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American  Folklife Center - Washington, DC

American Folklife Center
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  1. Recent Posts by Others on American Folklife CenterSee All
    •  VFC is delighted to welcome Nicki Saylor to her new position as Head of the American Folklife Center Archive! She's a Folklife Archive Heroine!
      91 · November 27 at 12:31pm
    •  A topic worth greater exploration at AFC
      November 27 at 9:27am
    •  A great secret it seems in Maryland but Hutman Productions has become an important publisher of History and Folklore in Europe. Recent reviews of our Book of Wassail have been very positive. It is the most important study of wassail songs, folklore, recipes, literature ever produced five volumes.....essential reading-see the review on the web page here- You can read more about our publications and local small business weathering the storms of recession here-We even write and publish books on Maryland History!
      1 · November 27 at 7:03am
    •  Great program
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    •  A great song! From a very good compilation cd
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  2. Photo: Happy December!  On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa M. Parks refused give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger, leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Although she was not the first to resist bus segregation, Parks's organization, the NAACP, believed that she would do particularly well in court.  As a result of the bus boycott, Parks, Montgomery, and a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr., all became prominent symbols of civil rights.

The American Folklife Center is engaged in an important effort to document and preserve stories of the American Civil Rights Movement.  Find out more at the link:

The photo showing Parks and King is from our colleagues at the National Archive; it is a work of the United States Government and therefore in the Public Domain.
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  6. Photo: On this day in 1877, Thomas Edison first demonstrated the operation of his new invention, the phonograph. Phonographs originally recorded sound onto tinfoil, and later used cylinders made of wax and other materials.  Many of AFC's earliest recordings of folk songs are on cylinders, beginning with the very first ethnographic field recordings, made by Jesse Walter Fewkes with Passamaquoddy singers in Maine.  Later that year in Boston, Fewkes recorded the following clip, "Mr. Phonograph," to demonstrate the use of his machine to a visiting Passamaquoddy man.

The photo is cropped from a digital scan of a picture in the Library of Congress's Brady-Handy collection.  It shows Edison and his second phonograph machine in 1878.  LC P&P Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-cwpbh-04044
  7. Photo: AFC is pleased to announce the appointment of Nicole Saylor as the new Head of the AFC Archive.  More details can be found at the press release in the link:
  8. Photo: Happy "First Thanksgiving!"  Although many people consider the harvest feast celebrated by Massachusetts settlers in 1610 to be the "first Thanksgiving," it was in fact neither the first instance of an annual celebration, nor a "Thanksgiving" as that term was understood by the Separatist and Anglican settlers.  

Two better candidates for the "First American Thanksgiving" both occurred on November 26.  On this day in 1789, George Washington declared the first national day of Thanksgiving following the Revolutionary War and the establishment of our national government. Although it failed to become an annual holiday, Abraham Lincoln chose the same date to establish Thanksgiving in 1863, with the additional announcement that Thanksgiving would occur annually on the final Thursday of November. The holiday has been observed annually since Lincoln's proclamation, but in 1941 we changed the date to the fourth Thursday in November.  

At the link below, hear a New Mexico hymn of thanks from the AFC's Juan Rael collection:

This engraving shows head-and-shoulders portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln beneath an eagle and a star.

LC Prints and Photographs Division, Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-90641 (b&w film copy neg.)
  9. Photo: On this day in 1926, blues performer R.L. Burnside (1926-2005) was born.  Burnside, who spent most of his life and career in and around Holly Springs, Mississippi, was recorded early in his career by George Mitchell and others.  His first performances on film were recorded by Alan Lomax, Worth Long, and John Bishop in August 1978.  These films are part of the Alan Lomax Collection, acquired by AFC in 2004.  Burnside continued to perform and record into the 1990s, and became well-known for several recordings with Jon Spencer, which brought him to the attention of celebrity musicians such as Bono of U2 and Iggy Pop, both of whom were influenced by Burnside's music. 

At the first link, read more about the Lomax collection.  At the second link, see one of the performances from the collection. 

This photo is by Phil Wight of Eskbank, Dalkeith, Scotland, and is used under a creative commons license.
  10. Photo: The American Folklife Center wishes you a happy Thanksgiving with a thought about folk traditions:  everyone knows about Trick-Or-Treating at Halloween, but did you know that kids used to do a very similar thing at Thanksgiving?  Here is a picture of "Thanksgiving Maskers" from the Library's Prints and Photographs Division.  Thanksgiving Maskers, like Trick-Or-Treaters, used to go door to door, begging for handouts, but they also had other ritual begging activities, including a "scramble for pennies" in the streets.  While we're being thankful for what we have, let's also give a thought to those less fortunate--no one should have to scramble for a penny!

You can see more LC photos at the following link:

You can read an account of Thanksgiving Masquerading in a New York Times article from 1899, here:

We will be closed on Thursday, but the Folklife Reading Room reopens on Friday at 8:30 a.m.
  11. Photo: AFC curator Todd Harvey met with Otis Tolbert Jr. in the Folklife Reading Room of the Library of Congress on Friday, November 16.  Tolbert is the great-grandnephew of Big Bill Broonzy, and was here for Bob Riesman's lecture on Broonzy's life and music.  Todd showed Tolbert some of AFC's Big Bill Broonzy materials, including correspondence, manuscripts, concert recordings, and films.  Broonzy was one of the foremost blues performers from the mid 1920s until his death in 1958.
  12. Photo:

Today is the birthday of Aaron Copland (November 14, 1900 – December 2, 1990).  Copland created one of the best known arrangements of an archival treasure from the American Folklife Center in 1942, when he scored the ballet "Rodeo" for Agnes DeMille.  He based the "Hoedown" section on a distinctive version of the fiddle tune "Bonaparte's Retreat," collected for the Archive by Alan and Elizabeth Lomax from William Hamilton Stepp in 1937.  Most traditional renditions of this tune are 4/ 4 marches, but Stepp almost doubled the usual tempo, converting the tune into a breakdown. John and Alan Lomax published Ruth Crawford Seeger's transcription of the tune in the book "Our Singing Country" (1941). When Copland was composing "Hoedown," his eye was caught by the version in the Lomax book, and he adopted it almost note for note as the principal theme of the section.  At the link above, hear Copland's adaptation.  At the link below, view the AFC catalog card for Stepp's performance.
  13. "Goodbye Booze" (1939)
    Unknown Artist - Unknown Album
  14. Photo: We are all recovering from election day and election night!  Woody Guthrie always had something to say about the following links, read Woody's writings on the subject from 1940:
  15. Photo:

Happy Birthday to Roy Rogers (1911-1998).  Rogers was an actor and singer who was also one of the most heavily marketed stars of his era, starring in over 100 movies and giving his name to a popular restaurant chain.  Although he was not a working cowboy, many real cowboys loved his songs and his films. He also sang some real cowboy songs, including "The Night Herding Song," which he performed with his wife, Dale Evans.   "The Night Herding Song" was collected by John Lomax from Harry Stephens, a one-time student of his at Texas A&M University, who was also a working cowboy.  Years after publishing Stephens's version in print, Lomax reunited with his friend Stephens and made a sound recording of the song for the Library of Congress, which you can hear at the AFC archive.  At the link below, hear Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sing "The Night Herding Song."  At the link above, see the AFC catalog card for the song.

Earlier in December

Earlier in November

Earlier in 2012