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Finding Aids to Individual Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture


AFC 1941/002

Library of Congress
American Folklife Center
September 1998


The Library of Congress/Fisk University Mississippi Delta Collection consists of audio recordings, manuscript materials, and moving images. The materials in this collection are products of a two-year joint field study conducted by the Library of Congress and Fisk University. During the summers of 1941 and 1942, Alan Lomax, the head of the Archive of American Folksong at the Library of Congress, teamed up with members of the faculty at Fisk University. The goal of the partnership was to carry out an intensive field study documenting the folk culture of a specific community of African Americans in the Mississippi Delta region. The rapidly urbanizing commercial area of Coahoma County, Mississippi, with its county seat in Clarksdale, became the geographical focus of the study. The field workers recorded secular and religious music, sermons, children's games, jokes, folktales, interviews, and dances. The materials from this field trip in the Library's holdings include 521 manuscript pages, 96 phonographic discs, and 5 minutes and 33 seconds of motion picture footage.

Access and Reproduction: Access to the collection is unrestricted. Duplication of sound recordings and motion pictures may be governed by copyright.

Library of Congress Subject Headings: Afro-American children's games, Afro-American churches, Afro-American dance, Afro- American Family Religious Life, Afro-Americans Folklore, Afro- American musicians, Afro-American preaching, Afro- Americans Religion, Afro-Americans Social life and customs, Afro- Americans Songs and music, Ballads, Blues (music), Community life, Community organization, Delta (Miss. : Region), Gospel music, Interviews, Levees, Mississippi, Mississippi River, Oral history, Oral tradition, Railroads Songs and Music, Railroad Employees, Religious life, Sermons, Singing games, Southern States, Southern States Social Conditions 1865-1945, Speeches, addresses, etc., Spirituals (Songs), Square dance music, Tales, Tall Tales, United States Race Relations, Wit and humor, Work songs.

Other Key Subjects: Clarksdale, Coahoma County, field hollers, levee camps, lying contests, testimonials. Researchers: Alan Lomax, Charles Johnson, Lewis Jones, John W. Work III. Informants: Charles Berry, William Brown, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Sidney Hemphill, Eddie James House Junior "Son House," Turner Junior Johnson, O.C. King, Henry Simms "Son Simms," Tubby Ford Smith, Will Starks, Asa Ware, Mackinley Morganfield "Muddy Waters."

Primary Language: English.

Physical Description:         
 13 Folders                    
 1 Box
 Computer Disk
 1 3-1/2-inch disk             
 Audio Recordings
 10 12" acetate discs               Original field          
 86 16" acetate discs               Original field          
 12 10" reel-to-reel audiotapes     Preservation copies 
 Moving Images
 5 minutes and 33 seconds           Original footage
 of a 900 ft. reel of 16mm 
 SI., color film
 5 minutes and 33 seconds           Preservation Copy
 of a 1" black-and-white,
 silent videocassette.
                      SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
 The Fisk University Mississippi Delta Collection consists of a
 portion of the documentary materials resulting from a field project
 conducted in 1941 and 1942 through the cooperation of the Library of
 Congress Archive of American Folksong and Fisk University in
 Nashville, Tennessee. The aim of the field project was to "explore
 objectively and exhaustively the musical habits of a single Negro
 community in the Delta, to find out and describe the function of
 music in the community, to ascertain the history of the music in the
 community, and to document adequately the cultural and social
 backgrounds for music in the community" (see folder 7). The Coahoma
 County area, the economic and social center of the Mississippi
 Delta, was chosen for the study.
 The study stemmed from discussions between Alan Lomax and members of
 the faculty at Fisk University.  The head of the department of
 sociology, Dr. Charles Johnson, advocated an intensive cultural and
 historical study of the African Americans living in the Delta
 region. Alan Lomax believed that such a study could be best realized
 through the exploration of the folk culture of the Delta region. In
 particular, Lomax felt that recording the music of the Delta would
 give a voice to African Americans and would allow them to express
 honestly their own views about their history and present situation.
 This project was the first racially mixed field study in the Deep
 South. Racial tension was high in the Delta at the time of the
 study, and cooperation was necessary. Fisk University needed the
 backing of the federal government in the form of the Library of
 Congress, while Alan Lomax needed the help of black scholars to
 overcome racial suspicion and to facilitate rapport with informants. 
 Dr. Charles Johnson supplied graduate-student fieldworkers from the
 sociology and anthropology departments of Fisk University. Professor
 of sociology Dr. Lewis Jones led the field team in compiling a
 systematic survey of the folklore of the region. The Library of
 Congress supplied the recording equipment and recording discs and
 the services of Alan Lomax as a fieldworker and co-editor.
 Folklorist and composer John Work from Fisk University also
 participated in some of the Coahoma County fieldwork with Alan Lomax
 and Lewis Jones. However, Work's major responsibility in this field
 project was the transcription of the recordings.
 The resulting materials consist largely of recordings of
 performances of secular and religious music. These recordings
 include blues songs, field hollers, ballads, game songs, gospels,
 and spirituals. The collection also contains recordings of spoken
 materials including interviews, sermons, testimonials, speeches,
 jokes, lying contests, and folktales. Charles Berry, William Brown,
 David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Sid Hemphill, Son House, Turner Junior
 Johnson, Son Simms, Will Starks, and Asa Ware are a few of the
 performers recorded in this collection. The collection also holds
 the first recording of MacKinley Morganfield, "Muddy Waters." 
 The manuscript component of the collection includes training
 materials for the field team, song lists, correspondence, the
 transcription of an interview with S. L. Mangham, various reports
 and miscellaneous documents, and disc jackets inscribed with notes.
 The collection also includes approximately five and a half minutes
 of silent motion picture footage. This footage includes shots of the
 State Missionary Baptist Convention, various children's games,
 dances, and informant Charles Edwards playing the guitar.
 This collection also includes a database of the recordings and
 manuscripts. The searchable database is stored on a 3 « diskette
 housed in folder 14 in this collection. A concise hard copy of the
 database is included in the attachments of this collection guide.
 Attachment A gives an explanation of the database, attachment B is
 the hardcopy of the recording database, and attachment C is the
 hardcopy of the manuscript database.
 The materials in this collection include a portion of the materials
 produced by this research project.  At least two other documents
 were produced by Fisk University after 1942: the transcriptions of
 the recordings made by John Work, and a short, unpublished monograph
 about the research project by Lewis Jones. These documents have
 never been in the Folk Archive and their locations are unknown.
 Also, several scholarly articles have noted that the project's
 fieldnotes are located in the Folk Archive. However, at the time of
 the production of the present reference guide, these fieldnotes
 could not be located [9/8/98].
 A complementary source of information about this research project is
 found in the first four chapters of Alan Lomax's book about the
 Mississippi Delta, THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN. Pantheon Books:
 New York, 1993.
 Location Contents
           Folder 1  The Library of Congress/Fisk University Mississippi 
           Delta Collection Guide (This document)
           Folder 2  Preparatory and Training Materials. Materials used in
           training for the research trips. (22 pp.)
           Recommended reading list by Alan Lomax.
           List of training recordings left at Fisk University.  
           Outline detailing suggested field procedure for the
           research trip.  This document contains a questionnaire to
           be used during the study and a list of genres,
           institutions, events, and types of musicians to be studied
           during the project.
           Document instructing the field workers in the following
           areas: Analyzing Repertoire, Transmission of Musical
           Knowledge, Social Esthetics, Folk History of Music in the
           Community, and Language and Conceptions in Song. 
           Survey and questionnaire to be used when interviewing
 Folder 3       Preliminary Reports
                Reports used to inform the researchers about
                geographical and sociological conditions in the
                Mississippi Delta region. (30 pp.) 
                Report on Preliminary Work in Clarksdale,
                Mississippi." This report details the impact of an
                increase in the wages of cotton workers in the late
                summer of 1941.
                Report written by Lewis Jones containing general
                sociological information about the Coahoma County
                region during the summer prior to the 1942 field
                trip. Jones uses the following subheadings:
                Conditions Affecting Observations, General
                Observations on the Area, Recording, Secular Music,
                and Plans for July Trip. The "Plans for July Trip"
                itinerary includes event dates and possible
                Folder 4       Recording Lists for AFS 6109 and 6604-6677 
                Four copies of an inventory of recordings in this
                collection. This inventory provides such information
                as song titles, performers, and locations of
                recordings. The four copies contain handwritten notes
                in pencil. (108 pp.)
                Folder 5       Recording Lists for July and August of 1942
                Inventories of recordings made in July and August of
                1942. The information in this file is of the same
                content and nature as the documents in folder 3. The
                information in this folder, however, is presented in
                a different order and without AFS numbers. (56 pp.)
                Folder 6       Interview with S. L. Mangham 
                Life history of a middle class African American who
                worked as a bank teller and performed music as a
                hobby. His story provides insight into the
                professional, economic, and musical culture of
                Coahoma County. Mangham was a student of the composer
                W. C. Handy. (17 pp.)
 Folder 7       Lists
                Lists and other materials pertaining to the
                Mississippi Delta field trips. (184 pp.)  
                List of genres and songs recorded during the field
                trip. This list includes texts to the songs "Seemo"
                and "Hop Brer Rabbit."  
                Document entitled "Supplementary Song List" organized
                by genre. 
                Document that lists numbers that are not AFS numbers. 
                Page of notes handwritten by Alan Lomax.  
                Lists of the recordings of the following artists:
                William Brown, David Edwards, 
                Turner Junior Johnson, and MacKinley Morganfield
                (Muddy Waters). 
                Inventory of equipment brought on the Mississippi
                Delta trip.
                Document entitled "List of Records on Machines in
                Clarksdale Amusement Places."

                Photocopy of a page of the original fieldnotes
                written by Alan Lomax.  These notes refer to
                interviewing Robert Johnson's mother and recording
                Son House.
                List of the scenes in the film-footage section of
                this collection.
 Folder 8       Correspondence: 1939-41 
                Correspondence from April 26, 1939, to November 14,
                1941. This folder also includes the correspondence
                prior to the conception of the research project.
                Correspondence with individual informants can be
                found in folder 10. This folder is organized
 Folder 9       Correspondence: January-September 1942

                Correspondence from January 21, 1942, to September
                23, 1942. This folder is organized chronologically.
 Folder 10      Correspondence: October, 1942-January, 1947
                Correspondence from October 4, 1942, to January 2,
                1948. This file includes inquiries and requests
                pertaining to the collection by persons not involved
                in the actual research project. This folder is
                organized chronologically.
 Folder 11      Correspondence: By Individual Informant
                Correspondence with the following informants: Sidney
                Hemphill, Jim Henry, Son House, Ulysses Jefferson,
                Turner Junior Johnson, Caroline Joyner, MacKinley
                Morganfield (Muddy Waters), and Lucius Smith. This
                file is organized alphabetically. 
 Folder 12      Correspondence: Thank-You Letters
                Official Library of Congress thank-you letters sent
                to informants.
 Folder 13      Articles by John Cowley 
                Copy of published scholarly article "Really the
                Walking Blues: Son House, Muddy Waters, Robert
                Johnson and the development of a traditional blues."
                The article discusses the origins of the Mississippi
                Delta Blues. Cowley cites the Mississippi Delta
                Collection throughout the article.  
                Copy published article "The Walking Blues." This
                article discusses the Mississippi Delta Collection as
                it existed in the Folk Archive in February of 1974.
 Box 2          Disc Jackets
                Eleven disc jackets containing handwritten notes that
                identify recording locations, informants, and song
                titles for recordings AFS 6606-6608, 6626, 6636,
                6639, 6643, 6647-6648, 6667, and 6673.
                     Location            Contents
                     Box 1, Folder 14    One 3-1/2-inch computer disk 
                     containing a searchable database of the recordings 
                     and manuscripts in the Fisk University Mississippi
                     Delta Collection.
                     Location                 Contents
 LWO 4872:      
 AFS 4757-4781,
                     6109, 6604-6673     Approximately 32 hours of 
                     audio recordings.
                     Reference audiotape copies are available for
                     listening purposes in the Folk Archive Reading
 Location       Contents
                LWO 33925 
                5 minutes and 33 seconds of the Fisk University
                Mississippi Delta Collection. Motion picture footage
                taken by Alan Lomax during his research in 1942. The
                original footage is located in the Motion Picture,
                Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division of the
                Library of Congress. The original footage from this
                collection was shot in black-and-white, without
                The film footage for this collection is located on a
                standard videocassette. The footage begins at 30.50
                and ends at 36.23 when videocassette begins at 0:00
                on a standard VCR. The following log is based on a
                document listing the scenes in this motion picture
                footage entitled "Coahoma County, Mississippi, 1942"
                that can be found in folder 6.
           30.50     State Missionary Baptist Convention" Crowd - Song 
           Salesman of the Bowles Music Co.
           Children's Games, Friars Point, Mississippi
 30.12     A. "Sally Walker"
 31.41     B. "Pulling the Skiff"
 32.02     C. "Merrimac"
           Children's Games and Songs, Coahoma County Training School
 32.15     A. Long shot of "Lazy Motion"
 32.29     B. Close-up of "Lazy Motion"
 32.39     C. "Take Your Outside Partner"
 32.50     D. Long shot of "Down by the Green Apple Tree"
 32.57     E. Long shot of "How many miles to Bethlehem?"
 33.06     F. "Who' de cat?"
 33.07     G. "Hop burr Rabbit in the Pea-Vine"
 33.15     H. "Foot movements for G."
 33.25     I. "Good Ole Man"
 33.35     J. "Satisfy"
 33.42     K. "Pulling the Skiff"
 33.49     L. "Shoo Fly"
 33.56     M. "Did You Ever See a Monkey do the Motion?"
 34.05     N. Untitled
 34.15     O. "London Bridges Falling Down"
           Children's Games on Plantation in Northwest part of
           Coahoma County
 34.29     A. Untitled
 34.34     B. Bopping
 34.43     C. Untitled
 34.49     D. Rope Skipping
 35.01     E. "Pulling the Skiff"
 35.12     F. Untitled
 35.15     G. Untitled
 35.19     H. Buck Dance by an Old Man
 35.42     I. "Chicken Scratch"
 35.47-36.23    Charles Edwards, playing guitar and harmonica
 Lomax, Alan. THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN.  Pantheon Books, New
 York: 1993. Library of Congress call number:ML 3521.661 1993
 This book includes an extensive bibliography.
 The Library of Congress has published a number of albums containing
 sample recordings from the Fisk University Mississippi Delta
 Collection. The albums are as follows:
 AFS L67. First published 1978.
 published 1942.
 NEGRO BLUES AND HOLLERS. AFS L59. First published 1962.
 Negro Work Songs and Calls. AFS L8. First published 1943.
 The above albums are currently in the process of being re-released
 in CD format thanks to a collaborative project between the Library
 of Congress and Rounder Records. AFS L59 has already been re-
 released as Rounder 1501.
 There is a list of the Commercial uses of the Folk Archive field
 recordings, including recordings from this collection, in the
 Folklife Reading Room. The list can be obtained from the librarian
 at reference desk.
                           Attachment A
 Database explanation:
 The recordings table includes information about the recordings that
 was obtained primarily from the AFS card catalogue and from the
 documents in folders 4 and 5. Each recording in the collection is
 represented by one database record and the information in the fields
 is as follows:
           AFS-Identifies the recordings by Archive of Folksong numbers.
           TITLE-Song titles for the recordings. Titles have been entered
      exactly as they appear in the card catalogue and the documents
      in folders 4 and 5. Misspellings and grammar mistakes have been
      retained from the original documents. Some of the original
      titles simply describe the nature of the recordings. For
      example some recordings are named generically "interview."
           INFORMANT 1,2,3,4,5-Lists informants recorded. Nicknames are
      placed in the following informant field. Names were entered as
      they appear in the original documents.
           GENRE 1,2-Catagorizes recordings by genre, instrument, or other
      qualifiers. Other qualifiers include speeches, prayers,
      interviews, etc. These genres were obtained primarily from
      consulting documents in folder 7, the recordings, and Alan
      Lomax's book, THE LAND WHERE THE BLUES BEGAN. The fields are
      incomplete due to a lack of information in the above sources.
      Also the categories are not always clear. Spirituals and Gospel
      are closely related for example.             
           RECORDER 1,2-Names the researcher present at the recording
      LOCATION-Location of the recording.
      DATE-Date of recording.
           DURATION-Length in minutes and/or second of the recording. This
      field has not been entered yet.
           SOUND QUALITY- On occasion researchers described the recording
      quality of the machinery and these descriptions are noted.
      Besides those notes this field has not been entered.
           SENSITIVE MATERIAL- Refers to any words in titles that might
      offend any one using the National Digital Library. Also
      identifies delta marked recordings.
           NOTES- Contains extraneous information that may or may not be
      useful to a researcher. 
 The manuscript table tabulates the documents in the collection. Each
 database record listed vertically represents an individual document.
 The fields listed horizontally are as follows:
           FOLDER NUMBER- Denotes the folder in which the document is
      stored. A list of the folder names is found in the collection
           ID#- Number potentially will be used by the National Digital
      Library to identify the documents in the collection in the
      likelihood of the collection being presented on-line. The ID#
      has no use for researchers.
           TITLE- If the document has an obvious title, the entry is true
      to that title (including misspellings and punctuation errors). 
      Most of the documents are, however, without titles and are,
      therefore, labeled [untitled]. Correspondences, for example,
      are without titles. 
           DATE- This field contains the dates the documents were written
      as specifically as is possible with the materials in this
      collection. The date is written as year/month/day.
           AUTHOR- Nicknames are not included in this table and brackets
      are used for authors not explicitly named in the text.      
           RECIPIENT- Nicknames are not included in this table and
      brackets are used for authors not explicitly named in the text.
           PAGE NUMBERS- On occasion page number totals also include
      receipts or smaller pieces of paper attached to the main
           COPIES- Number of photocopies and duplicates held in this
           RELATED AUDIO- AFS numbers of documents that are related to or
      mentioned in the documents.                  
           SENSITIVE MATERIALS- Lists any words or phrases that may
      potentially offend someone using possible future Web site.
      Lomax identified sensitive materials with delta symbols. 
      Documents containing delta notations are noted in this field.
           NOTES- Any extraneous information that may or may not be
      helpful to researchers.
 Entries that are blank or incomplete indicate either that the field
 is incomplete as noted above or that the information is not
 available. For example, the genre or duration fields in the
 recordings table have yet to be completed. In some cases, names,
 dates, and other information are not found in the collection. In
 those cases as much information as is possible has been displayed.
 For example, in case where a document is dated January of 1942
 without a specific date, the entry would appear 1942/01. The unknown
 date will simply not be included.
 In some cases entries have been editorialized. For example, some
 letters seem to be almost certainly written in the hand of Alan
 Lomax while his signature is not explicit. Also, titles for certain
 manuscripts have been constructed in order to make those manuscripts
 stand out. In any case that entries have been editorialized they are
 enclosed in brackets. Editorialized entries appear as follows:
 [Lomax, Alan], [Mackinley Morganfield Recordings], or [dust


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