World Records: Presentation Abstracts

Thursday, March 14

Opening keynote lecture: 2:00-3:00 p.m.

Nancy Groce, “Biography of an Archive: The American Folklife Center, The Library of Congress, and Ensuring America‚Äôs Sound Future”
Sound archives, especially those dedicated to recordings of ethnic and traditional music, often fall between the hard and fast categories favored by generations of librarians and archivists; their holdings uniquely able to breach the ivy-covered walls of the academy and appeal to constituencies and communities whose histories they document with an immediacy rarely found in other forms of reference materials. The acquisition of the Mayrent Collection by the UW-Madison Libraries affords an excellent opportunity to review the histories, contributions, and challenges faced by other national and international ethnic sound archives. This presentation will focus in particular on the history and development of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center (AFC) archive, which was initially established as the Archive of American Folk-Song in the Library’s Music Division in 1928. Many of the early issues and controversies encountered by AFC’s pioneering founders have been resolved, but others remain, and still other, newer challenges continue to arise as technology, ethics, laws, and social conventions change. In addition to reviewing AFC’s past, this presentation will also address the recent release of “The Library of Congress’s National Recording Presentation Plan” and its implications for sound archives throughout the United States.

Panel 1: 3:15-5:30 p.m.

Sherry Mayrent, “Mayrent on Mayrent:¬† A Collector and Her Collection”
For much of its history, Yiddish culture was primarily transmitted orally. However, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the parallel flourishing of popular culture and the rise of the recording industry, huge numbers of 78 rpm records documented Yiddish music and culture. Decades later, these records offer access to the work of generations who never had a chance to transmit their knowledge in person.  This presentation explores the Mayrent Collection of Yiddish and Hebrew 78s, one of the most comprehensive such collections in the world, and some of the ways its dissemination can assist and inspire scholars, performers, and other collectors of popular and ethnic materials.

Bill Malone, “Hillbilly Records”
The commercial recording of country music came relatively late—in the early 1920s—well after most forms of ethnic recordings had been issued. When such recording began, it was largely an accident, because recording talent scout Ralph Peer was looking for blues material when he stumbled upon Fiddling John Carson in Atlanta in 1923. Fiddling John’s initial recordings experienced substantial sales, thereby making believers out of Peer and other recording men.

While most hillbilly musicians disseminated their art through radio broadcasts, recordings have been important for several reasons. Unlike broadcasts, they have an enduring tactile nature and can be heard by modern students. The early records were folkloristic documents, preserving much traditional material and introducing songs that became “folk” over time. The records give us glimpses of the social, cultural, and political attitudes of the people who made and preserved them. They provide evidence of the ways in which musical styles have evolved (or stagnated) over the years. Most important, perhaps, the records have contributed crucially to the various revivals of folk music that have been witnessed in the United States during the last fifty years. Collectors/discographers made the records known to modern generations; various record labels like Folkways, County, and others made them available through reissues; and performers such as the New Lost City Ramblers gave the songs heard their new life.

Richard March, “Early Recordings of the Tamburitza Tradition: the Era of 78rpm discs”
Traditional music played on the tamburitza family of fretted stringed instruments is an important folk music genre in southeastern Europe, especially in the countries of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the 19th century, the Middle Eastern long-necked lutes which had been brought to the Balkans by the Ottoman Turks were modified by the Balkan Slavs to suit their musical aesthetics, and in the later years of that century orchestral versions of the instruments were invented, in various sizes, patterned after the instruments of the violin family. In Croatia especially, the tamburitza has been exalted as a national symbol.

Friday, March 15

Panel 2: 9:00-11:15 a.m.

Janet Gilmore, “Fashioning Digital Tools for Access to Public Folklore Collections and Productions in the Upper Midwest”
This presentation will review the character and development of a trio of inter-related digital collection access sites that demonstrate high expectations of the digital revolution and a number of thorny quirks for folklorists and ethnomusicologists, along with a costly snail’s pace of execution. The first, “Public Folk Arts and Folklife Projects in the Upper Midwest” site, hosted on University of Wisconsin Digital Collections’ “Archival Resources in Wisconsin,” was conceived as a digital tool for informing the public about the existence and contents of numerous folklore collections in the region. The project emphasized ethnographic materials generated through public funding, provided thumbnail project histories, and reconnected documentation dispersed across several repositories.  The resulting collection guides have contributed to, second, the National Folklore Archives Initiative collections database site (in progress), which places our region’s collections within a national context of similar collections. The third involves digital translation of an earlier “analog” photo-text exhibit that features one collection’s materials. The Woodland Indian Traditional Artist Online Exhibit makes an ephemeral production with limited local distribution available longer and more widely. Its small selection of the collection’s images, sound recordings, and interpretive text in a multimedia arrangement can entice viewers to the two other sites, and thence to the repositories that hold the original materials. While building these interlinked tools and the exhibit seemed conceptually simple, the actual process has been fraught with challenges in adapting models and negotiating new relationships across professional paradigms.

Rob Howard, “Back to the Newly-Digital Networked Normal: Durable Media and Commercial Broadcast vs. The Vernacular Web
Probably from the very beginning, we humans have been busily devising ever more complex ways to interact with each other. From physical mimicry, to oral narration and musical instruments, to books, movies, TV, and now—as so many have been quick to point out—these so-called “new” media. Termed “new folk culture” by Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler and “participatory culture” by media scholar Henry Jenkins, analysts are celebrating the new normal of network communication. But is it really new? Or has the age of durable media and commercial broadcasts only been an awkward silence in the long chatter of human history. If so, that silence has been broken by a digital roar. We can hear it in everything from homemade videos of ourselves playing guitar licks to advice about how to treat sick kids. But this raucous situation is really only a return to our normal state of being: humans connecting through vernacular webs of signification. With this happy return, however, old questions re-emerge. How do we judge “expert” and “amateur” expression in this network free-for-all? Who is disempowered and who is empowered by such judgments? And what do we folklorists, archivists, librarians, and teachers do for a community that may no longer need us? Now that we can again place the highest value on spinning our own webs of signification, maybe we will find ourselves more connected to each other.

Henry Sapoznik, “Of Archives and Reissues: How Historic Recordings Reach Across Generations”
It is hard to imagine that it was not until the middle of the 20th century that the first record reissue aimed at reanimating a historic repertoire was offered. In this paper, I will talk about the vision and processes that went into launching the earliest sound archives (those Robert Winslow Gordon and later Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress, and my own work on Yiddish 78s at the YIVO Institute) and mass produced historic reissue labels (Folkways, County, Yazoo, etc.). By revealing how these two outlets invented themselves—and by extension invented the mass audiences who supported them—we see what is undoubtedly a unique and singular attempt made to create a deeply textured catalog of American creativity and the rise of a new culturally literate citzenry.

Panel 3: 11:30 a.m-1:00 p.m.

Jeanette Casey, “1,000 Days”
Historic sound recording collections present both a fabulous opportunity and a significant challenge for libraries.  Fabulous, in being wonderful primary resources, with a host of potential uses for research, education and performance.  And a challenge, with a host of technological, legal and collection management issues.  Years ago, the Mills Music Library made a commitment to historic sound recordings, with a focus on 78rpm discs documenting ethnic-American music, Wisconsin music and jazz.  With the Mayrent Collection of Yiddish Recordings now the flagship of this auditory special collection, how will this fabulous resource become known and useful?  This paper will outline the approaches taken in the past, the plans for future access, and the challenges encountered along the way.  Why 1,000 days as the title?  Come and find out!

Shubha Ghosh, “Promoting Traditions”
US copyright law is based on the constitutional directive of promoting progress in science. But does copyright law in fact hinder the promotion of traditional cultural expressions? This paper explores this question by presenting developing work in the area of traditional knowledge and international copyright law and applying these legal developments to the work and activities of the Mayrent Institute in promoting Klezmer music. After presenting the debates in international and domestic law, the author discusses US copyright law with respect to musical compositions and sound recordings and shows how copyright law poses challenges for promoting traditional music.

Panel 4: 2:15-4:30 p.m.

Tom Caw, “Paramount Records Everywhere: From Wisconsin to the World”
Academic library administrators have emphasized the importance of collections of distinction in recent years, stressing the need to retain and curate unique content, regardless of format. The approach to acquiring and maintaining historic sound recordings varies by institution, along with the criteria for prioritizing recordings for preservation and access. This paper addresses the need to preserve and make accessible all of the 78rpm records released by Paramount Records, including the country titles from their “Old Time” or “Hillbilly” 3000 series and the popular songs and instrumental dance music from several other series, in the same manner as the blues from their 12000/13000 series. My own discovery of Paramount Records came via the recorded output of Charley Patton, “Father of the Delta Blues,” which was reissued on compact disc in the 1990s. The importance of the travels made by Patton and many other African-American musicians to Grafton, Wisconsin between 1929 and 1932 in order to be recorded will be considered and put into context with recordings made by Wisconsin artists, released by Paramount Records, and held by Mills Music Library. Looking to the success of the digitization and reissues on compact disc of Patton’s and other blues artists’ music provides one model for how the other recordings released by Paramount can be preserved and made accessible. I argue that the collaborative work of collectors, scholars, record label owners, archivists and librarians will continue to be crucial to preserving and disseminating the stories these sound recordings have to tell.

Anna Rue, “‘A Museum of People Who Didn‚Äôt Listen to Grieg’: Diversifying Recordings of Norwegian Americans by Norwegian Americans”
The body of Norwegian 78rpm recordings, compared to the other Scandinavian countries, is disproportionately small when considering how many Norwegians migrated to America in the latter nineteenth and early 20th centuries. These recordings are made up of largely classical and religious, but also popular dance, dialect and humorous music beloved by many in the Norwegian American community in the early to mid-twentieth century. The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa has amassed an impressive collection of Norwegian and Norwegian American 78s released in America, a majority of which are also represented here in the UW’s Mills Music Library collection. In addition to acquiring and preserving these records, however, the museum attempted to diversify the body of Norwegian American musical recordings by releasing a home-grown, representative recording of musicians performing at Decorah’s annual summertime Nordic Fest celebrations in 1969. A second, double LP was planned for release roughly ten years later but was never produced. These recordings, taken together with the 78s released by American record companies decades earlier, provide a more complete and diverse picture of the musical heritage of Norwegians living in America, both then and now.

Jim Leary, “Workers and Weddings: Sound Recordings and the Polish American Experience”
Greg Zurawski (1927-1994), a blue collar worker, dance promoter, and radio deejay from Portage County, Wisconsin, bequeathed his collection of 1000+ Polish American 78 rpm records to Mills Music Library, an unparalleled sampling of sound recordings made by Polish immigrants and their descendants from the mid-1920s through the early 1950s. ( Released by major labels (Columbia, Okeh, Victor), but also by such small record companies as Chicago, Dana, Harmonia, Jay Jay, Polart, Rondo, Standard, and White Eagle, the performances of Polish Americans‚Äîmost of them industrial workers in the East and Midwest–ranged from vestigial Old Country tunes and songs steeped in peasant life to polkas, laments, comic songs, and skits engaged with the humorous and dark dimensions of New World life. This presentation will focus on Zurawski‚Äôs life and legacy, with a particular emphasis on songs and skits featuring Polish workers and weddings.

Closing keynote lecture: 4:45-5:45 p.m.

Ken Frazer, closing remarks

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