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Michigan Folksong Legacy: Grand Discoveries From the Great Depression

Heritage Gallery
March 2 - October 18, 2015

Image of Michigan Folksong Legacy

In 1938, a young folk music collector named Alan Lomax‚ÄĒdestined to become one of the legendary folklorists of the 20th century‚ÄĒcame from Washington, DC to record Michigan‚Äôs 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.

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 have been 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.

Watch excerpts from blog about Lomax's 1938 color film footage.

Visit the American Folklife Center website and listen to audio clips.:

"Our Daily Work/ Our Daily Lives" brown bag series
Speaker: Laurie Sommers, "Songs of Miners, Lumberjacks, and Schooner Men: Alan Lomax's Michigan Legacy"
March 2 @ 12:15 - 1:30 p.m.
MSU Museum Auditorium