A free noon concert series co-presented by the American Folklife Center and the Music Division at the Library of Congress in cooperation with the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. All concerts are in the Coolidge Auditorium (located on the Ground Floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress). NO TICKETS REQUIRED.
Traditional Blues from Mississippi
Ben Payton's voice resonates with a passion for life and his skills as a guitarist evoke the tradition of the original Delta blues greats such as Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Charley Patton, and Son House. He was born in tiny Coila, Mississippi, in the hill country just east of the Delta. His early musical influences included his grandmother Mabel Johnson’s gospel piano playing and his Uncle Joe Birch’s blues guitar. When in his mid-teens, Ben moved to Chicago, where he soon became active in the city’s blues scene. He worked regularly with Bobby Rush and Joe Evans and the Supersonics. Ben also played in the R&B bands The Oops and Womb From the Tomb. In 1970 Ben traveled to Morocco with jazz pianist Randy Weston, and stayed for a six-month engagement at a club. Ben was part of the R&B group Chicago Sounds, which opened the show and also backed Weston. Back home in Chicago, Ben worked with artists including Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang, Junior Wells, Fenton Robinson, Little Mack Simmons, Barkin’ Bill Smith, Taildragger, Alvin Cash, Eddie C. Campbell, Bobby King, Big Moose Walker, Muddy Waters Jr., Vince McCollum, Tony Gooden, Doug McDonald, Ron Harris, and Ike Anderson. In 1977, Ben left the music scene but performed occasionally. In 2002, he moved back to his home state of Mississippi, and he returned to his roots, performing Delta-style blues. He will be performing at the Library with Steve Chester on rhythm guitar, Cyndi Clark on conga drums, and Kindrick Hart on electric bass.
Traditional Banjo and Stringband music from Ohio
Tony Ellis is a prominent bluegrass banjo and fiddle player. He performed with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, the originators of the bluegrass style, both at the Grand Ole Opry and on tour, for over two years, recording some 25 songs with them. In 1962 he received a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall when playing with the famous Mac Wiseman. Tony has performed and lectured at numerous colleges, universities, and music festivals throughout the country, including the 1986 Statue of Liberty Celebration in New York City. Tony has toured both Japan and Latin America as a musical ambassador. Tony opened the Folk Masters Series at Wolf Trap in 1994, played at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and performed for President Clinton’s Campaign tour. He has toured Australia (1999), New Zealand (1999 and 2000), Ireland (1999) and Great Britain (1999 and 2000). Tony has been interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered, by Pulitzer Prize winner Studs Terkel, and by the BBC. His music has been included on Ken Burns’ Baseball series on PBS, on the BBC film documentary Echoes of America, on the popular TV series Party of Five, and in other theater and film productions. All of Tony’s recordings have received critical acclaim. Tony has composed over eighty tunes and received eleven awards from ASCAP (American Society of Composers and Publishers). Tony was nominated for the National Heritage Fellowship Award, the highest honor America pays to her traditional artists. Accompanied by the Musicians of Braeburn (Tony’s son, acclaimed singer/songwriter and fingerstyle guitarist William Lee Ellis, Tony’s wife Louise Adkins on pump organ and Larry Nager on upright bass, mandolin and triple washboard), Tony Ellis presents an epic patchwork of American music, reaching from the Mississippi Delta to the Carolina Piedmont, from deep blues to joyful reels, from elegant waltzes to heart-wrenching Scottish airs.
Traditional Choctaw storytelling and music from Oklahoma
Both D. J. Battiest-Tomasi and Tim Tingle are enrolled as members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and regularly participate in tribal events. Both also share relatives who came on the Trail of Tears from the original Choctaw homelands in Mississippi. They speak Choctaw as a part of their performances. They normally perform individually, but have been asked to perform together on this occasion.
Tim is a traditional singer, flute player, and drummer, and a nationally known performance storyteller, as well as a teacher, writer, and lecturer. He delivers lively historical and traditional stories, accompanying himself on the Native American flute, and sings Choctaw songs to the rhythms of a whaleskin drum. From 2002 to the present, Tingle has performed a traditional Choctaw story before Chief Gregory Pyle's Annual State of the Nation Address at the tribal gathering in Tushkahoma, Oklahoma, a Choctaw reunion that attracts over thirty thousand people. D. J. is also a flute player and storyteller, and works as a family counselor. Both have performed extensively across Oklahoma and are considered to be ambassadors of the Choctaw people, and both have recorded CDs of stories and music. Their favorite activity is to visit with elders immersed in oral tradition.
Persian santour and tombak music from Illinois
Kiu Haghighi is known as a virtuoso in concert halls around the world on the santour, or Persian hammered dulcimer. Kiu began his lifetime study of the santour at the age of ten. At nineteen he was invited to join the Iranian Ministry of Education and Art. There he performed as the featured soloist in the Academy Orchestra and performed regularly on National Iranian Television. Kiu was an instructor at the Ministry of Education and Art until 1965, when he left Iran for study in the United States. His musical career in North America has included numerous performances in colleges, universities and concert halls. Kiu's work as both a performer and a composer on the santour combines and blends traditional Iranian forms with contemporary ones. A master of all the twelve melody types used as a basis for Iranian classical improvisation, Kiu has expanded the technical possibilities of the santour. His unusual speed in the movement of the leather-tipped mallets called mezrab is both well-known and extraordinary. Audiences always remember the energy and vigor of expression in his musical performances. He will be accompanied by Tooraj Moshref-Zadeh on the tombak, a Persian drum.
Traditional Chinese zheng music from Florida
Ann Yao plays the zheng, a long, horizontal plucked zither that is one the most ancient musical instruments in China. Born into a family of musicians in Shanghai, she grew up immersed in Chinese folk and classical music. Ann moved to the U.S. in 1985, and began performing as a zheng soloist at Disneyworld’s Epcot Center in the early 1990s. She has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other venues with the innovative ensemble Music From China, which promotes modern Chinese musical culture while preserving ancient Chinese music. Yao has also participated in a documentary project about Tang-era (618-907 A.D.) music, and has performed premier works featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Chen Yi, Tan Dun, Zhou Long, among others. She participated as a master artist in the Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program in 1999 and 2008, and was recognized as a Florida Heritage Award Winner in 2009. She will be joined in this performance by Wang Guowei playing the erhu, a two-stringed fiddle, and by Chen Yihan, playing the pipa, a pear-shaped lute.
Traditional French-Canadian fiddle music from Connecticut
Daniel Boucher is a dynamic young fiddler born and raised in the French Canadian community in Bristol, Connecticut. Learning tunes and styles from family and friends in Connecticut and Quebec, Daniel plays across New England with many artists including Josée Vachon and the Beaudoin Family. Daniel revitalized the Franco-American music scene in central Connecticut with his bi-weekly gathering called Jam Français, and he organizes hugely popular soirées and events with French music and food. He will be accompanied by his father Jules Boucher on accordion, harmonica, and limberjack; guitarist Ray Pelletier; and fiddler/stepdancer Glen Bombardier of the Beaudoin family.
Traditional Greek Smyrneika music from Massachusetts
Sophia Bilides sings and plays santouri (Greek hammered dulcimer) and zilia (finger cymbals). She has been called the foremost practitioner of Smyrneika, a cabaret tradition that originated among Greek refugees in Asia Minor. A second-generation Greek-Italian American, Sophia was raised in New Haven, Connecticut, where the refugees of the village of Permata, including her grandparents, had resettled. She grew up absorbing the songs of their generation, heard at weddings, dances, church events, and family gatherings. Despite many other musical influences vying for her attention, Sophia was drawn to the hearfelt and highly ornamented singing style of her Greek Asia-Minor roots. With many of the elders gone by the early 1980s, source material came primarily from her mentor, Dino Pappas, an important collector of early Greek recordings. She also collected songs from community members willing to sing into her tape recorder. Smyrneika songs arose out an urban population where the music of Greeks, Turks, Jews, and Armenians influenced each other in the early decades of the 20th century. This vibrant cultural scene was shattered when conflicts led to the 1922 Asia-Minor Catastrophe. The destruction of the port city of Smyrna (Izmir) led to the expulsion of two million Greeks from their homeland. Fortunately, highly skilled refugee musicians managed to keep alive their urban musical traditions by bringing their cosmopolitan talents to the Greek mainland and to America.
Her goal of sharing Smyrneika with as wide an audience as possible is reflected in her performance venues, which have included the Richmond Folk Festival, the American Folk Festival, Lincoln Center, the Lowell Hellenic Culture Society, The Astoria Ethnic Music Festival, and the Maliotis Greek Cultural Center’s Asia Minor Commemoration. Bilides was named a Traditional Arts Finalist in the MCC Artist Fellowships in 2006, 2008, and 2010.
Chicano Music from California
From the ashes of Los Angeles’ 1992 uprising arose a collective of East Side musicians committed to respectfully continuing the legacy of over 70 years of Chicano Rock. Standing on the shoulders of giants like Lalo Guerrero, Ritchie Valens, Cannibal and The Headhunters, The Brat, Los Lobos, and many others, Quetzal has created a path that has earned them the recognition as “one of Los Angeles’ most important bands” (L.A. Times). Quetzal has shared the stage with a diverse list of artists such as Los Lobos, Zack de La Rocha, Ziggy Marley, Los Van Van, Taj Majal, Daara J, Ruben Blades, Fishbone, Cubanismo, Littlefeat, and Ozomatli. Led by Martha Gonzalez (vocals, tarima, chekere, congas) and Quetzal Flores (jarana, requinto doble, bajosexto, electric guitar), Quetzal plays music that is as rich and complex as their pluri-ethnic barrio experience. Since 2002 Quetzal has been central in facilitating a transnational dialogue between Chicana/o musicians and artists from California and Mexicano musicians and dancers from Veracruz, Mexico. Quetzal most recently completed its fifth studio album, titled Imaginaries, to be released in early 2012 on the Smithsonian Folkways label.
Agustín Lira, a NEA National Heritage Fellow (2007), began his career in 1965, at the age of 19, when he co-founded the theater company El Teatro Campesino with Luis Valdez, during the Delano Grape Strike headed by Cesar Chavez. The company created songs and plays, performed at picket lines and rallies, and toured throughout the United States, demonstrating the power of artistic expression in uniting and inspiring the farmworker communities. Lira’s powerful singing and socially relevant lyrics were at the heart of El Teatro Campesino and established his role as the preeminent musical voice of the early Chicano Movement. Since leaving Campesino, Lira has formed several other theater groups, composed music for films and recordings, and received numerous awards. Together with Patricia Wells Solórzano, Lira formed the musical group Alma in 1979. Alma features original compositions by Lira and is known for its mesmerizing duets, inspirational lead guitar playing by Wells, and incomparable, rhythmic bass by Ravi Knypstra. Alma blends Mexican, Latin American, American Folk, and Afro-Cuban styles, creating a hybrid: Chicano music. Alma has performed throughout the United States, Mexico and Cuba, produced several recordings, and scored the music for the award-winning film documentary, The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers’ Struggle.
The Alliance for California Traditional Arts promotes cultural traditions by providing advocacy, resources, and connections for folk and traditional artists. Recognized for its leadership, intellectual capital and excellence in program administration, ACTA is California’s state-designated entity for all folk and traditional arts.
Balla Kouyaté is a griot and virtuoso player of the balaphon, the ancient West African ancestor of the xylophone. Played with mallets, the balaphon is made up of wood slats of varying lengths. Underneath, two rows of calabash gourds serve as natural amplifiers.
To say that Kouyaté was born into a musical family is an understatement. His family lineage goes back over 800 years to Balla Faséké, the first of an unbroken line of djelis, or griots, in the Kouyaté clan. The members of this family are regarded as the original praise-singers of the Malinké people, one of the ethnic groups found across much of West Africa. Djelis are the oral historians, musicians and performers who keep alive and celebrate the history of the Mandé people of Mali, Guinea and other West African countries. Kouyaté frequently performs traditional music at weddings, baptisms, and other domestic ceremonies within the West African immigrant communities of Boston, New York City, and beyond, and also leads the fusion group World Vision. He often accompanies kora master Mamadou Diabate, 2009 Grammy winner in Traditional World Music, and in 2004 joined NEA National Heritage Fellow Sidiki Cond Kouyaté for a month-long residency at Carnegie Hall. In 2010, Balla Kouyaté was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in the Traditional Arts.
The New North Carolina Ramblers is an old-time string band whose four musicians span almost three generations. The band was formed in the late 1960s by Kinney and Doug Rorrer, nephews of Charlie Poole and Posey Rorer, who were the original North Carolina Ramblers in the 1920s. Over the years, the New North Carolina Ramblers have featured many different local old-time musicians, but Kinney Rorrer has remained with the group since its genesis. Today, the band consists of Kinney, Kirk Sutphin, Darren Moore, and Jeremy Stephens. Kinney plays the banjo in the old-time three-finger picking style of Charlie Poole, and Kirk Sutphin can play the fiddle with same graceful touch that Posey Rorer had. They perform songs and tunes from the repertoire of Charlie Poole, and from many other old time artists. Darren Moore and Jeremy Stephens add their own take on classic Carter Family material. The New North Carolina Ramblers offer a variety of old time styles with a touch of down-home comedy.
Marce Lacouture grew up in Texas and Louisiana. She began singing professionally in Austin folk and rock bands, and in 1984 formed a duo with legendary singer-songwriter Butch Hancock. Together they recorded two collaborative albums, Yella Rose and Cause of the Cactus, and shared stages with such friends as Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. In the 1980s, Marce headed to Louisiana to explore her Cajun heritage. Her search led to a years-long apprenticeship with traditional Louisiana French ballad singers Lula Landry and Inez Catalon. Marce's ability to bring alive the ancient ballads and home traditions of Louisiana makes her a sought-after performer and teacher. Marce's first solo recording, La Joie Cadienne, (Cajun Joy), is a loving tribute to her mentors. [Photo by Philip Gould]
Marce will be joined at this concert by David Greely and Kristi Guillory. Greely, a former apprentice of the legendary fiddle master Dewey Balfa, is a Cajun French songwriter, fiddler, singer, and researcher of nearly forgotten tunes, ballads, and stories. He has also been active in campaigns to preserve the Cajun French language and archival Cajun recordings. In 2004, he received an “Artist Fellowship Award in Folklife” by the Louisiana Division of the Arts. David is a founding member of the world-renowned Cajun group, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, which received its third nomination for a Grammy award in 2008, its 20th Anniversary year. He has contributed extensively to the Mamou Playboys repertoire and style during that time, bringing his childhood background in gospel harmony singing to create their signature sound, composing many songs which have gone on to become standards of Cajun repertoire, and spending many hours in the archives trolling for musical treasure. His 2009 solo CD, introducing his new acoustic format, is called "Sud du sud/South of the South." Guillory grew up watching her guitarist grandfather, Jesse Duhon, who played with Octa Clark and the Dixie Ramblers during the 1930s. She found the accordion and began playing Cajun music when she was 10 years old. A couple of years later, she formed a band, Reveille, with other area young musicians. After graduating high school, Guillory took time off from music to finish her Francophone Studies degree and then again to complete an M.A. in Folklore. She came out of retirement to form the group Bonsoir Catin, with whom she currently performs.
Amuma Says No is among the best-known bands playing Basque music in America today. The band brings together the best of traditional trikitixa—a duo of accordion and tambourine–with a modern rhythm section and songs sung in the Basque language, Euskara. Based in Boise, Idaho, home of the largest community of Basques outside their home provinces along the French and Spanish Pyrenees, "ASN" have brought their energetic, exciting and contemporary arrangements of Basque music to Basque festivals and events throughout the west, including Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. Jill Aldape, Dan Ansotegui, Sean Uranga Aucutt and Spencer Basterrechea Martin, the founders, are second and third generation Americans. They grew up dancing with the Oinkari Basque Dancers and listening to Basque artists like Jimmy Jausoro and Domingo Ansotegui. Joined in the current lineup by Rod Wray and Micah Deffries, they present a timeless traditional repertory with a touch of twenty-first century rock, pop and jazz.
Steve Meisner is a multi-talented musician, composer and arranger, and a leading figure in American Polka music. He began playing the accordion at the age of five with his father, the late Verne Meisner, who had a successful music career for over fifty years. Since then, he has brought his brand of traditional American polka into the 21st century with a fresh spark and swing, while retaining the music’s roots. He has played with the nation’s top accordionists, including Myron Floren, Frank Yankovic, and Joey Miskulin. He performs nationally and internationally, averaging two hundred performances a year; venues have included the Lawrence Welk Theater in Branson, Missouri, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Steve has received numerous awards and nominations, including inductions to the Ironworld Polka Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame.
At the core of Guatemala’s musical traditions is the marimba, an instrument with West African roots that can be found throughout northern Central America and southern Mexico. The marimba is Guatemala's official national instrument, and government ordinances require broadcasting of marimba music on a daily basis. The contemporary marimba’s construction is similar to that of the xylophone. Its key arrangement resembles that of a piano, with the “black keys” set above and behind the “white keys.” Some of the larger marimbas may be played by as many as eight musicians, each using two or more rubber-tipped mallets. On early marimbas, each key has its own gourd resonator underneath. On more modern instruments, these gourd resonators have been replaced with tubes made of wood, metal or even PVC. The tubes on a Guatemalan marimba have a tiny hole at the bottom, over which a piece of intestinal membrane or skin is stretched. When a key is struck, the membrane makes a loud buzzing sound while the resonator amplifies the key’s tone.
Marimba Linda Xelajú is family group that honors both tradition and innovation in its interpretation of the Guatemalan marimba. In Guatemala, playing the marimba has traditionally been a male pursuit. But Robert Girón has chosen to share his love and knowledge of the marimba with his daughters as well as his son, and the cherished music of his homeland today continues within a new context and community. In 1995, Girón had a beautifully ornate marimba hand-built in Guatemala by Nojobel Salazar, and brought it to the United States. The whole family plays this fine instrument at once. Robert Sr. and his son Robert play treble. His daughters Beverly and Jennifer play melody and harmony. Marimba Linda Xelajú has performed extensively throughout the Washington D.C. area venues including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Museum of the American Indian and at the National Zoo. [Photo by Jeff Malet]
The Not Too Bad Bluegrass Band formed in 1987, playing local venues around Bloomington, Indiana. Original members included Jeff White, who went on to play with superstars like Alison Krauss and Vince Gill; singer-songwriter Bob Lucas; and Lisa Germano, who later played fiddle with John Mellencamp's band. The current members have their own musical history. Brian Lappin played with bluegrass legends Jimmy Martin and Earl Taylor, and the bands The Ragin’ Texans and The Crawdads. His tasteful banjo playing reflects the solid influences of Earle Scruggs and J.D. Crowe. Doug Harden has played mandolin since 1969. His early years were spent at the old Bean Blossom Jamboree barn, and in the Brown County Band. Doug has also spent time in the original Kentucky Ramblers and the band Pine Mountain. Greg Norman started at a local jam session and later joined the Off the Line bluegrass band and singer-songwriter Janne Henshaw’s band. Kent Todd was trained in classical violin, and was steered toward bluegrass by his father Scott, also a bluegrass musician; he has played with Bill Grant and Dehila Belle, Michael Cleveland and the Blue Hollow Band, Gary Brewer and the Kentucky Ramblers, and currently is also a member of the Troubled Waters Band. The youngest member of the NTBBB, Brady Stogdill, is a member of the original International Bluegrass Music Association’s Young Acoustic All Stars; his father Dean was a great banjo player, and he has learned to play almost anything with strings on it.
Of Navajo-Ute heritage, R. Carlos Nakai is the world’s best known performer of Native American flute music. He began his musical studies on the trumpet, but a car accident ruined his embouchure. He was given a traditional cedar flute as a gift and challenged to master it, which led to his current path. Nakai views his cultural heritage not only as a source and inspiration, but also as a dynamic continuum of natural change and adaptation, subject to the artist’s expressive needs. Nakai’s first album, Changes, was released in 1983, and since then he has released over thirty-five albums. He gives educational workshops and residencies, and has appeared as a soloist throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan. He has worked with Grammy-winning flutist Paul Horn, guitarist William Eaton, and composer James DeMars, among many others. The famed American choreographer Martha Graham used Nakai's second album, Cycles, in her work Night Chant. Nakai also contributed music to the major motion pictures New World and Geronimo.
The McIntosh County Shouters is a ten-member Gullah-Geechee group that began performing professionally in 1980. They have educated and entertained audiences around the United States with the “ring shout,” a compelling fusion of counterclockwise dance-like movement, call-and-response singing, and percussion consisting of hand claps and a stick beating the rhythm on a wooden floor. African in its origins, the ring shout affirms oneness with the Spirit and ancestors as well as community cohesiveness. The ring shout was first described in detail during the Civil War by outside observers in coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia. Its practice continued well into the 20th Century, even as its influence was resounding in later forms like spiritual, jubilee, gospel and jazz. By the late 20th century, the ring shout itself was presumed to have died out until its rediscovery in McIntosh County in 1980; thus, the beginning of the McIntosh County Shouters. The group was awarded the NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 1993, and were selected as Producers of Distinction and Founding Members of the “Georgia Made Georgia Grown Program,” in 2009. Their performances include the National Black Arts Festival, of Smithsonian Folklife Festival, World Music Institute, and Sound Legacies at Emory University. The group has been featured in magazines and documentaries, including HBO’s Unchained Memories.