Monday, November 30, 2009

Folklorists & Musician Bess Lomax Hawes dies at 88

From the LA Times:
Bess Lomax Hawes, a musician and folklorist who tapped into the legacy of her influential family of archivists and became a prominent anthropologist at what is now Cal State Northridge, has died. She was 88.

Hawes, who directed folk and traditional arts programs at the National Endowment for the Arts from 1977 to 1992, died of natural causes Friday in Portland, Ore., where she had been living the last two years, her daughter Naomi Bishop said.

CSUN houses the Bess Lomax Hawes Student Folklore Archive, a collection of student research projects that Hawes oversaw. She was particularly interested in children's folklore; among her documentary films is “Pizza Pizza Daddy-O,” showing black schoolgirls singing and clapping on a Pacoima playground in 1967. With Bessie Jones she made another film, “Georgia Sea Island Singers,” and they co-wrote "Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs and Stories from the Afro-American Heritage" (1972).

"To me, it's another way of getting to the human mystery -- why people behave the way they do," Hawes said in a 2000 Times interview in explaining the value of studying folklore.

Steeped in folk music from birth, she was the youngest child of John A. Lomax and Bess Bauman Brown. Born Jan. 21, 1921, in Austin, Texas, she was home-schooled by her mother, who also taught her to play piano. Her father and her brother, Alan Lomax, collected seminal field recordings of traditional songs that had been sung by cowboys, prisoners and slaves.

After her mother died in 1931, the family moved to Washington, D.C., and Hawes assisted her father's pioneering research compiling the folk song archive at the Library of Congress.

She graduated with a bachelor's degree in sociology from Bryn Mawr College in 1941 and worked during World War II as a radio programmer for the Office of War Information. She was also one of a rotating crew of vocalists in the Almanac Singers folk ensemble, along with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and her future husband, Baldwin "Butch" Hawes.

The couple married in 1943 and moved to Cambridge, Mass., where Hawes co-wrote the folk song "M.T.A." that later became a hit for the Kingston Trio.

She also began a successful career as a music instructor.

"Everyone wanted to sing and play guitar like Bobby Dylan," Hawes told the Daily News in 2002. "Folk music was a real postwar phenomenon. Everyone had either been tromped over or was out tromping over someone else during the war, and people were anxious to get back a sense of their roots."

In 1952 Hawes and her husband, an artist, moved to California and settled with their children in Topanga Canyon, immersing themselves in the bohemian community anchored by actor Will Geer.

Besides performing in coffeehouses and at music festivals, Hawes taught guitar, banjo, mandolin and folk singing through UCLA Extension courses, at the Idyllwild summer arts program and, starting in 1963, at San Fernando Valley State College. She expanded her instruction to folklore, folk music and ethnomusicology and, after receiving a master's in folklore from UC Berkeley studying under Alan Dundes, became head of the anthropology department at what is now CSUN.

Hawes began shifting from teacher to arts administrator in 1975 when she led a group of folk music and arts performers from California in a program on the National Mall presented by the Smithsonian Institution. The next year she participated in a bicentennial event staged by the Smithsonian, and in 1977 she joined the NEA.

She directed the national arts agency's folk and traditional arts program and created the agency's National Heritage Fellowships, which recognize traditional artists and performers from across the country. She retired in 1992 and the next year was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton.

To Hawes, folk art was "an identifier . . . a public statement of what a hell of a fine thing it is to be a Lithuanian or a Greek or a Comanche Indian . . . so that you feel good and people looking at the work will say, 'That's good,' or 'That's beautiful,' or 'That's different.' "

All three of Hawes' children followed in her footsteps professionally. Her daughter Naomi Bishop of Portland, Ore., is a retired CSUN anthropology professor; another daughter, Corey Denos of Bellingham, Wash., is a teacher; and her son, Nicholas Hawes of Portland, Ore., is a folk musician.

Besides her children, Hawes is survived by six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1971.

Services will be private.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why are the Quileute people werewolves in 'Twilight'?

It turns out Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga is based on some documented folklore--at least when it comes to werewolves.

in reference to:

"The Quileute Nation has lived on the Olympic Peninsula for thousands of years. Today, the Quileute Tribe is located in La Push, Washi., on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. La Push is not far from Forks, Wash., where the "Twilight" series takes place. Author Stephanie Myers references Quileute folklore in her decision to create Quileute characters in her story that transform into werewolves. The actual "origin" story of the Quileute people, as documented in "Quileute Religion: What the Old People Believed," prepared by the Quileute Tribal School in 1989, reads: "There was a kixi' (elder/knowledge carrier) that tells how k'w a'-ti (the transformer) was on First Beach when the wolves came down to run on the beach. The k'w a'-ti often had trouble with the strong and fierce wolves. So the transformer decided to be free from the wolf problem once and for all. He transformed the pack of wolves into the Kwo' li' yot, the people who live at the village, which came to be called La Push. …That is how the Quileutes of La Push came to be.""
- Why are the Quileute people werewolves in 'Twilight?' (view on Google Sidewiki)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dell Hymes Obituary

Dell Hathaway Hymes Dell Hathaway Hymes, 82, a founding figure in the field of sociolinguistics and Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at the University of Virginia, died Friday, November 13, 2009. An innovative thinker, an energetic researcher and writer, and a tireless intellectual advocate, Hymes worked for more than five decades at the intersection of linguistics and anthropology, exhorting linguists to move beyond treating language as a purely formal system and to study its mutual interactions with culture and society. His work has had an impact not only on his own dual fields of anthropology and linguistics but on the study of folklore, literature, and education. Hymes, the son of Howard Hathaway Hymes and Dorothy Bowman Hymes, was born and grew up in Portland, Oregon, where he first developed his lifelong interest in the study of Native American language and culture, conducting his first field research on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon while he was still an undergraduate at Reed College, and beginning friendships and collegial relationships with members of the Wasco, Wishram, and Sahaptin peoples that he would maintain throughout his life. Interrupting his college education, Hymes served in the army in American-occupied Korea, working as a decoder and reaching the rank of staff sergeant, and returned to Reed to graduate in 1950. Hymes and his close friend the poet, Gary Snyder, were the first two Reed students to combine majors in literature and anthropology. Hymes went on to graduate work in linguistics at Indiana University, where he met fellow student Virginia Wolff, n‚e Dosch, whom he married in 1954. He earned his Ph.D. in 1955 with a dissertation on the Kathlamet language, formerly spoken near the mouth of the Columbia River. Between 1955 and 1987 Hymes taught successively at Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a member of the departments of Anthropology and Folklore and then served as Dean of the Graduate School of Education for 12 years. In 1987, Hymes moved to Virginia, taking up a joint appointment in anthropology and English, and remained at Virginia until his retirement in 1998. Throughout his life Hymes was a writer of poetry alongside his academic work, and many of his poems have been published. He was also a man of strong political views and engagements, a lover of music and amateur pianist, an excellent joke-teller, and an avid reader across a multitude of fields, in his later years especially including theology and the history of religion. Since he arrived in Charlottesville 22 years ago, he has been a congregant of St. Paul Memorial Church and more recently of Peace Lutheran Church. His love of his native Pacific Northwest was a deep theme not only in his work but in his life, and for more than three decades, while living and working in Philadelphia and then Charlottesville, he spent every summer on Mt. Hood, which lies between Portland where he was born and Warm Springs where he did his fieldwork. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Virginia Dosch Hymes, a researcher and teacher in her own right in linguistics, anthropology, and the study of narrative; a brother, Corwin Hymes; and by four children, Vicky Unruh, Robert Hymes, Alison Hymes and Kenneth Hymes; as well as five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service will take place 1 p.m. Saturday, November 21, 2009, at Peace Lutheran Church, Charlottesville. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice (CCPJ) or a charity of choice.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fellowships in honor of Archie Green

Archie Green Fellowships

Current application deadline: November 30, 2009


To honor the memory of Archie Green (1917-2009), the pioneering folklorist who championed the establishment of the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress and was a scholar and advocate for the documentation and analysis of the culture and traditions that arise from and are passed on by American workers, a fellowship program has been established at the American Folklife Center. The Archie Green Fellowships will support new documentation and research into the culture and traditions of American workers and will create significant digital archival materials (audio recordings, photographs, motion pictures, field notes) that will be preserved in the Folklife Center's archive and made available to researchers and the public.

Program Description

The American Folklife Center will award up to three fellowships for the period February 2010 – February 2011 that will support new, original, independent field research into the culture and traditions of American workers and/or occupational groups found within the United States. Applicants must develop a project plan detailing the subject of the research and methods of digital documentation. The original documentary materials generated during the course of the fellowship will become part of the Folklife Center's Archie Green America Works Collection.

Applicants must submit proposals to be received by the American Folklife Center no later than November 30, 2009. The term of each fellowship will be limited to a period of one year and will be supported with funds up to $45,000.

Eligibility Requirements

U.S. citizens are eligible to submit applications for a fellowship to support their new, original research on and documentation of occupational culture. Applicants may include individuals, organizations or groups. Occupational groups, labor unions or organizations may wish to involve folklife researchers for the purpose of undertaking fieldwork projects on their behalf.


Proposals for the Archie Green Fellowships will be evaluated by a committee that is composed of the Director of the American Folklife Center, Head of Research and Programs for the American Folklife Center, Head of the American Folklife Center archive, the Chair of the American Folklife Center Board of Trustees, and the Associate Librarian for Library Services at the Library of Congress. A summary of the proposals and a recommendation for selection will be provided to the Librarian of Congress, who will make the final selections.


Fellows will provide the American Folklife Center with the original versions of documentary materials created during the course of the fellowship research. All documentation must be in digital formats as outlined below. The cost of creating secondary copies may be factored into the applicants’ research budgets. Fellows will submit completed informant releases and biographical data forms (provided by the American Folklife Center) as well as electronic logs for audio/video recordings and still photographs. Fieldnotes describing daily research activities through the course of the project will be submitted in digital form. These materials will become part of the Archie Green America Works Collection. Fellows will submit a final report and financial accounting to the American Folklife Center upon completion of the fellowship. In addition, Archie Green Fellows will offer a public lecture or presentation at the Library of Congress at the end of their fellowship year, to become part of the Archie Green Fellows Lecture Series. These lectures or presentations will be recorded to become part of the Archie Green America Works Collection. Fellows' travel expenses related to the lectures will be covered separately by the American Folklife Center.

Request for Proposals

Applicants for the 2010 Archie Green Fellowships at the American Folklife Center should submit the following materials by November 30, 2009

* Project Description (1-3 pages)
* Project Budget, which, if necessary, may include the cost of purchasing professional-quality documentation equipment
* List of documentation equipment to be used
* Project Timeline
* Statement of agreement/letter from occupational group to be documented
* Resume (for individuals) or Organization Description (for 501.c.3 orgs.)

Digital Document Requirements & Specifications:

All fellows must comply with the AFC/LOC digital standards and, therefore, provide documentation in the following specifications:

Digital audio: 96khz/24bit bwf (or .wav) file, or 44.1khz/16bit .wav file.

Digital video: high-resolution digital video format (consult with AFC)

Digital images: high-resolution digital images (consult with AFC)

Text files (for logs, fieldnotes, final report, etc.): Microsoft Word

Databases, spread sheets, etc.: consult with AFC

Application Process and Deadlines:
November 30, 2009 2010 Proposals due to AFC
December 15, 2009 2010 Adjudication final and awards announced
February 15, 2010 2010 Awards final and fellowships begin

October 20, 2010 Request for Proposals released by AFC for 2011 Fellowships
November 30, 2010 2011 Proposals due to AFC
December 15, 2010 2011 Adjudication final and awards announced
February 15, 2011 2010 Fellowships final reports and documentation submitted
February 15, 2011 Plans for 2010 Fellows lectures finalized
February 15, 2011 2011 Awards final and fellowships begin
Submit Materials to:

Please email or FAX your submission, do not send via U.S. Postal Service.

Email to: Archie Green Fellows Committee at

FAX to: Archie Green Fellows Committee at 202-707-2076

Questions? Call Mary Bucknum at 202-707-5354

Food, Folklore and Hurston

This article features the D.C. restaurant "Eatonville," dedicated to the hometown and heritage of Zora Neal Hurston. Folklorists everywhere should cheer.

Remembering Dell Hymes

This is the first of what will be many remembrances of Dell Hymes:

Remembering Dell Hymes
by Jason Baird Jackson

While no obituary has appeared yet, there seems to be conclusive understanding via the moccasin telegraph that Dell Hymes has passed away. So soon after the death of Claude Lévi-Strauss, this is another significant loss in the fields of Native American studies, anthropology and folklore studies. Dell Hymes was a amazingly influential folklorist, anthropologist, and linguist who revolutionized the study of language in (/and) culture in general, and of Native American narrative traditions in particular. He made important contributions to the history of anthropology, to descriptive and theoretical linguistics, to sociolinguistics, to folkloristics, and to Native American studies. He essentially created the areas on inquiry known as (1) the ethnography of speaking and (2) ethnopoetics and he played a key role reshaping linguistic anthropology from the 1960s onward. His work is at the root of the performance orientation central in contemporary folklore studies and he directly influenced the work of a great many folklorists, including Richard Bauman, Henry Glassie, and Lee Haring, among many others. His influence in the field as practiced in the United States is pervasive.

Dell Hymes was an especially central figure for his fields of study at Indiana University, where I earned my Ph.D. and to which I returned in 2004 to join the faculty in Folklore and Ethnomusicology. At Indiana, Hymes earned his Ph.D. in 1955, studying under Carl Voegelin, a student of Alfred Kroeber and Edward Sapir, both themselves students of Franz Boas. He was deeply immersed in the Americanist tradition and he took the task of understanding, enriching, and conveying that tradition to new generations to be a key task. When he left Indiana for jobs at Harvard, California, Pennsylvania and Virginia, his impact and influence kept flowing back and influencing the faculty and students here. At Pennsylvania in particular, he worked closely with scholars that have gone on to play a key role in shaping the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Evidence of the breadth of his influence and his commitment to the Boasian vision for the study of language, culture and society can be seen in the fact that he served as president of the American Folklore Society, the American Anthropological Association, and the Linguistic Society of America.

More coherent and elaborate remembrances will be written by scholars and friends who knew him well, but I wanted to acknowledge his passing and record my appreciation for his many contributions that have enriched the fields of study in which I work.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Luto for Dell Hymes

Dell Hymes, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and English at UVA, passed away on Friday, November 13, 2009 at the age of 82. I will post links to his obituaries as they are published.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Havana to host international Folklore Conference

Havana will host the 39th Conference of Organizations for Folklore Festivals November 8-15. Representatives from 40 countries will be on hand. UNESCO and the International Council of Organizations for Folklore Festivals will co-sponsor the event.

in reference to: Cuba to host international folklore conference (view on Google Sidewiki)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What's the role of Narrative in a point and click world?

The article linked here from today's Washington Post explores the role of storytelling an a world of twitter and other snippet reading alternatives. Is there a role for the narrative (especially the long narrative) in this world of short attention spans and 120 character limits?

According to this author, there are many reasons to believe that a well-told story is still worth most people's time. He writes, "Narrative isn't merely a technique for communicating; it's how we make sense of the world. The storytellers know this."

He goes on to discuss new digital forms of storytelling (not in the traditional sense)
that have evolved recently. It turns out (no surprises for folklorists) that people love a good story. Even if it is longer than 120 characters long.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Folklorist Sabina Magliocco lectures on the Folklore of Harry Potter

Sabrina Magliocco, a Folklorist and professor of anthropology at Cal State Northridge, gave a lecture on the ancestors of Harry Potter and the history of witchcraft and folklore on Monday Oct. 26. Follow the link to the full story above.

Missouri State University Folklore Students to give Campus "haunted" tours

Members of Missouri State University’s Folklore Club will give guided tours of campus tonight, sharing little known tales and spooky stories about the Springfield campus. KSMU’s Missy Shelton reports.

The Missouri State students who will serve as tour guides tonight will share legends and stories collected from students and alumni. Dr. Rachel Gholson is faculty advisor of the Folklore Club, which is presenting tonight’s Haunted Tours.

Gholson says, “Students will be sharing narratives that have been collected from other students across campus for the last eight years that are all about various mysterious events, strange bits of information you may not know about campus, such as underground basketball courts that you can reach through tunnels that exist in specific places or ghosts that are in various buildings. There will be all kinds of haunting narratives and then little bits of interesting information they’ll share.”

Tours begin at 7 tonight and groups will leave every 20 minutes from Plaster Student Union. Tickets are required but can be purchased on site this evening. Just to get you “in the spirit,” Dr. Gholson shares a story that will not only be told this evening but will be reenacted by students from the Missouri State Theatre and Dance Department.

Gholson says, “There is the young woman who is purported to have been studying in the library one evening. She had a bit of a scary experience where a young man was walking around and she felt uncomfortable. She picked up her books and she disappeared into the restroom and hung out for a while. She came back out and saw that he was gone. Everything was fine and she continued her studying. But when the library closed just before midnight when she was leaving, she happened to run into him again. I wont’ give away the narrative but I will tell you that the fountain out front has not always been the best place to get your feet wet.”

You can hear the conclusion of this story tonight during the Haunted Tours that the Missouri State University Folklore Club will be hosting beginning at 7 outside the Plaster Student Union.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

IU Professor and Alumnus Share Chicago Folklore Prize

The American Folklore Society (AFS) and the University of Chicago have awarded Michael Dylan Foster, an IU assistant professor in the departments of folklore and East Asian languages and cultures, and Ray Cashman, an associate professor of folklore at Ohio State University who earned his doctorate at IU The Chicago Folklore Prize

Monday, October 26, 2009

Egyptian Folklore Conference

Delegation heads to Egypt for folklore conference

SANA'A, Oct. 25 (Saba) – Yemen is set to take part in the special conference on Muslim and Arab folklore' present circumstances and prospective horizons' that would be organized by the High Cultural Council in Egypt.

The meeting will take place on 26-29 October, with more than 17 Arab states expected at it.

Deputy Culture minister for Yemen Folklore Njaiba Hadad, head of the Yemeni delegation to the meeting, said on Sunday Yemen will present a work paper on its cultural heritage and visions over the heritage as well as the role of the ministry of Cultural in protecting it.

Hadada will deliver the opening speech that will highlight visions over protecting the Muslim and Arab identity under current difficult challenges and the negatives of the media while tackling crucial issues concerned by the Muslim and Arab nations.

The conference will discuss several issues including activating the dialog on the reality of the Muslim and Arab nations, the challenges and political crises in the Muslim and Arab worlds and how to preserve their fading folklore, she said.

Oral History Opportunity with the Smithsonian

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the National Museum of Natural History. The Museum plans to mark this occasion with a Centennial Celebration-a year-long series of events that will highlight the Museum's scientific contributions, as well as the lasting impact that their exhibitions and educational programs have had on visitors over the past one hundred years.

The Centennial Celebration will kick-off on March 17th, 2010, with the opening of the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. Throughout 2010 the Museum will implement a targeted media and public outreach effort that will include a Centennial exhibit, television programming, a website, social media experiences, family festivals, and a lecture series.

A key component of the Centennial Celebration will be an Oral History Project - to be conducted in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Archives - that will tell the history of the Museum through the stories of staff members and volunteers. The Museum's plan is to document the reminiscences and contributions of twenty interview subjects, representing the wide range of the work conducted at NMNH over past decades. These interviews will be placed in the Smithsonian Institution Archives to serve as a lasting resource and documentation of its history. Excerpts from the interviews will also be featured on the Centennial website.

The Museum is seeking volunteers who would like to participate in the production of the Oral History Project. If you are interested in volunteering, please e-mail: Paula Cardwell, Public Programs Specialist,

Storytelling is a Gift

This article from the Times-West Virginian highlights the work of Ruth Ann Musick, who collects local folklore in WV. Her work will be featured next week at the ninth annual Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center Gala, which will will take place Saturday, Oct. 31, at Fairmont State University.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How important is Tradition?

Folklorists understand that tradition is extremely important. How that importance translates into everyday life is something that folklorists regularly examine. This article from today's Inside Higher Ed looks at the re-emergence of the university convocation as a way to boost retention of incoming freshmen and graduation rates. The idea is that convocations mark a rite of passage for new students. Convocations invoke ritual that allows students to see themselves as part of the idea of the university.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Folk Value of "American Idol"

This article in Sunday's Washington Post explores the acquisition and display of the judges desk from American Idol. The desk was donated and is currently on exhibit at the Smithsonian Castle. The accompanying text situates American Idol as part of a long tradition of amateur talent shows that have been part of American culture since the inception of the republic.

What I love about this article is the way it problematizes the acquisition of the desk and whether it really is an authentic piece of folk culture worthy of display at the Smithsonian. It's the type of discussion I like to introduce with undergraduate and graduate students when we're working on a definition of folklore early in the semester.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

A good number of Smithsonian Folkways recordings are available as free downloads through itunes. You can also check out the website here.

The Passing of Mike Seeger

Mike Seeger,a singer and multi-instrumentalist who is best known among folklorists and others for his role in the folk revival of the 1950s and ’60s, died on Friday at his home in Lexington, Va. at the age of 75. The full obituary from the New York Times is reproduced here with the following correction: Mr. Seeger's final album with Smithsonian Folklways recordings is entitled Early Southern Guitar Styles.

The cause was multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, said his wife, Alexia Smith.

Although a quieter voice on the national stage than his politically outspoken, older half-brother, Pete, Mike Seeger was a significant force in spreading the music of preindustrial America during an increasingly consumerist era. In 1958 he helped found the New Lost City Ramblers, whose repertory came from the 1920s and ’30s, and in his career he recorded or produced dozens of albums of what he called the “true vine” of American music, the mix of British and African traditions and topical storytelling that took root in the South.

Mr. Seeger’s dedication had a strong effect on the young Bob Dylan, who wrote fondly of him in his 2004 memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One.” Although only eight years his junior, Mr. Dylan called Mr. Seeger a father figure — for helping the under-age Mr. Dylan with his paperwork — and rhapsodized about him as the embodiment of a folk-star persona.

“Mike was unprecedented,” Mr. Dylan wrote, adding: “As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype. He could push a stake through Dracula’s black heart. He was the romantic, egalitarian and revolutionary type all at once.”

But Mr. Seeger made his mark less as a star than as a careful, steady student of his beloved Southern music. He was born in New York to a prominent musical family. His father, Charles Seeger, was a well-known ethnomusicologist, and his mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, a composer and folk-song collector. Besides Pete, Mr. Seeger’s sister Peggy also became a noted singer.

The intellectual pursuit of folk music was part of Mike Seeger’s life from an early age. At 5 he made a recording of the old British folk ballad “Barbara Allen,” his wife said in an interview on Sunday.

Mr. Seeger played banjo, guitar, autoharp and other instruments, which he learned from old records and in some cases from the musicians who played on them. A dogged researcher, he sought out musicians who had been lost for decades and introduced them to an eager (and young) new audience. One was Dock Boggs, a banjo player from western Virginia whose records were prized by folklorists. Mr. Seeger brought him to the American Folk Festival in Asheville, N.C., in 1963.

Mr. Seeger’s most recent album was “Early Southern Guitar Sounds” (Smithsonian Folkways), in 2007, and he played autoharp on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s Grammy Award-winning album “Raising Sand” (Rounder), also released in 2007. In his career Mr. Seeger was nominated for six Grammys.

In addition to his wife, his half-brother Pete, of Beacon, N.Y., and his sister Peggy, of Boston, Mr. Seeger is survived by three sons, Kim, of Tivoli, N.Y., Chris, of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and Jeremy, of Belmont, Mass.; four stepchildren, Cory Foster of Ithaca, N.Y., Jenny Foster of Rockville, Md., Joel Foster of Silver Spring, Md., and Jesse Foster of Washington; another sister, Barbara Perfect of Henderson, Nev.; another half-brother, John Seeger of Bridgewater, Conn.; and 13 grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Remembering Sandy Ives

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of Folklorist Sandy Ives. Most of the GMU undergrad community is familiar with Sandy's work on the logistics of fieldwork (The Tape Recorded Interview).
The following obituary is re-posted from the American Folklore Society Newsletter.

Edward D. ("Sandy") Ives, 1925-2009

Folklorist Sandy Ives passed away Sunday evening, August 2,
at home in Maine. Sandy received his PhD in folklore from Indiana
University in 1962 and was a professor of folklore at the University
of Maine from 1964 to his retirement in 1998. He founded the
Maine Folklife Center and the Northeast Archives of Folklore
and Oral History, both at the University.

Among his major publications were Larry Gorman: The Man Who Made the Songs (Indiana University Press, 1964), Folksongs and Their Makers (co-editor; Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1970), Joe Scott: The Woodsman Songmaker (University of Illinois Press, 1978), and
George Magoon and the Down East Game War (University of Illinois Press, 1988). In 2000, Ives received a festschrift issue
of the journal he founded, Northeast Folklore, entitled Essays in Honor of Edward D."Sandy" Ives and edited by Pauleena MacDougall and David Taylor (University of Maine Press).

He was elected to the Fellows of the AFS in 1980, and received
the Society's Kenneth Goldstein Award for Lifetime Academic Leadership in 2003.

Monday, August 3, 2009

To grade or not to grade

I've linked this article on grading. Or not grading. An English professor at Duke has decided to hand over the work of grading to her students by composing a simple list of tasks that students must complete to receive an "A", "B" etc. To determine whether the students have adequately completed the assignments, she allows small groups of students to grade one another.

This sounds fine for a standard English literature class where students are majors and well aware of the difference between adequate and work well done. But what about in other types of classes, such as folklore, where it make take students weeks to grasp the concept of what is and isn't folklore?

I welcome your thoughts here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Corridos at the Folklife Festival

On March 25th, 2009 I wrote a post about the U.S. Border Patrol commissioning Spanish corridos to deter immigration. This past month at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I got a chance to chat with Aldalberto "Don Beto" Cruz Alvarez and Jesus Garcia who are corridos musicians and performed in this summer's Las Americas section.

Don Beto Cruz is 84 years old and has been playing traditional music since he was a child. He is accompanied by Jesus Garcia, a younger generation musician who has been learning Don Beto's vast repertory of songs. At the festival, they presented corridos as a narrative song form that has traditionally acted almost like a newspaper, reporting real events, and expressing sentiments that could be interpreted as subversive and rebellious. When I asked them to share their thoughts about the U.S. Border's migra-corridos they had an interesting reaction. They were not upset that a traditional song form was being packaged and sold to push a government agenda. If anything, they simply smiled and seemed like they were up for the challenge.

Jesus Garcia:
Corridos are about telling the truth. They can act as an ongoing conversation.

Someone may write a corrido, expressing an opinion, and someone else can write a song as a reaction, or arguing back. I would be interested in listening to those songs (migra-corridos) and I'm sure,,,,there are other corridos being written and played back.

Both Don Beto Cruz and Jesus Garcia are from Sonora, Mexico. To hear some of their music, visit

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Folklore and the Style Invitational

In honor of the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival, the Washington Post ran a Style Invitational asking for possible exhibits that might be part of the Folklife Festival. I enjoyed reading these simply because it highlights something I'm always trying to teach students in my intro to Folklore class: what is and is not folklore.

As you can see from this list, a number of these simply play on the idea of folklore as any old or outdated custom (like licking stamps), while others are truly humorous imaginings of things that could tickle a folklorist's fancy.

I'm actually thinking about using this as part of an exam in my intro class this fall.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Remembering Archie Green

From Today's Washington Post:

Folklorist Celebrated Working Americans

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009; B05

Archie Green, 91, a former shipwright and carpenter who became one of the most influential folklorists of the past half-century and who was acknowledged as the founding father of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, died of renal failure March 22 at his home in San Francisco.

While teaching labor folklore and other subjects at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Green began a 10-year lobbying effort to persuade Congress to officially recognize America's folk heritage.

The effort culminated on Jan. 2, 1976, when President Gerald R. Ford signed the American Folklife Preservation Act, establishing the American Folklife Center to preserve, collect and present the vast diversity of cultural offerings from ordinary people living everyday lives.

The center's collections include Native American song and dance, tales of Br'er Rabbit told in the Gullah dialect of the Georgia and Carolina sea islands, and songs and stories from the lives of cowboys, farmers, fishermen and other working people, among many other expressions of folk culture from all 50 states.

In addition, Dr. Green began organizing programs featuring workers' traditions at the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife on the Mall. Those programs continue.

A gregarious man and an engaging storyteller in the tradition of Studs Terkel, he was Archie to all who knew him, never Dr. Green. A shipwright's apprentice in the San Francisco area in the 1930s, he served as a carpenter's mate in the Navy during World War II. Returning to San Francisco after the war, he worked in the building trades for 15 more years. He was a 68-year member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

He developed the habit of listening, observing and asking questions of laborers and craftspeople, and he eventually realized that he had a passion for "laborlore," a term he coined to describe the expressive culture of working people.

He went back to school and received a master's degree in library science from the University of Illinois in 1960 and a doctorate in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. (He had received his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of California at Berkeley in 1939.)

He began collecting songs, stories, customs, beliefs and craft traditions -- laborlore -- of sheet metal workers and sailors, millworkers and miners. He explored how work gave texture and meaning to working-class Americans and to the culture as a whole. He contended, for example, that the origins of rock-and-roll can be traced to the rhythmic, coordinated sounds of 19th-century steel-drivin' men laying rail with hammer and drill. His first book was "Only a Miner: Studies in Recorded Coal-Mining Songs" (1972).

In 2007, the Library of Congress awarded him its Living Legend medal for devoting his life to "studying the creativity of ordinary, working Americans" and for his role in forming the American Folklife Center.

He was born Aaron Green on June 20, 1917, in Winnipeg, Canada, to Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine. His father was a harnessmaker by trade who escaped czarist Russia after participating in the 1905 Revolution. In about 1922, the family moved to Los Angeles, where "Archie" discovered working people and radical politics.

After graduating from Berkeley, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and then became a shipwright on the San Francisco waterfront -- primarily, he told historian Kieran Taylor, because he hoped to impress a young woman who admired waterfront labor organizers.

Leaving the trade, he told Taylor, "was the most dramatic thing in my life. I felt like a traitor. . . . I revered being a shipwright."

Teaching, unlike the dangerous, physically demanding shipwright's life, "was like taking candy from a baby." His academic career included a stint at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was fascinated by the live music scene, which he referred to as a musical coming together of what he called "goat ropers and liberated freaks, of superkickers and isolated intellectuals."

At his death, he was working on a collection of essays, tentatively titled "Been on the Job Too Long."

He also was lobbying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to include a cultural component in the economic stimulus legislation before Congress. The cultural component would document the work the stimulus package funds, in the spirit of the Federal Writers' Project of the New Deal.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Louanne Green of San Francisco; three children, David Green of San Francisco, Derek Green of Montara, Calif., and Deborah Green of Boone, Iowa; a sister; and four grandchildren.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Migra Corridos

On February 15, 2009 BBC Mundo reported on the U.S. Border Patrol commissioning Spanish songs to deter immigration. Currently being played at border radio stations, these songs have become known as migracorridos. The corrido is a particular style of Mexican folklore narrative ballad, with themes that typically range from love to war. The U.S. Border Patrol however, paid for a CD of six songs in the style of corridos that have very specific and targeted themes. Migracorridos sing of the perils and dangers of crossing the border, usually with the protagonists facing agonizing endings-murdered, jailed, or left for dead in the middle of the desert. The Border Patrol commissioned these from Elevacion, a Washington DC based Hispanic ad agency. While the rate of arrests, deaths, and overall incidents at the border have not declined drastically in the last year (and in the BBC article, author Carlos Ceresole points out that any decline is due to the worsening U.S economy and an increase in border agents.) the Border Patrol has claimed these songs as highly successful and popular. Apparently, one song has been nominated for an award in Mexico.

Government sanctioned art is not new. Whether it is nationalist music, or war monuments, art and government agenda is at times, a symbiotic relationship. Unfortunately what is particularly offensive about migracorridos is that, the U.S. Border Patrol has stolen a Mexican folk medium, to try and keep Mexican immigrants out.

This March 15th New York Times Opinion article is about Saul Linares, a factory worker and immigrant rights advocate who wrote his own corrido. Linares wrote about Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio, who has come under federal investigation for racial profiling and police brutality. While Linares’s song will probably not get the kind of airplay that the migracorridos have, it was well received by his colleagues and he was asked to make a recording. It is in this simple act, that perhaps Linares took the medium back.

If the U.S. Border Patrol thinks that it’s clever to use a folk medium against the folk that they are trying to keep out, it is probably because they think they have more control then they do. But corridos are structured to be subversive. They are short, concise, and as Linares states in the NY Times Opinion article, he was simply “[with his] left hand...... eating, and with my right hand I was writing it down.” He did not need to be paid or pay an ad agency to send his message. He was inspired, he wrote, was heard, and the audience wanted more. Linares’s corrido was not packaged and sold, but irreverent and passionate. This is part of what makes corridos a folk medium. The U.S. Border Patrol can try to use corridos for its agenda, but it can’t stop people from writing songs back.