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Songs of Spring on the Folklife Today Podcast

We’ve had some scheduling challenges which led to an unexpected hiatus, but we’re back with another episode of the Folklife Today podcast! Since springtime keeps threatening to bust through the cold weather, we’re featuring songs of spring. Find it on Stitcher, iTunes, or your usual podcatcher–or find it at the link we provide from this blog. Also in the blog, see photos find links to most of the songs with more contextual information!

“A Central Thread of Our History”: African American Heritage Lasts Longer than a Month

“In the case of American Negroes, their labor founded the nation and was prime cause of the industrial revolution and the capitalist system of the modern world:  their slavery, revolt, escape, protest and emancipation is a central thread of our history: and without their music and laughter American art and literature would never have attained […]

Homegrown Plus: Samite

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. In 2021, we were very proud to present Samite, a singer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter who was born in Uganda and has lived in upstate New York since the 1980s. Samite left Uganda as a political refugee in 1982. He spent the following few years in Kenya where he studied African traditional musical instruments and rhythms. He mastered the kalimba (thumb piano), marimba (wooden xylophone), litungu (seven-stringed Kenyan lyre) and various flutes, both traditional and western, and learned both traditional melodies and original compositions. He played with the popular African Heritage Band and the Bacchus Club Jazz Band, and played frequently at the Mount Kenya Safari Club and other leading Kenyan venues. He emigrated to the United States in 1987, and continues to play traditional and original music, as well to compose for film scores. He has released albums on the Shanachie, Triloka, Xenophile, and Windham Hill labels, as has been featured on compilations from Putumayo, Ellipsis Arts, and Narada. In the concert you’ll hear songs and stories of Samite’s African roots. In the interview you’ll hear tales of the refugee camps, his time in Kenya, and his life in America, including the influence of Pete Seeger. Find both videos here in the blog!

Researcher Spotlight: Susan Carruthers

Researcher Susan Carruthers is professor of history at the University of Warwick and author of several books including the newly published Dear John: Love and Loyalty in Wartime America (Cambridge University Press, 2022). As Susan discussed in a previous guest blog post, and in this video, Veterans History Project (VHP) collections served as a key […]

Homegrown Plus: Hubby Jenkins

It’s time for another great Homegrown Plus blog! As you may know by now, in this series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the run with Hubby Jenkins, who is an old-time and blues musician living in New York. Hubby is a singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays guitars, banjos, mandolins, and bones. He has been a member of the Rhiannon Giddens Band, and before that the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. Please enjoy his videos in this blog post!

Homegrown Plus: Sean Ardoin

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re continuing the series with Sean Ardoin, an American Creole musician and singer. He is grandson of Louisiana Creole music patriarch Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin, son of Creole accordionist and bandleader Lawrence Black Ardoin, and older brother of hip-hop zydeco accordionist Chris Ardoin, with whom he co-led the Zydeco supergroup Double Clutchin’. The family traces its musical lineage to Bois Sec’s older cousin and musical mentor, Amédé Ardoin, an early recording artist who is one of the most important figures in South Louisiana music. This blog has Sean’s concert and interview embedded, plus a bonus concert of his group Creole United, and a link to his video “What Do You See.”

Homegrown Plus: Reggie Harris

We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus series with Reggie Harris, who is a singer, songwriter, and storyteller on a mission to educate, entertain, and inspire. Many of us here at AFC have admired Reggie for years. In particular, his tours and recordings educating people about the Underground Railroad through song and story have made an important contribution to countless Americans’ understanding of African American history. We knew that Reggie included a lot of traditional songs in his repertoire, from labor songs to spirituals. So we thought it would be fun to ask Reggie to perform a set of mostly traditional songs, including a version of “Free at Last,” inspired by a version in the AFC archive…which made his concert also an example of an artist taking the Archive Challenge. Watch his concert and interview in this blog post!

Groundhog Day: Ancient Origins of a Modern Celebration

Most of us know the tradition: on February 2, our old friend the groundhog will emerge from hibernation, come out of his den, and predict whether winter will deliver more cold weather this year. If the groundhog sees his shadow, the story goes, cold weather will persist another few weeks. If not, warm weather is around the corner. If you like the folklore of holidays, you may be interested to know that Groundhog Day is related to two of the other holidays we have written about extensively on this blog: Halloween and Mayday. In this post, we’ll look at the ancient origins of the Groundhog Day tradition in Celtic and Germanic culture. We’ll also present two fun groundhog songs from AFC collections, and links to further reading and exploration of this seasonal observance.

Homegrown Plus: Jay Ungar and Molly Mason

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. We’re proud to continue the series with Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, an American roots music duo based in New York’s Catskill Mountains. They are best known for their work on the soundtrack of Ken Burns’s PBS documentary series, The Civil War. Jay’s composition “Ashokan Farewell” became the musical centerpiece of the Grammy-winning soundtrack and was nominated for an Emmy. Their performance left a lasting impression on everyone who tuned in. Jay’s fiddling is known for playfulness, drama, soul and technical verve, as he explores many musical styles and idioms that he has internalized and made his own. Molly’s inventiveness on piano and guitar supports the tunes and follows the flow of the melody. Her rich and expressive vocals round out the experience of their award-winning concert presentations.

Homegrown Plus: Iona Fyfe

Welcome to another post in our Homegrown Plus series, in which we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with  Iona Fyfe, who is a folksinger from Aberdeenshire in the North East of Scotland. Iona is recognized as one of Scotland’s finest young ballad singers, rooted deeply in the singing traditions of the North East. Winner of Scots Singer of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2018, Iona has been described by Global Music Magazine as “one of the best Scotland has to offer.” In her Homegrown concert, Iona sang a variety of traditional ballads associated with her part of Scotland. She also honored the American Folklife Center by taking what we call the “Archive Challenge”: learning a song from one of our archival recordings. In Iona’s case, the song was “The White Fisher,” as sung by Bell Duncan in the James Madison Carpenter collection. In our conversation, Iona and I talked about a lot of topics, including the influence of great archival collections on Scottish folksinging; the importance of regional identity in Scottish music; the experience of getting a traditional music degree from a conservatory; the influence of teachers like Rod Paterson, Margaret Bennett, and Ian Russell; and Iona’s plans to draw further on AFC’s James Madison Carpenter collection. Watch both videos right here in this blog post!