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Michigan Heritage Awards

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MSUM E.C. Beck Collection

MSUM E.C. Beck Collection>

MSUM E.C. Beck Collection

E.C. Beck
1989 posthumous awardee, Brighton (Oakland County), folklorist and collector of Michigan lumberjack lore

Earl Clifton "E.C." or "Doc" Beck began his lifelong study of northern Michigan lumberjacks in the 1930s. He collected their songs, stories, and dances through the 1940s, urging the 70- and 80 year-old former lumber workers to let him collect and publish the material before it disappeared. Doc taught English and folklore at Central Michigan University, where he also chaired the English department. In addition to his passion for teaching, Doc's love was collecting songs in the woods. He once described his fieldwork as "high adventure," adding that "it has given me unforgettable experiences, vigorous days in the out-of-doors, and some most interesting friends." (1)

The first National Folk Festival in 1934 offered Doc the opportunity to present Michigan lumberjacks and their lore to public audiences. He held a contest for the men to audition, chose just 11, and accompanied this "lively group of oldsters" as he called them, to sing, dance, and entertain the festival audience in St. Louis. The men dressed their part in boots, red bandanas around their necks, and plaid Mackinaws. They proved to be a popular act. The Michigan Lumberjacks toured both nation and state for the next 20 years under Doc's management, performing for school assemblies, service club meetings, trade shows, local festivals, professional meetings, and radio programs such as "We the People." (2)

Doc's writings continue to be recognized as significant contributions to Michigan folklore scholarship. His three lumberjack books, Songs of the Michigan Lumberjacks (1942), Lore of the Lumber Camps (1948), and They Knew Paul Bunyan (1956), and his original song sheets constitute a valuable collection of the narrative traditions of an occupational group for which the state is well known. In 1959 the Library of Congress produced the recording Songs of the Michigan Lumberjacks for which Doc edited the liner notes. E. C. Beck will long be remembered as the collector of the Michigan lumberjack ballad, for bringing recognition to individual folk artists, and for tirelessly promoting Michigan's logging heritage. He died in 1977 at the age of 85.

(1) Beck, Earl Clifton. Songs of Michigan Lumberjacks. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1942.
(2) Beck, Earl Clifton. It Was This Way. Ann Arbor: Cushing-Malloy, Inc. 1963.

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