Born in 1906 in Poland, Ben Stonehill (Steinberg) immigrated with his large family to Rochester, New York, while still a young child; in 1929 he moved to New York City, where he eventually became proprietor of a small floor-servicing business.
A fluent Yiddish speaker who cherished his cultural heritage, Stonehill was also a devoted zamler, a collector of folklore. In 1948 he learned of a major gathering point for new refugees: the Hotel Marseilles in upper Manhattan.
Lacking recording equipment but determined to pursue his mission, Stonehill took a sales job at a local wire-recorder dealership and emerged from the showroom with a salesman’s demonstration model. Nearly every weekend that summer he hauled this machine by subway from his home in Queens to the Hotel Marseilles to record songs and stories from the hundreds of survivors he encountered in the hotel lobby.
Stonehill documented an unparalleled cross-section of music then current among Jewish displaced persons (DPs), from traditional Hasidic nigunim to prewar folk and popular songs in Polish, Yiddish, and Russian; from Soviet propagandist ballads to Zionist pioneer anthems; from songs recalled from ghettos and camps to lyrics relating the experiences of recent DPs. His inventory eventually listed 1054 separate titles.
In 1964 Stonehill realized a long-held dream by delivering a lecture on folksong at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. The following year, terminally ill, he abandoned his book-in-progress and bequeathed his recordings (by then copied to magnetic tape) to YIVO, the Library of Congress, and other collecting institutions. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum acquired a set from the Library of Congress in 2005.
This according to Ben Stonehill (2008), part of the Holocaust Museum’s series Music of the Holocaust.
Above, Stonehill around the time he began his recording project. One of his recordings can be heard here; a Library of Congress presentation about his life and work is here.
Ilmari Krohn was the founder of the Finnish school of ethnomusicology, and he was one of the first to develop lexicographical methods for the classification and study of traditional music.
Krohn derived support and inspiration from the Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, which pioneered the collection of Finnish folklore and the publication of Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. He was also influenced by the historic-geographic method in folklore, originated by his father Julius and his older brother Kaarle.
The main focus of Krohn’s approach was on the collection, classification, and publication of traditional songs, not ethnography or the musicians themselves. The principles Krohn laid were later adopted by Bartók and Kodály, and then spread to a number of European countries.
This according to “History, geography, and diffusion: Ilmari Krohn’s early influence on the study of European folk music” by Erkki Pekkilä (Ethnomusicology L/2 [spring–summer 2006] pp. 353–59).
Today is Krohn’s 150th birthday! Below, a 1977 recording of his Rukous (Prayer).
Founded in the aftermath of World War II, the International Folk Music Council (now the International Council for Traditional Music) was a diverse group of scholars, musicians, and enthusiasts united toward an urgent goal: the preservation and revival of the world’s rapidly disappearing musical traditions. But beyond this general common cause, its members differed widely on many topics—not least, on the very definition of folk music.
Beginning with the IFMC’s first conference in 1948, where the German musicologist Walter Wiora discussed the distinction between Kategorie (category) and Wertidee (inspiring ideal), several of the Council’s members—most notably the English folklorist Maud Karpeles—debated the meanings of such terms as folk and the all-important qualifier authentic. The questions that were raised illuminate the beginnings of ethnomusicology and resonate with some of the current issues in the field.
This according to “Kategorie or Wertidee? The early years of the International Folk Music Council” by James R. Cowdery, an essay included in RILM’s own Music’s intellectual history.
Above, members of the IFMC at their meeting in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1950. Front and center: the Bengali poet and folklorist Jasīmauddīna, the U.S. ethnomusicologist George Herzog, and Dr. Karpeles.
Launched in 2017, The international journal of traditional arts is an international, peer-reviewed gold open access journal that promotes a broad-ranging understanding of the relevance of traditional arts in contemporary social life.
The journal publishes leading and robust scholarship on traditional arts from around the world with a focus on the contemporary policy and practice of traditional music, dance, drama, oral narrative, and crafts. Its scope includes ethnomusicology, cultural sociology, anthropology, ethnology, ethnochoreology, cultural policy, folklore, musicology, cultural studies, cultural economics, heritage, and tourism studies.
Above and below, Quartett Laseyer, a group that figures in one of the articles in the inaugural issue.
In 2016 Svenskt Visarkiv launched Puls: Musik- och dansetnologisk tidskrift/Journal for ethnomusicology and ethnochoreology, an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal (EISSN 2002-2972).
While the main focus of the journal is ethnomusicology and ethnochoreology, it also embraces adjacent disciplines, such as other aspects of musicology and choreology, folklore, literature, and related studies of traditional and popular culture. The journal focuses on discussion of the expressions, roles, and functions of music and dancing in society. Articles are published in Scandinavian languages or in English.
Below, Frode Fjellheim’s Eatnemen vuelie as heard in Disney’s Frozen, the subject of a discussion in the inaugural issue.
In Frances Densmore’s broad sweep through Native American communities, practicing what is now considered salvage anthropology, she worked with more Native American cultures than any anthropologist of her time.
After Densmore’s passing in 1957, others found it difficult to assess the results of her decades of work or to fit them into histories of various types. She had participated actively in communities of musicologists, anthropologists, and other professional women, as well as with Native communities as she pursued her social science. These communities were historically imbricated.
Densmore saw her work as the single focus of a lifetime. That work, over time, became but one part of a larger cultural context within which musicologists and anthropologists as a whole, as well as women anthropologists in particular and Native American writers, examined her work.
This according to “Gone but not quite forgotten” by Joan M. Jensen, an essay included in Travels with Frances Densmore: Her life, work, and legacy in Native American studies (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015, pp. 242–83).
Today is Densmore’s 150th birthday! Above, with Susan Windgrow (Maka Waste’ Win/Good Earth Woman), ca. 1930; below, Sitting Bull’s favorite song, recorded by Densmore from a man who had learned it by hearing it sung repeatedly by Sitting Bull himself.
The power of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American folk music, which turns 65 this year, lies squarely in its use of collage.
Smith’s decisions in sequencing and juxtaposing the 84 songs encouraged a play of sounds and lyrical content that calls attention to similarities and differences, opening multiple meanings and allowing for many possible interpretations.
By privileging collage over narrative, Smith created a complex and nuanced work of social commentary. Through collage, the Anthology captures the ongoing negotiation of the various voices—past and present, black and white—taking part in the reconstruction of U.S. history. These voices remain audible today.
This according to “Collage, politics, and narrative approaches to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American folk music” by Dan Blim, an essay included in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American folk music: America changed through music (Abington: Routledge, 2017, pp. 82–99).
Above, Smith ca. 1965; below, selections from volume II of the six-volume set.
The global jukebox is the culmination of a lifetime of groundbreaking work by Alan Lomax, whose efforts to record and compile song and dance from around the world led to this collaborative project—an interactive portal for the world’s music, dance, and speaking traditions from almost every corner of the earth, recorded by hundreds of pioneering ethnographers.
This open-access resource is divided into three broad areas of inquiry: cantometrics, an analysis of the elements of song within and across cultures, and choreometrics and parlametrics, which similarly evaluate dancing and speaking.
Users can search by genre or culture and experience thousands of songs and videos that come from a myriad of traditions; seek their ancestry through song and dance; uncover the roots and connections of their favorite musical genres; take a guided tour through the vibrant musical culture of a single region or style; look at clusters of any tradition’s song styles; or search for their own answers with the site’s analytical tools.
Below, Lomax discusses the background of the project.
In its third issue the Journal African music published a brief article about a new professional society—“Society of [sic] Ethnomusicology” by Willard Rhodes (I/3  pp. 70–71).
In 1953 a group of anthropologists including Rhodes, David P. McAllester, and Alan P. Merriam, along with the musicologist Charles Seeger, had issued Ethno-musicology newsletter no. 1, a modest 10-page mimeographed pamphlet. In two years the mailing list had grown to almost 600 addresses, so a formal organization seemed warranted. The Society for Ethnomusicology was founded in 1955.
Rhodes was pleased to announce that the newsletter, which originally presented only Notes and News, Bibliography, and Discography, was recently enabled by the growth of the Society’s membership to over 260—plus a small grant—to include articles and book reviews. Hopes were expressed that this newsletter might one day follow African music’s path by expanding into a journal.
Above, the original core group in 1971 (left to right, Seeger, Merriam, Rhodes, and McAllester). Below, one of Rhodes’s field recordings was included on the Voyager golden record.
In 2015 the Society for Ethnomusicology launched Ethnomusicology translations, a peer-reviewed, open-access online series for the publication of ethnomusicological literature translated into English (ISSN 2473-6422).
Articles and other literature in any language other than English are considered for editorial review, translation, and publication. Preference is given to individual articles published in scholarly journals or books during the past 20 years.
As a central online resource, Ethnomusicology translations aims to increase access to the global scope of recent music scholarship and advance ethnomusicology as an international field of research and communication.
Below, Greek animal bells (worn by goats in this case), a subject that figures in the series’s inaugural publication.