’s almost Halloween, and therefore time for spooky stories here at Folklife Today! Witches are, of course, a big part of American Halloween, and the witch is one of the most popular characters featured in costumes and decorations. These range from the standard image of a woman with a pointy hat and a broom, to […]

Say Their Name. Learn Their Story.

As we rejoice in the splendor of a three-day weekend, it is imperative that we acknowledge the true purpose of Memorial Day: to remember our national history and guiding principles through paying homage to those who laid down their lives for the ideals we hold dear.  It’s a day to get to know these individuals, to […]