Concerts from the Library of Congress, 2007-2008

Folklife Concerts

A free noon concert series presented by the American Folklife Center and the Music Division at the Library of Congress in cooperation with the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. All concerts are in the Coolidge Auditorium, Thomas Jefferson Building.

2008 Concerts

April 24, 2008 at 12 noon
Image: The Beehive BandTHE BEEHIVE BAND—Traditional Mormon String Band Music from Utah

The Beehive Band perform hymns, songs, and fiddle tunes of the Utah pioneers, emphasizing primarily the initial period of the Mormon migration west (1847 – 1869), or the period before the railroad came to Utah. Many of the early converts to Mormonism came from Europe and brought with them their own cultures. Early Utah traditional music became a collage of many styles and cultures, with the glue being the common religious experience. The traditional dance music often included tunes of Scandinavian, Scottish, Irish, English, and Welsh origin. It was typically played on the fiddle, and accompanied by the organ, cello, bowed bass, wooden flute, and accordion. The songs had their roots in old ballads and early hymnody (west gallery and shape note singing).

The members of the Beehive Band all have roots that tie them to the early Utah pioneers. They have played traditional musics together for well over 30 years.

May 28, 2008 at 12 noon
Image: Opalanga PughOPALANGA PUGH—African American storytelling from Colorado with Askia Touré on voice and drum

Opalanga Pugh is a storyteller in the African American oral tradition. Working for the railroad led both of Opalanga's grandfathers to migrate to the West around the turn of the 20th century, and Opalanga grew up in the small but culturally rich African American community of Denver, Colorado. Under her grandmother's tutelage, Opalanga absorbed cautionary tales and proverbs while she learned the ethic of hard work and "how to make a creative way out of no way." She embraced the civil rights movement during her high school years in the late 1960s, and began the cultural activism she has continued throughout her life. Opalanga answered a deep call to visit Africa, "the mother of us all," and she spent her senior year abroad at the University of Lagos in Nigeria. As she traveled among the Yoruba and other people of West Africa, Opalanga listened closely to the way people shaped language into story and song, and witnessed firsthand how tightly storytelling was woven into the fabric of human life.

Opalanga will tell stories from her African cultural experiences, classic African American tales, and stories from the lives of early blacks in the American west. One story will come from historical Five Points, the cultural center of Black Denver. Askia Touré, another Denver native and a member of Opalanga's extended family, will use his voice and drums to add rhythm and fullness to the stories. Together they will honor Opalanga's commitment to bring "traditional wisdom into the heart of the modern world."

Opalanga has traveled as a professional storyteller throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, working in education, mental health, and corporate settings since 1986. In these contexts, she uses story as a tool for personal development, a vehicle for education, and a force for social change. NBC selected Opalanga as one of 10 African American Living Legends in 1992. Opalanga has received the Ambassador for Peace Award from the Conflict Center of Denver, and twice won the Denver Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Image: Merita Halili and Raif HyseniJune 19, 2008 at 12:00 noon
MERITA HALILI and the RAIF HYSENI ORCHESTRA—Albanian Music from New York, celebrating 40 years of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance

“Merita Halili raised her radiant soprano in buoyant wedding songs, punctuated by speed-demon accordion from her husband and bandleader, Raif Hyseni.” – The New York Times

Merita Halili is one of Albania’s top performers. Born in the capital city of Tiranë, Merita grew up singing the lyric songs of her native region of central Albania. Her nationwide debut came in 1983, at the age of 17, when she sang at the National Folk Festival in the town of Gjirokastër. Soon afterwards she began to perform on Albanian Radio and Television and as a soloist with the State Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances. She subsequently became one of the most popular singers in the country. The repertoire for which Merita is best known is that of the towns of central Albania (Shqipëria e Mesme), particularly Tiranë, Elbasan, Kavajë, and Durrës. As she was growing up, Merita modeled her singing not only on family music making but also on recordings of older singers. Merita was among the first singers in Albania to release her own recording, which still sells briskly wherever Albanians live. Perhaps her greatest recognition came in 1995, when she was awarded first prize at a gala festival held in Tiranë, in which ninety singers from throughout the Albanian Diaspora participated.  Raif Hyseni, Merita’s husband and principal accompanist, hails from The Republic of Kosova, which has a large Albanian majority. Before moving to Tiranë in 1992, Raif was a well-known radio and television performer in Prishtinë, the capital of Kosova, where he was a member of the group “Besnikët.” Through his recordings and media appearances, Raif has become known as a major innovator on the accordion.

Image: The ZionairesJuly 24, 2008 at 12:00 noon
THE ZIONAIRES—Gospel Music from Maryland and Delaware

The Zionaires gospel group, who hail from the Delmarva Peninsula, celebrated their 54th singing anniversary on February 17, 2008.  For over half a century, they have spread the word of God through music to church and radio audiences on the lower shore of Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. They attribute their remarkable survival to the words of King David: "I will sing praises unto God while I have any being" [Psalm 146:2]. In 1954, Dennis Brady, Marion Joynes, Hilton Johnson and Edward Davis, four young men active in Mt. Hope AME Zion Church, formed the quartet. There have been so many lineup changes over the years that there are more than forty former members and musicians who have spent time in the group.  Since the lead-up to their golden anniversary, the Zionaires have experienced a surge of interest in their singing, both locally and nationally.  In 2003, they headlined the Quarterly Gospel Festival in Wilmington, which is the largest Gospel event in Delaware.  They also performed a high-profile concert at the Metropolitan AME Church in New York City, where Dr. Bobby Jones, host of Black Entertainment Television’s flagship Sunday program, Bobby Jones Gospel, introduced them.  In 2004, The Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation included the Zionaires on their award-winning CD set From Bridge to Boardwalk: An Audio Journey Across Maryland's Eastern Shore.  Also in 2004, they performed in the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert, part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, an international exposition of living cultural heritage which is produced annually, outdoors, on the National Mall of the United States in Washington, D.C.

Image: Gary HaleamauAugust 20, 2008 at 12:00 noon
GARY HALEAMAU–Traditional Hawaiian Music from Las Vegas (The Ninth Island)

Gary Haleamau grew up at Hu‘ehu‘e Ranch in North Kona on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Family gatherings included music, and Karin Haleamau, a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) and slack key guitar player, encouraged his son to join in. “If you sat there and watched and listened, then what you absorbed is what you learned and what you would be able to do,” Gary recalled. At the age of three he discovered that he could play the ukulele. By the time he was eight years old, and could accompany himself on the slack-key guitar, he was playing and singing at family and neighborhood get-togethers. Hawaiian aunties and uncles inspired his mastery of leo ki’eki’e, an unmistakably Hawaiian falsetto style of singing, and he released his debut album on Poki Records in 1977 at the age of 12. Gary appeared with his father and Clyde “Kindy” Sproat at the 13th Annual Border Folk Festival in Texas and the 1984 National Folk Festival. Since then he has continued to record and perform, captivating audiences in Hawai’i, the mainland United States and Japan with beautiful vocal stylings and seemingly effortless slack key finesse. Today Gary, his wife Sheldeen and their ohana (family) live in Las Vegas—locally known as “the ninth island” because of the many Hawaiian residents and visitors who have made a new home for the Aloha spirit in the Nevada desert. Sheldeen is a former “Miss Aloha Hula” kumu hula and their Halau Hula O’Kaleimomi helps to ensure that the gentle art of hula will endure and flourish in the 21st century.

Bajich BrothersSeptember 17, 2008 at 12:00 noon
THE BAJICH BROTHERS—Tamburitza Music from Kansas

The Bajich Brothers, Boris, Paul, Peter and Robert, are a Serbian-American tambura quartet from Kansas. They are active in the St. George Orthodox Church, located in the Kansas suburbs of Kansas City, and have played their music at all the major Serbian and Croatian festivals in the United States, including the Tambura Extravaganza in St. Louis and Omaha. They have produced three recordings, the first of which was released in 1985. They were raised in the Serbian community of Kansas City, which dates back to the end of the nineteenth century, when Serbian immigrants began seeking work in the five major meatpacking plants located in the area of the city known as the West Bottoms. One of the traditions these Serbians brought with them was that of playing tamburas. Tamburas are a family of fretted, steel-stringed acoustic instruments common to several countries in southeastern Europe, including Serbia. They have four to six steel strings, and are usually played with a plectrum. In this, they resemble familiar families of instruments such as western mandolas and Greek bouzoukis. The styles of music played by the tambura include, among others, traditional folk tunes and modern tunes written in the folk idiom. Tambura music (also known as tamburitza or tamburica, after common diminutives for tambura), has been played in ethnic communities in the United States since the 1890s. Since then, it has spread wherever there are Americans of Serbian or Croatian heritage, becoming one of the most popular and widespread ethnic music traditions in the United States.

Image: Bar J WranglersOctober 2, 2008 at 12:00 noon
BAR J WRANGLERS—Cowboy Music from Wyoming

The Bar J Wranglers from Wilson, Wyoming (outside Jackson Hole) carry on a family tradition of entertaining audiences throughout the Intermountain West with their mixture of cowboy music, humorous skits and celebration of ranch life. Every evening from May through September, they work seven days a week hosting the Bar J Chuckwagon Supper and Western Show, where they work the ticket booth, serve up dinner, then perform their warmly spirited repertoire to hundreds of guests over the season. For the rest of the year, they perform at music gatherings and ranch events, and in concert halls. Singing four-part harmonies, yodeling and playing instruments, their original songs and older pieces revere the ranching way of life and offer up insights into rural values. Following in their father, Babe Humphrey’s musical footsteps, sons Scott on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Bryan on vocals and upright bass, are joined by Tim Hodgson on vocals and fiddle, Donnie Cook on flat-top and steel guitars, dobro and banjo, and Jerry “Bullfrog” Baxter on vocals and rhythm guitar, to deliver some of the best harmonies, and some of the most outrageous comedy and remarkable musicianship in the American West.  

Image: SuratiNovember 19, 2008 at 12:00 noon
SURATI—Classical and Folk Indian Dance from New Jersey

Surati, inc. is a performing arts company and school for Indian music and dance, based in New Jersey.  Since 2001, Surati’s dance and music school has offered intensive training in Indian classical, traditional, folk, contemporary, and popular dance and music.  Surati’s group of professional dancers and musicians perform a multitude of Indian Classical and traditional folk styles on stage.  Rimli Roy, Surati’s principal dancer and choreographer, began to take her first formal lessons in Indian classical dancing at the tender age of four.  She came from a family of gifted musicians and artists, and was greatly influenced by her parents and brother at an early age. Her father Sumit Roy is a renowned music composer, vocalist and musician based in India. Her mother Arati, is a talented lyricist and visual artist. Her brother Rajesh Roy is also a well-known musician, vocalist, composer and music arranger/programmer.  Having a tremendous innate sense of rhythm and natural grace of movement, Rimli gradually began to master several genres of Indian classical dance, and started to give stage performances by the age of six.  Rimli and the Surati dance troupe perform a variety of traditional and self-composed Indian dances, including dances in the Manipuri, Bharatnatyam, and Odissi styles.  They have performed at cultural events all over the United States and India.

Past Concerts

October 17, 2007 at 12 noon
Image: Aubrey GhentAUBREY GHENT AND FRIEND—Sacred lap steel guitar

Aubrey Ghent has been playing guitar and sacred lap steel for over thirty-eight years. The steel guitar was first introduced to the House of God Church by Aubrey's uncle, Willie Eason, during the 1940s. Willie taught Aubrey's father, Henry Nelson, who played for more than 50 years in the church and around the United States. Aubrey was greatly influenced by his uncle and father. He began learning the instrument at age six and playing for church services at age nine. He has continued his great family legacy of the lap steel style. Ghent recorded on the Arhoolie roots label for six years and has several selections on each of the label's Sacred Steel volumes.

November 15, 2007 at 12 noon
HOOP DANCES—Dallas Chief Eagle and Jasmine Pickner
Image: Dallas Chief Eagle Jasmine Pickner(Rosebud and Crow Creek Sioux tribes of South Dakota)

Two first-place World Hoop Dance Champions have joined together to model and dance a vision of male and female balance, harmony and respect as traditionally practiced by their ancestors. Dallas Chief Eagle, Rosebud Sioux tribal member, and Jasmine Pickner, of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe, are both world-traveled hoop dancers. They share with audiences an ancient hoop dance story, outlining sacred hoop wisdom.

Dallas Chief Eagle is a member of the Rosebud Lakota (Sioux) Nation and master of the hoop dance. For Dallas, the hoop dance is more than a dance; it is a way of keeping Lakota traditions alive. The ancient and honorable tradition of the hoop dance explains the Plains Indian world view as the hoops intersect and grow into ever more complex shapes, always and forever returning to the beginning. His twenty-seven hoops represent the different colors and sizes of trees, which, to Dallas, also represent the diversity of life. His ornate dance regalia itself resembles a tree, with animals on its branches - a porcupine roach and eagle feather on his head, fur on his legs and dragonfly beadwork on his "trunk." As with the Lakota word can' gleska which means both "spotted hoop" and "tree," the two come together closely for Dallas, who demonstrates the power of this symbolism in his intricate hoop dance.

Jasmine Pickner, a member of the Crow Creek Lakota tribe, was encouraged to dance from an early age by her grandmother, Theresa Red Bear. In the 1950s and 1960s, Red Bear brought her family to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, to perform. At about age 7, Pickner began hoop dancing, and has become a leading proponent of the form. She is a member of the reigning world champion hoop dancing team and the adopted daughter of Dallas Chief Eagle. Pickner credits the dancers she saw growing up with enhancing her interest in dancing, as well as her family’s dance tradition. She is an accomplished performer, having spent the past eight summers dancing each weekend at the Alex Johnson Hotel in Rapid City.

December 12, 2007 at 12 noon
Image: GandydancerGANDYDANCER—traditional string band music from West Virginia

The West Virginia stringband, Gandydancer, performs spirited old-time mountain music on a variety of stringed instruments. Five musicians, from various counties in West Virginia, play driving fiddle tunes and banjo pieces, and sing ballads, folksongs and old-time spirituals in four-part harmony. The band takes its name from railroad workers in the nineteenth century, the era from which much of their material emanates. Ron Mullennex, Dave Bing, Mark Payne, Jim Martin and Gerry Milnes represent lifetimes of experience collecting and performing traditional music. They take pride in bringing to life unusual, old, and sometimes rare tunes and songs.

January 31, 2008 at 12 noon
Image: Major League TassaMAJOR LEAGUE TASSA—Indo-Caribbean drumming and dance from Queens, N.Y.

The powerfully propulsive Tassa drumming of East Indians from the Caribbean region is performed by both Hindus and Muslims, in sacred as well as secular contexts.   Major League Tassa, and accompanying dancers, from Queens, New York will present rhythms used for processions, the Diwali holiday, and weddings, along with contemporary tunes performed at clubs, sports bars and social events in the New York City area.  All of the members of Major League Tassa are Trinidadian-Americans in their twenties and thirties.  Its leader, Anil Raghoonanan, plays the dhol, a big, double-headed bass barrel drum made of wood covered with goatskin.    Kevindra Raghoonanan performs on the jhanj, brass cymbals.  Dave Seetaram, the "fulley," and Doodnath "Phantom" Lalchan, the "cutter," play the conical, clay tassa drum.  The fulley keeps up a steady rhythm, while the lead cutter performs dazzling improvisations while guiding the other players through modulations of the rhythms.   Dancers Amy Basdeo and Lauren Moomlal will perform traditional dancing practiced widely at religious ceremonies and weddings as well as hot, contemporary chutney dancing. (photo credit: Tangerine Clarke)