“Saving Our Heritage for the Next Generation”: 7th World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

Southern Folklife Collection audio preservation engineer, John Loy, in the John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio. Photo by Dan SearsUNESCO, in cooperation with the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) and other partners, has adopted 27 October as the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage to better focus global attention on the significance of AV documents and to draw attention to the need to safeguard them. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Saving Our Heritage for the Next Generation.”ICA_WorldDay for Audiovisual Heritage

RIVERSGRID3The Southern Folklife Collection works toward this goal daily in our efforts to preserve the hundreds of thousands of sound recordings, film and video housed in Wilson Library. Through grant-funded digitization projects and through research driven requests, the Southern Folklife Collection has digitized and made available tens of thousands of recordings documenting the vast riches of traditional expressive culture from the American South and around the world. The John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio (pictured above, right, and below) and the Ben Jones Audio and Video Studios constantly echo with the sounds, songs, and stories collected from centuries past through the 21st.
From the UNESCO statement:

Audiovisual documents, such as films, radio and television programmes, are our common heritage and contain the primary records of the 20th and 21st centuries. They help to maintain the cultural identity of a people; but countless documentary treasures have disappeared since the invention of image and sound technologies that permit the peoples of the world to better share their experiences, creativity and knowledge.

All of the world’s audiovisual heritage is endangered. Nowhere can it be said to be preserved, but through initiatives such as theWorld Day for Audiovisual Heritage and the Memory of the World Programme, the precious work of preservation professionals is given impetus to manage a range of technical, political, social, financial and other factors that threaten the safeguarding of our heritage.

It was in this context, that the General Conference in 2005 approved the commemoration of a World Day for Audiovisual Heritage as a mechanism to raise general awareness of the need for urgent measures to be taken and to acknowledge the importance of audiovisual documents as an integral part of national identity. (UNESCO)

In honor of the 7th World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, we wanted to highlight some of the recordings recently digitized as part of one of our current projects, From the Piedmont to the Swamplands: Preserving Southern Traditional Music, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The multi-year effort will preserve and make accessible online up to 3,019 hours of sound recordings and 4,500 related photographs dating from the 1920s to 1980s, drawn from the Southern Folklife Collection holdings in the William R. Ferris Collection (20367), Mike Seeger Collection (20009), John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001), and the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245).

20009_Mike Seeger Collection_pf00017_Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillRegular readers of Field Trip South will not be surprised to see the Mike Seeger Collection featured here. Many of Seeger’s photographs are currently digitized and available for viewing online: iconic images of America’s musical treasures like Ralph and Carter Stanley, the Carter Sisters, Lesley Riddle, Dock Boggs, and of course, the beloved NC Piedmont picker and singer, Elizabeth Cotten.

The Southern Folklife Collection has preserved hundreds of hours of Seeger’s field recordings and his own master tapes. Every tape is a treat, but occasionally we come upon an especially outstanding track like this version of “Well May the World Go” featuring Mike performing with his brother, the legendary folksinger Pete, on 29 January 1973. They tore through three versions of the tune that day. Have a listen to the third take of that piece here, from FT14925 in the Mike Seeger Collection:

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Another recent standout track comes from The New Tranquility String Band (FT14198.) This outtake of  “Boatman” was recorded during sessions for the Berkley Farms: Oldtime and Country Style Music of Berkley LP originally released for Smithsonian Folkways in 1972. This version version has the jaw harp higher in the mix, giving it a striking old-time feel that we like. 

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FT9918_Fanny_Bell_Chapman_Children's concert. Reel 28 of 42. FCT 28-72-7_William R. Ferris Collection_UNC_Chapel HillThe Piedmont to the Swamplands grant also allowed us to digitize the majority of audio recordings collected by folklorist and UNC professor William R. Ferris. With thousands of audio recordings, photographs, and feet of film, the William R. Ferris Collection is an invaluable resource documenting the people and culture of the American South, an archival treasure trove reflecting the ineffable “sense of place” that makes the South such a compelling–and haunting–place. Many of Ferris’s photographs are available online. This performance by a young child, Don Singleton recorded on FT 9918, made our jaws drop.

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This next tape was recorded during the process of filming a documentary film about the remarkable Fannie Bell Chapman. The complete film can be viewed in full on Folkstreams.net., Fannie Bell Chapman: Gospel Singer. The following version of “Now Sister Go Where I Send Thee” is from FT9974, the first of six tapes recording Chapman’s music recorded in August 1975. 

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FT11151_Wash Herron on harmonica and "Big Jack" Johnson on guitar__William R. Ferris Collection_UNC_Chapel HillFerris documented the secular as well as the sacred and his recordings of Mississippi blues artists are equally vital documents. The following track is from one of the first recordings of the bluesman “Big Jack” Johnson.  From FT11151, this is Johnson performing on guitar with harmonica player Wash Herron. 

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These clips offer but a glimpse into the Southern Folklife Collection’s preservation efforts. The public is encouraged to explore our finding aids for detailed inventories and description of archival collections and the UNC Libraries online catalog for materials of interest and request that they be preserved and made available for research. Feel free to contact the SFC with any comments or questions at wilsonlibrary@unc.edu. We also hope you will enjoy some music this Sunday, October 27, World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, and think about institutions like the Southern Folklife Collection, the Library of Congress, and countless other archives and institutions that are working to preserve our aural and visual history. Southern Folklife Collection John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio. Photo by Dan Sears

Domo Arigato Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard

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Two tapes from the Mike Seeger Collection (20009) preserved as part of the Southern Folklife Collection’s ongoing project “From Piedmont to Swamplands,” supported by the National Endowment of the Humanities, recently caught the attention of audio engineer John Loy. The first, call number FT14237, features an interview/performance by Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard on November 21, 1970 at the Kinro Kaikan in Kyoto Japan. It contains 90 minute concert and interview with commentary in Japanese. The program intended provide Japanese listeners with an introductory survey of American old time and vernacular music styles. A wonderful document of cultural exchange.

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Another recent find is a tape master sent to Mike in 1969 by the ‘Styx River Ferry ‘ a prominent “Hippy Country” group in the San Francisco/Berkeley area. This band features a who’s who of Bay area bluegrass fixtures rounded up by Bob and Ingrid Fowler. For this recording, call number FT14220, the group enlisted the help of legends of the day with guest performances by “Uncle Josh” Graves and “Cousin Jake” Tullock of the Foggy Mountain Boys. Of particular interest to us is the contextual information on the label, not only including song titles and band members, but also the recording studio, production personnel and a short list of bay area local venues at which the group was performing at the time. Catching Styx River Ferry at the Drinking Gourd would have been quite a time. Listen:

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SFC Photo of the Week: Mike Seeger and Elizabeth Cotten

Another image from the Mike from the Mike Seeger Collection, this time playing guitar with his dear friend, Chapel Hill’s beloved Libba Cotten, in 1978 or 1979.

Join us tonight, March 23, 2012, in Wilson Library on UNC’s campus for a discussion and concert in celebration of the life and work of musician, documentarian, and scholar Mike Seeger.

SFC Photo of the Week: Mike Seeger

We wanted to share a few photos from the Mike Seeger Collection in advance of the tribute concert and lecture on Friday, March 23. The image above, featuring Seeger recording William Bragg along with a group of interested students, was captured in Widen, West Virginia by Alice Gerrard in 1967.

Gerrard will perform at the tribute concert along with Ginny Hawker and Mike Seeger’s former band mates from the New Lost City Ramblers, John Cohen and Tracy Schwarz.

SFC Spotlight: Kenny Baker

**click photo to enlarge**

World renowned fiddler Kenneth Clayton Baker of Jenkins, Kentucky passed away on July 8, 2011.  Master of the “long bow” style of bluegrass fiddling, Baker joined up with Bill Monroe in 1957, becoming the longest lasting member of The Bluegrass Boys when he left the group in 1984.  Best known as a bluegrass fiddler, Baker’s reputation as a musician reached far beyond bluegrass into swing, country, and beyond, earning him a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1993. Baker’s influence on American music is immeasurable.

We are fortunate to hold a wide array of Baker’s recordings a the Southern Folklife Collection spanning his entire career, including his fantastic solo LPs of fiddle tunes recorded for the County label in the 1970s, like Dry and Dusty, call no. FC_4221, pictured above.  The Becky Johnson Collection (#20405) includes some wonderfully candid performance photos of Baker and countless other bluegrass heroes, and the always astounding collection of materials assembled by the late Mike Seeger includes priceless recordings of performances by Baker and his fellow Bluegrass Boys.

While scanning through Seeger’s recordings, we came across a bluegrass fiddling workshop hosted by Seeger at Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom festival, 21 June 1969, call no. FT_12857.  In the two clips below, Baker first expresses his love for the fiddling of legendary jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, and in the second, we are treated to Baker’s rendition of the classic fiddle tune “Fisher’s Hornpipe.”  May he rest in peace.

Kenny Baker, workshop at Bean Blossom, 21 June 1969

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Kenny Baker, “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” live at Bean Blossom, 21 June 1969

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Bluegrass Throwdown

One of the great things about archives is that you can run across interesting information in places you’d never expect.  For example, the Mike Seeger tape logs in the Southern Folklife Collection Field Notes (30025) are largely comprised of long lists of the song titles and performers which make up the track listings of his numerous field recordings.  But hidden among the pages and pages of track listings are occasional gems of personal musings, background stories, or random anecdotes like the following:

In August 1988, I spoke with Bud Reed about the Monroe Brothers engagement in the 1950s at the New River Ranch.  . . He said that they booked them separately for the same day, then somehow they sang together on stage. . . Bud said that some of the public attended because of the widely circulated folklore that they had fought and broken up – and that the big scar on Charlie’s neck was from a knife wound from Bill.  These people wanted to see them fight again. I’ve heard many such stories about these two.”

Listen below to a clip from the brothers’ (fratricide-free) collaboration that day:

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The  entire concert is recorded on SFC field tape FT-12917.

Mike Seeger, 1933-2009

sfc_p2944We at the SFC were deeply saddened to hear about Friday’s passing of musician, folklorist, and collector Mike Seeger. He was 75 years old.

Mike Seeger devoted his life to collecting and performing the music of the rural South. He began playing the guitar at the age of 18 and soon added almost a dozen instruments to his repertoire, including the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer, and autoharp.

In 1958 he formed the New Lost City Ramblers with Tom Paley and John Cohen. Modeling their sound after the old-time string bands of the 1920s and ’30s, the New Lost City Ramblers helped to bring the music of the Southern rural tradition to the forefront of the 1960s folk revival.

But Mike Seeger may be best remembered here as a collector, recording hundreds of performances and interviews with legendary old-time musicians including Dock Boggs, Elizabeth Cotten, Mississippi John Hurt, and Ernest V. Stoneman. These tapes now reside in the SFC’s Mike Seeger Collection, currently being preserved as part of a two-year preservation and access grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities entitled Fiddles, Banjos and Mountain Music. The grant focuses on several interrelated collections including the collections of  Paul Brown, Eugene Earle, Ralph Epperson, Fiddler’s Grove and Alice Gerrard.

Throughout his life Mike Seeger worked to make the music he loved accessible beyond it’s origins in the rural South. Through preservation projects like  Fiddles, Banjos and Mountain Music, the Southern Folklife Collection seeks to honor his legacy and preserve his lifetime of research for future generations.

Mike Seeger performing Dock Boggs’ “Down South Blues” in 1963 :

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And the following year, performing Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “The Bachelor’s Hall” : 

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From tapes FT-5622 and FT-5635 in the Mike Seeger Collection.