Michigan Folksong Legacy
Special Programs to Highlight Folklorist Alan Lomax’s Michigan Legacy
Events Learn More
In 1938, a young folk music collector named Alan Lomax—destined to become one of the legendary folklorists of the 20th century—came from Washington, DC to record Michigan’s richly varied folk music traditions for the Archive of American Folk-Song at the Library of Congress. Michigan in the 1930s was experiencing a golden age of folksong collecting, as local folklorists mined the trove of ballads remembered by aging lumbermen and Great Lakes schoonermen. In addition to the ballads of these north woods singers, Lomax recorded a vibrant mix of ethnic music from Detroit to the western Upper Peninsula. A series of commemorative activities will mark the 75th anniversary of Alan Lomax's historic documentation of music and folklore in Michigan-- and its lasting impact on our lives today. This includes innovative publications, public programming, performances, a traveling exhibition, community engagement, digital educational resources, and the return of copies of collections to their home communities.
The Michigan State University Museum is coordinating two special programs that will travel to selected Michigan communities starting in September 2013. The multimedia performance event Folksongs from Michigan-i-o combines live performance with historic images, color movie footage, and recorded sound from the Great Depression. Some of these materials haven’t been heard or seen by the general public for more than seven decades. The traveling exhibition Michigan Folksong Legacy: Grand Discoveries from the Great Depression brings Alan Lomax’s 1938 field trip to life through words, song lyrics, photographs, and sound recordings. The exhibit explores this ground-breaking collection of Michigan folk music and what it reveals about Michigan history and culture. Ten interpretive banners explore themes such as Alan Lomax and Michigan folksong collecting in the 1930s; the geography of Lomax’s travels; the musical culture of lumberjacks, miners, and schoonermen (Great Lakes sailors); Michigan’s ethnic diversity and its reflection in Lomax’s field recordings; and the importance of the Lomax Michigan legacy today. Each panel contains a QR code that links to related sound recordings from the Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
These programs are made possible in part by a grant from Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; with additional support from the Michigan State University Museum and its the Great Lakes Traditions Endowment; the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress; the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at the University of Wisconsin; the Association for Cultural Equity; and the Finlandia Foundation.
Listen to a clip: "Once More A-Lumbering Go," sung by Carl Lathrup, St. Louis, Michigan, collected by Alan Lomax, 1938. Courtesy of Alan Lomax Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
-Sunday, August 11, 2013, Kick-off performances by Lee Murdock at the Great Lakes Folk Festival, E. Lansing, with two sets of Great Lakes ballads and songs collected by Alan Lomax and Ivan Walton
-September 30-October 30, 2013, Michigan Folksong Legacy: "Grand" Discoveries from the Great Depression" exhibit at Park Library 3rd Floor exhibit space (CMU), Mt. Pleasant
-November 1, 2013-January 5, 2014, Michigan Folksong Legacy: "Grand" Discoveries from the Great Depression exhibit at Dennos Museum Center, Traverse City
-February 3-March 31, 2014, Michigan Folksong Legacy: "Grand" Discoveries from the Great Depression exhibit at Beaumier Heritage Center, Northern Michigan University, Marquette
-February 22, 2014, Folksongs from "Michigan-I-O," featuring the Lumber Jakki, Jamrich Hall 103, Northern Michigan University, Marquette
-April 2-May 28, 2014, Michigan Folksong Legacy: "Grand" Discoveries from the Great Depression exhibit, Michigan Technological University, Houghton
-June 2-July 27, 2014, Michigan Folksong Legacy: "Grand" Discoveries from the Great Depression exhibit, Beaver Island District Library
-TBA during Museum Week (July 21-26), Folksongs from "Michigan-I-O," Beaver Island Community Center
-July 30 -Sept. 26, 2014, Michigan Folksong Legacy: "Grand" Discoveries from the Great Depression exhibit, Presque Isle Co. Historical Museum, Rogers City
-TBA, Folksongs from "Michigan-I-O," Rogers City Community Theater
-Oct. 1-Dec. 5, 2014, Michigan Folksong Legacy: "Grand" Discoveries from the Great Depression exhibit, St. Ignace Public Library
-TBA, Folksongs from "Michigan-I-O," St. Ignace Public Library
Laurie Sommers, Michigan Lomax Program Coordinator
More about the Michigan 1938 Project:
In autumn 1938 the Library of Congress dispatched the Archive of American Folk Song’s Alan Lomax to make a folklife survey in northern Michigan. The resulting field work documented the diversity of ethnicity and cultural expression in the Upper Midwest. From August 2013 to November 2014 the American Folklife Center and its partners will mark the 75th anniversary of this historic field trip through a series of events and publications. This project will include innovative publications, public programming, and outreach, and will be administered by the American Folklife Center, the Association for Cultural Equity, and Michigan State University Museum.
The other institutional partners also have related programming, available at the websites listed below:
On September 30, 2013, the Library of Congress will launch a series of twenty-one podcasts. The series will highlight various aspects of Alan Lomax's 1938 Michigan recordings, especially the ethnic diversity of the musicians and collectors he documented. Individual podcasts will continue to be released until September 2014, and will focus on such topics as "Songs and Tales of the Michigan Lumberjacks," "The Cantor Fredrickson in Calumet," and "Joe Cloud, Ojibwe Fiddler."
"Michigan-I-O": Alan Lomax and the 1938 Library of Congress Folk-Song Expedition, by Todd Harvey, published by Dust to Digital in association with the Library of Congress. Enhanced e-book with illustrations, audio tracks, and film clips (available November 1, 2013) ISBN: 978-0-8444-9567-5
In 1938 the Library of Congress dispatched Alan Lomax—already a seasoned field worker at age 23—to complete a folklife survey of the Great Lakes region. He set off in a 1935 Plymouth Deluxe 4-door sedan, toting a Presto instantaneous disc recorder, a still camera, and a moving image camera. He returned almost three months later, having driven thousands of miles on barely paved roads, with a cache of 250 discs and 8 reels of film. These materials documented the diversity of ethnicity—Irish, Finnish, Serbian, Polish, German, Croatian, Canadian French, Hungarian, and more—in Michigan, as well as cultural expression among loggers and lake sailors.
This innovative e-publication celebrates the 1938 field trip with a compelling narrative written by the Library's Lomax curator, Todd Harvey, and illustrated with original items from the trip, including audio and video clips, field notes, and telegrams. Together, these materials provide fascinating insights into both the region that Lomax called "the most fertile source" of American folklore, and the man who would become the most famous 20th century folklorist in America.
Center for the Study of Upper Midwest Cultures, University of Wisconsin
Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946, James P. Leary, ed., combines five compact disks, a DVD, and a book (University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming 2014).
“The CDs include 175 songs and tunes,” writes compiler Jim Leary, “culled from a larger corpus of nearly 2000 performances originally recorded in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota by three distinguished field workers involved with expanding the collections of what was then the Archive of American Folksong (and is now the American Folklife Center) at the Library of Congress. Only a few of these recordings have been issued previously in any format, and those which have are entirely in English, thus effectively ignoring the existence and remarkable performances of musicians and singers in twenty-five additional indigenous and immigrant languages. The CDs are arranged chronologically, commencing with Sidney Robertson Cowell’s work in Wisconsin and Minnesota in 1937 with lumberjack, Finnish, Scots Gaelic, and Serbian performers. The Wisconsin Lumberjacks, CD 2, focuses on an ensemble from Rice Lake that was recorded by both Cowell and Alan Lomax during subsequent National Folk Festivals in Chicago and Washington, DC, in 1937 and 1938. Lomax’s 1938 Michigan field recordings with lumberjack, Finnish, French Canadian, German, Irish, Lithuanian, Ojibwe, Polish, and Swedish performers make up CD 3. The even more diverse work of Helene Stratman-Thomas, undertaken throughout Wisconsin in 1940, 1941, and 1946, comprise CDs 4&5, encompassing the aforementioned peoples but also including African American, Austrian, Belgian, Cornish, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Ho-Chunk, Icelandic, Italian, Luxemburger, Norwegian, Oneida, Swiss, and Welsh performers. Painstakingly transferred from deteriorating original disks to digital formats, then subjected to noise reduction, equalization, and speed correction, these restored performances reveal a nearly lost sonic portrait of another America with clarity and power.”
A key aspect of this project is to ensure that the Michigan communities of origin recorded by the Library of Congress possess copies of their cultural heritage. The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) has as one of its core principals a repatriation and dissemination program, through which it returns Alan Lomax’s field recordings to their communities of origin. ACE has disseminated materials to 17 sites around the world, with more planned. ACE writes:
“The digital revolution makes it possible for libraries and archives to work together both to safeguard intangible cultural heritage and circulate it widely. As a practitioner of cultural equity, ACE returns Alan Lomax’s field recordings, photographs, film, and other materials to the places and peoples from which it came. Alan Lomax was a pioneer in the dissemination and repatriation of cultural documentation, having deposited copies of several of his large collections in national archives at a time when tape and disk media made it difficult and expensive, and he unfailingly sent recordings to colleagues in the field. ACE donates copies of materials to appropriate repositories pertaining to the regions from which they were taken. The ACE Online Archive
offers free online dissemination through multimedia collections of Lomax's preserved field trips and other work.”
ACE and partners will identify numerous dissemination sites in Michigan and coordinate events, both electronically and in person. AFC will provide digital content and authoritative information about collections.
Beck, E.C. Songs of the Michigan Lumberjacks. Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Press, 1942.
Beck, E.C., ed. Songs of the Michigan Lumberjacks [sound recording]. Library of Congress. AFS L56. 1959.
Beck, E.C. They Knew Paul Bunyan. Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Press. 1956.
Cohen, Ronald D. ed. Alan Lomax Assistant in Charge, The Library of Congress Letters, 1935-1945. Jackson. University Press of Mississippi. 2011.
Grimm, Joe, ed. Songquest, The Journals of Great Lakes Folklorist Ivan H. Walton. Detroit. Wayne State University Press, 2005.
Jabbour, Alan, ed. American Fiddle Tunes [sound recording]. Library of Congress. AFS L62. 1971.
Leary, James P. "Fieldwork Forgotten, Or Alan Lomax Goes North." Midwestern Folklore 2, no.26 (Fall 2001):5-20.
Leary, James P. "The Discovery of Finnish American Folk Music." Scandinavian Studies 73, no. 3 (Fall 2001):475-492.
Sommers, Laurie Kay. Beaver Island House Party. East Lansing. Michigan State University Press. 1996.
Walton, Ivan H. and Joe Grimm, Windjammers, Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors. Detroit. Wayne State University Press, 2002.
Writers’ Program [Michigan]. Michigan, A Guide to the Wolverine State. New York. Oxford University Press. 1941.
This collaborative partnership marks the 75th anniversary of Alan Lomax's historic documentation of music and folklore in Michigan -- and its lasting impact on our lives today. The lead partners are: the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress (AFC); Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the Michigan State University Museum (MSUM); the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, University of Wisconsin, and the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE).
Funding support is being provided by Michigan Council for the Humanities
; Michigan State University Museum; the Great Lakes Traditions Endowment, MSUM; the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress; the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Culture, University of Wisconsin; the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE); and Finlandia Foundation.