Tag Archives: Radio

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.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, North America

Radio for cows

cows at sunset

The cowboy practice of “singing the cattle down”—the night herder’s soft crooning to quiet the cows for sleep—received a new twist in 1926.

A fan letter sent to WGES in Chicago by Tom Blevins, a Utah cowman, reported that he had set up a portable radio on the range and was treating the cows to urban dance music in the evening.

“It sure is a big saving on the voice” Blevins wrote. “The herd don’t seem to tell the difference. Don’t put on any speeches, though. That’ll stampede ’em sure as shootin’.”

This according to “’Sing down the cattle’ by radio” (Popular radio October 1926, p. 615), which is reprinted in Music, sound, and technology in America: A documentary history of early phonograph, cinema, and radio (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012) p. 279.

Below, evidence suggesting that cows continue to enjoy that era’s dance music.

Related articles:

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities

An early portable radio

poussette-radio1

On 10 May 1921 student members of the Radio Club at Union College, Schenectady, rigged up a wireless receiving station on a baby carriage with a small megaphone mounted under the hood. A sympathetic mother loaded in her baby, and a student wheeled the carriage into the city’s business district.

At the same time, a young woman at the club’s sending station on the college grounds began singing a lullaby. Her singing was reproduced by the receiver on the carriage as it moved all through the city, for over a mile. Those present reported that the baby was “as good as could be” from start to finish.

This according to “Very latest in wireless: Union College students find a universal lullaby for babies” (New York times, 11 May 1921, p.12), which was reprinted in Music, sound, and technology in America: A documentary history of early phonograph, cinema, and radio (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).

A digitized reproduction of the original article is here. Below, a modern version of the carriage.

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Filed under Curiosities

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.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, North America, World music

Fonoteca: Radio Nacional de Colombia

 

Fonoteca: Radio Nacional de Colombia presents over 29,000 historical recordings, including speeches by presidents and public employees since 1940, serials since 1941, interviews since 1944, religious music festivals, llanera, bagpipes, porro, vallenato, rock, reggae, and Native American music from 1975 to date, as well as lectures and high school class broadcasts from 1960 through 2004.

The site also features the virtual Fonoteca radio station, whose broadcasts have long been part of the youth-oriented Radionica, the Radio Nacional de Colombia FM station.

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Filed under Popular music, Resources