Tag Archives: music

UW Press & UW Libraries collaborate on Folksongs of Another America

Today’s guest blogger is James Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America. An award-winning multimedia publication, it is now available in a paperback from UWP, with accompanying audio and video online, as explained below. Leary will also be speaking about this project, and related folk music projects, at the annual Great Libraries of UW–Madison event on May 17.

The original publication of Folksongs of Another America (FSOAA) ambitiously combined a hardbound book, five compact disks, and a DVD in an elegant yet bulky single package weighing nearly four pounds. The years of research, writing, sound and film restoration, and overall production that underlay its existence were matched by hard-won grants to bring retail costs within an average buyer’s reach.

The response was exhilarating: stellar reviews from far and wide, awards that included a Grammy nomination, events in Minnesota and Wisconsin featuring new performances of old songs culled from FSOAA, and a sold-out press run before a year elapsed. But with neither copies in the warehouse nor likelihood of new grants for reprinting, we faced the sad prospect of FSOAA’s disappearance just as interest was building.

A new paperback edition of the book with companion website is our best solution. Trimmer in heft and price than its predecessor, the paperback book swaps the accompanying costly disks for free online access to the music and video. Sound files for all five original CDs—plus the film/DVD Alan Lomax Goes North, coproduced with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress—are now accessible online in the Folksongs of Another America Collection through a partnership of the University of Wisconsin Press and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Libraries.

Hats off to Dennis Lloyd, director of University of Wisconsin Press, and Ed Van Gemert, director of the UW–Madison Library System, for partnering to create the two companion pieces. The songs and tunes in Folksongs of Another America had been hidden for too long to let them vanish once again. May their persistence spur new understandings and performances, along with ongoing recognition and appreciation of the many peoples, tongues, and sounds that—whether past or present, from mainstream or from margin, deservedly acknowledged or unjustly ignored—have always made America great.

But wait, there’s more! FSOAA necessarily focused on a relatively small yet representative set of songs, tunes, and recitations from the hundreds collected by fieldworkers Sidney Robertson, Alan Lomax, and Helene Stratman-Thomas from 1937 to 1946. I worked with many experts to sonically restore the selected tracks and to transcribe and translated lyrics. From my research, I provided new contextual, biographical, and comparative background. But the rich fund of other recordings by Robertson, Lomax, and Stratman-Thomas have raw sound and spare documentation. They await future researchers who will discover, ponder, and pursue them.

So I’m delighted that this new FSOAA website complements several three other sites that further reveal the complexity and diversity of

Helene Stratman-Thomas

the Upper Midwest’s folk musical traditions. The first is the Wisconsin Folksong Collection, produced by the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Mills Music Library and Digital Collections Center, which presents field recordings made by Robertson and Stratman-Thomas.

Alan Lomax

The second related site is the Library of Congress’s Alan Lomax Collection of Michigan and Wisconsin Recordings from 1938, , offering his sound recordings “in their raw form, as full disc sides without speed correction or other digital processing.”

The third site is a digital repository called Local Centers/Global Sounds. It offers post–World War II home and field recordings featuring diverse Upper Midwestern folk/vernacular musicians. It also includes digitized tracks of 78 rpm recordings that were performed by or that influenced regional musicians. This repository is a collaborative project of the Mills Music Library, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and the Digital Collections Center, all at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We encourage readers and listeners to roam these sites. In the realm of 78s, many will be familiar with widely available classic recordings made in the 1920s by performers in the “Race” and “Hillbilly” series of American record labels. Yet we cannot fully grasp the richness of American roots music without also experiencing such stellar Upper Midwestern Germanic, Nordic, and Slavic “Foreign” series performers as the Swedish comic vaudevillian Olle i Skratthult, the Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Gunleik Smedal, the Finnish accordion virtuoso Viola Turpeinen, the singing Polish mountaineer Karol Stoch, the trumpet-playing Bohemian bandleader Romy Gosz, or the German concertinist Hans “Whoopee John” Wilfahrt.

James P. Leary is professor emeritus of folklore and Scandinavian studies, and cofounder of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His many books and documentary productions include Wisconsin FolkloreSo Ole Says to LenaPolkabillyAccordions in the CutoverDownhome Dairyland (with Richard March), and Pinery Boys (with Franz Rickaby and Gretchen Dykstra).

New Books & New Paperbacks, May 2018

We’re pleased to announce the following books to be published this month.

May 8, 2018
Death Rides the Ferry
Patricia Skalka

“An intricate, intriguing plot in which Door County Sheriff Dave Cubiak can stop a ruthless killer only by finding the link between a spate of murders and a forty-year-old mystery.”—Michael Stanley, author of the Detective Kubu series

“Skalka is equally skilled at evoking the beloved Door County landscape and revealing the complexities of the human heart, as Sheriff Cubiak’s latest case evokes personal demons. This thought-provoking mystery, set in a beautiful but treacherous environment, is sure to please.”—Kathleen Ernst, author of The Light Keeper’s Legacy

 

May 15, 2018
Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet
Michael J. Lazzara

Critical Human Rights

“Original, engaging, and direly needed. Lazzara, one of the leading scholars writing on human rights, memory, and trauma in Chile and Argentina, looks at the many ethical positions civilians have latched onto to save face in the decades since the Pinochet dictatorship.”—Greg Dawes, author of Verses Against the Darkness

“Provocative, conceptually powerful, and fluidly expressed, Lazzara’s book forces a reckoning with the active, ample ways Chileans violently transformed politics, the economy, and the social fabric to lasting effect and amid ongoing denial. The arguments and implications extend well beyond Chile to our own politics and societies.”—Katherine Hite, author of Politics and the Art of Commemoration

 

May 29, 2018
Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia
James R. Dow

“Unshrouds folklore’s manipulation by Nazi leaders, and thank goodness for that, even if it is uncomfortable to confront. Dow has unearthed, and deftly explained, an incredible storehouse of material from Himmler’s cultural commissions, probably the largest organized field collecting project in history. The lessons he astutely draws are critical for understanding the Nazi era and are relevant to today’s cultural politics. A great achievement.”—Simon J. Bronner, author of Explaining Traditions

“Dow analyzes the motives of the protagonists of Himmler’s Cultural Commissions, and his treatment of the ideological preconditions for the field investigations is compelling. A major contribution to our understanding of Nazism.”—Konrad Köstlin, University of Vienna

 

May 31, 2018
Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946

Now in Paperback
James P. Leary

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest

• Grammy Nominee
• Winner, Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Best Historical Research in Folk or World Music

“A stunning work of curation and scholarship. . . . Whether you’re a music-maker or just a listener, reader, and thinker, there’s a surprise on every track and every page.”Huffington Post

“A treasure. . . . Leary’s deep knowledge of the subject matter is demonstrated by thought-provoking facts placing the dance tunes, ballads, lyrics songs, hymns, political anthems, and more in historical context.”Library Journal

“A landmark. . . . Attains the highest standards of folklore studies.”Journal of Folklore Research

Finding Frenzy among the Pinery Boys

 Today the University of Wisconsin Press releases Pinery Boys: Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era, published in the series Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest. This is a new book that incorporates, commemorates, contextualizes, and complements Franz Rickaby’s landmark 1926 collection of lumberjack songs. Included in Pinery Boys is a biography of Rickaby by his granddaughter, Gretchen Dykstra. In this guest post, she comments on her quest to find the grandfather she never knew, tracing his steps through the Upper Midwest.  

Although I’m a New Yorker now, I’ve always liked the Midwest. When I was seven I spent the summer swinging from barn beams into haystacks at my grandmother’s dairy farm in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. My father was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He, my mother, one sister, and I all graduated from UW–Madison, and my step-grandfather, Clarence Dykstra, was its chancellor. But it took me sixty years to write about the Midwest—and then it was thanks to Bill Zinsser, my late, great writing teacher.

When Bill went blind, he stopped writing and teaching formally, but he met individually with some writers in his rambling Manhattan apartment. I was one of the lucky ones. I went about once a month. If I came at noon I’d bring him a sandwich; if I came at 2:00 I’d bring him cookies. That was the deal. He’d sit at the dining room table, sunglasses and baseball cap on, and listen intently as I read my latest pages. Occasionally, he’d stop me and, in his inimitable, funny, but always supportive way, would offer an editorial suggestion.

“Gretchen, if you are a bus driver going from New York to Miami, you can’t head to Chicago without telling your riders why.” Then I’d know I had an organizational problem.

It was Bill who urged me to go looking for the grandfather I never knew—Franz Rickaby, who had died when he was only thirty-five. My grandmother had called him Frenzy. As a young English professor at the University of North Dakota, Franz wandered the Upper Midwest from 1919-1923. With a fiddle on his back, he sought the songs of the shanty boys from the camps of the quickly disappearing white pine forests.

His resulting songbook was published by Harvard University Press several months after he died in 1926. The book became a minor classic in the world of American folklore and folksong. Edited by George Lyman Kittredge, praised by Carl Sandburg, and celebrated by Alan Lomax, Rickaby’s book was unique for the lyrics, the tunes, and the vivid portrait he painted of the lumberjacks and their lives.

I took Bill’s advice and hit the road. I traced Rickaby’s footsteps—as many as I could—and, in doing so, I met my grandfather. And I came to know a slice of American history from the lumber industry to the forest fires, from cutover land to the last remaining majestic white pines. I dove into the files of archives and historical societies from Galesburg, Illinois, to Ladysmith, Wisconsin, to Virginia, Minnesota, and points in between. When I called eminent folklorist Jim Leary, who knew Rickaby’s work well, a new edition of my grandfather’s work took shape. Pinery Boys was born.

It has four parts: Rickaby’s original text with all the lyrics, music, and his lively notes; an introduction by Leary, placing Rickaby in historical context; additional never-before-published songs that Rickaby collected, with notes by Leary; and the story of my own quest and discovery of who Rickaby was, what he might have seen, and what motivated him.

One man, one life, a glorious time, a changing landscape, and three voices.

 

Franz Rickaby (1889–1925) was born in Arkansas, educated at Knox College and Harvard University, and taught at the University of North Dakota.

Gretchen Dykstra is a writer living in New York City. She was the founding president of the National 9/11 Memorial Foundation, commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, and president of the Times Square Alliance.