Tag Archives: Library of Congress

American choral music, 1870–1922

choralmusic

American choral music, 1870–1922, a new open-access online resource, is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the Choral Directors Association (ACDA).

In 2007 the ACDA and the Library began a collaborative effort to create a website devoted to choral music that would present music in the public domain, available for users to download. The site serves to highlight the collections of sheet music in the Library of Congress and to advance and promote the performance of choral music.

The 76 works presented are limited to a period beginning shortly after the Civil War and ending in 1922. The music selected reflects the diversity of choral music in the collections written during the later 19th- and early 20th centuries and includes accompanied, a cappella, sacred, and secular works for mixed choirs, women’s and men’s ensembles, and children’s choruses.

Below, Amy Beach’s Through the house give glimmering light, one of the works included on the site.

1 Comment

Filed under Resources, Romantic era

Alan Lomax and multiculturalism

lomax radio 1940

When Alan Lomax accepted a position as the Assistant in Charge of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1936 he became a gatekeeper to the largest repository of recorded traditional music in the country.

He subsequently worked to infuse traditional music into mainstream culture and, in so doing, to publicize his interpretation of American culture and society—an interpretation that placed the American people, a category that included racial and ethnic minorities as well as the economically dispossessed and politically disenfranchised, at the center of the nation’s identity.

During the 1930s and 1940s he pursued this goal by developing radio programs that highlighted the music of American traditional communities. These included shows designed for children, including Folk Music of America, which aired weekly on CBS radio’s American School of the Air.

Lomax used this program as a forum to teach children about American cultural and political democracy by highlighting the music of socially, economically, and racially marginalized communities, often including guests from these groups to sing and explain musical traditions on the air.

An examination of the principles that motivated Folk Music of America, along with the artists, songs, and commentary that Lomax included, reveals a strong connection between the ideas of cultural pluralism that emerged during the World War I era and popular constructs of Americanism that developed during the later decades of the 20th century. Ultimately, Lomax’s radio work helped to lay the foundation for the multicultural movement that developed during the early 1970s.

This according to “Broadcasting diversity: Alan Lomax and multiculturalism” by Rachel C. Donaldson (Journal of popular culture XLVI/1 [February 2013] pp. 59–78).

Today would have been Lomax’s 100th birthday! Below, an example of his move to PBS in 1990.

1 Comment

Filed under Ethnomusicology, Mass media, North America

Voices from the past

Carl Haber, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

While he was stuck in traffic in early 2000, the physicist Carl Haber heard the drummer and world music enthusiast Mickey Hart on the radio talking about the dire need for preserving early recordings of indigenous peoples.

Haber had been working with SmartScope, a machine that analyzes visual information, and his work had been going so well that he had started brainstorming for further uses of this machine. It occurred to him that SmartScope might be able to read these old recordings without touching them, thereby removing the likelihood of irrevocably damaging them by playing them.

The idea worked, and Haber went on to facilitate the preservation of recordings in repositories such as the Library of Congress, and to participate in the repatriation of historical recordings to Native Americans and other ethnic groups, allowing them to hear the voices of their ancestors.

This according to “A voice from the past: How a physicist resurrected the earliest recordings” by Alec Wilkinson (The New Yorker XC/13 [19 May 2014], pp. 50–57). Above and below, Dr. Haber and his technological innovations.

Enhanced by Zemanta

1 Comment

Filed under Curiosities, Science

The Leonard Bernstein Collection

bernstein tanglewood august 1946

The Leonard Bernstein Collection is a free online resource comprising selections from The Library of Congress’s holdings related to the composer and conductor.

The collection’s more than 400,000 items—including music and literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, audio and video recordings, fan mail, and other types of materials—extensively document Bernstein’s extraordinary life and career, making available 85 photographs, 177 scripts from the Young People’s Concerts, 74 scripts from the Thursday Evening Previews, and over 1,100 pieces of correspondence, all browseable or accessible through the collection’s Finding Aid.

Above, Bernstein at the piano at a party at Tanglewood in August 1946 (photographer unknown); below, the opening of the first televised Young People’s Concert.

3 Comments

Filed under Mass media, Resources

Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections

Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections is a multiformat ethnographic field collection documenting traditional cultures throughout Florida in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This free online resource is part of the Library of Congress American Memory series.

Undertaken in conjunction with the Florida Federal Writers’ Project, the Florida Music Project, and the Joint Committee on Folk Arts of the Work Projects Administration, the collection features folk songs and folktales in many languages, including blues and work songs from fishing boats, railroad gangs, and turpentine camps; children’s songs, dance music, and religious music of many cultures; and oral histories.

The website provides access to 376 sound recordings and 106 accompanying materials, including recording logs, transcriptions, correspondence between Florida WPA workers and Library of Congress personnel, and an essay on Florida folklife by Zora Neale Hurston (inset). A new essay by Stetson Kennedy reflects on the labor and the legacy of the WPA in Florida, and an extensive bibliography, a list of related Web sites, and a guide to the ethnic and language groups of Florida add further context to the New Deal era and to Florida culture.

Above, construction workers gathered around the stove in the craftsmen’s barracks at Camp Blanding, Florida, in 1940.

Leave a comment

Filed under North America, Resources

Lead Belly and the folklorists

When Michael Taft of the American Folklife Center received a call asking if the Center would be interested in an old Lead Belly disc, it seemed impossible that there could be one that wasn’t already in their collection; but when Taft asked what was printed on the label and heard “Presto” he was intrigued. Presto was not a record company—it was a brand of recording blank that the Library of Congress had used for field recordings in the 1930s and 1940s.

The disc included a song never heard elsewhere, and it provided the key for identifying the recording session. Titled Todd blues, the song was an improvisation that referred to “Mister Todd” and “Mister Sonkin”—Charles Todd (left) and Robert Sonkin (below left), who collaborated on several field recording trips for the Library of Congress in the 1930s and 1940s.

This blues took the form of a humorous lament on the departure of one of the partners: “Mister Todd went away, Lord, just after Christmas Day/He’s going to California…Mister Sonkin sitting here with his head hung down.” These lines clearly place the recording on 20 January 1942, when the pair recorded Lead Belly in New York City, shortly before Todd left for a new job in California.

This according to “A new old recording by Huddie Ledbetter” by Michael Taft (Folklife Center news XXIX/3 [summer 2007] pp. 13–15). Below, Pete Seeger recalls meeting and performing with the great singer-songwriter.

5 Comments

Filed under Black studies, Ethnomusicology, Humor, Jazz and blues, North America

How Cooke heard America singing

A great mystery surrounded I Hear America Singing, the 13-part series that Alistair Cooke produced in 1938: How had the BBC managed to borrow recordings from the Library of Congress when no other broadcaster was allowed access to them?

The circumstances were extraordinary. First, Cooke wrote an eloquent and charming letter to Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress. “When I first became interested in American folk songs,” he wrote, “I had no idea so little had been done in recording, and how desperately hard it is for an amateur to get within earshot of the music he is interested in and excited about….I found that the Library, and only the Library, has recorded a score or more of the songs which can make my series possible.”

Moved by Cooke’s letter and the goal of the series, Putnam agreed to grant one-time rights with notable restrictions: the BBC would send the Library any copies that were made when it returned the recordings; the series would be broadcast live, and only once; and no recordings of the series itself would be preserved. As a result of this arrangement, many recordings were broadcast that had never before been heard by anyone outside the Library.

This according to “Alistair Cooke: A radio and TV icon in the Archive of folk culture” by Stephen D. Winick (Folklife Center news XXVII/1–2 [winter/spring 2005] pp. 6–8). Above, Cooke interviews an unknown singer for the series in 1938. Below, Vera Hall (1902–64) sings Trouble so hard, recorded by John Lomax for the Library of Congress in the 1930s.

2 Comments

Filed under Jazz and blues, Mass media, North America, World music

National jukebox

In May 2011 the Library of Congress launched National jukebox: Historical recordings from the Library of Congress, an Internet resource that makes historical sound recordings available to the public for free. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives. These recordings were issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, which has granted the Library of Congress a gratis license to stream acoustical recordings.

At launch, the Jukebox already included over 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other U.S. labels, including Columbia, Okeh, and some Universal Music Group-owned labels. The selections range from jazz and popular styles to ethnic traditions to Western classical works, including opera arias.

Above, a Victor acoustical recording session ca. 1920.

1 Comment

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Jazz and blues, Mass media, Opera, Popular music, Resources, World music

Fiddle tunes of the old frontier

Part of the Library of Congress’s American Memory series, Fiddle tunes of the old frontier: The Henry Reed Collection is a multiformat collection of traditional fiddle tunes played by Henry Reed of Glen Lyn, Virginia, recorded by Alan Jabbour in 1966 and 1967, when Reed was over eighty years old. The tunes represent the music and evoke the history and spirit of Virginia’s Appalachian frontier; many of them passed back into circulation during the fiddling revival of the later twentieth century.

The collection includes 184 sound recordings, 19 pages of field notes, and 69 transcriptions of Reed’s fiddling with notes on tune histories and musical features; an illustrated essay on  Reed’s life, art, and influence; a list of related publications; and a glossary of musical terms.

Above, Reed with Bobbie Thompson (guitar) at the Narrows (Virginia) Fiddlers Contest, summer 1967. You can hear Reed playing Alabama girls give the fiddler a dram here.

1 Comment

Filed under North America, Resources

“Now what a time”

An installment in the Library of Congress’s American memory series, “Now what a time”: Blues, gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938–1943 presents approximately 100 sound recordings—primarily African American blues and gospel songs—and related documentation from the folk festival at Fort Valley State College (now Fort Valley State University), Fort Valley, Georgia, in 1941 and 1943.

Song lists made by the collectors, correspondence with the Archive about the trips, and a special issue of the Fort Valley State College student newsletter, The Peachite: Festival number, are also included. Notable in this collection is the topical rewording of several standard gospel songs to address the wartime concerns of the performers.

Also included are recordings made in Tennessee and Alabama (including six Sacred Harp songs) by John Work between September 1938 and 1941. These recording projects were supported by the Library of Congress’s Archive of American Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture at the American Folklife Center).

War song, performed by Buster Brown in March 1943, can be heard here.

This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

Leave a comment

Filed under Black studies, North America, Resources