Katie Phar: Songbird of the Wobblies

Phar’s Autograph | Green 385

During my work cataloging the many editions of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook in the Archie Green Collection, one particular autograph stood out and intrigued me time and time again. The Green Collection holds 13 different items—all songbooks of some sort—with the autograph of Katie Phar. Little is known about her and not much has been written on her or her role in the IWW. Phar joined the Industrial Workers of the World around the age of 11. She was often referred to as the “IWW songbird” or the “Songbird of the Wobblies.” A young Katie Phar wrote to IWW martyr Joe Hill during his imprisonment about their shared love of music and its importance to the labor movement. A handful of images of Katie Phar have been digitized by the University of Washington Libraries, but the details on Katie Phar and her life remain relatively few.

Fifth edition of Little Red Songbook with Katie Phar’s autograph | Green 432d c.2

In the twenty-eighth edition of the Little Red Songbook, published in July of 1945, I found a page devoted to Katie Phar. With a short tribute and an image in memory of Katie Phar, published just after her death in 1943, the Little Red Songbook paid its respects to one of its most ardent supporters of its music. Using this information and with a little help from census records and city directories, I was able to create an authority record for the voice that inspired so many members of the IWW “with her songs, her high courage” (Songs of the workers, 1945, page 4). City directories for Seattle in the early 1900s revealed Katie’s steady employment as a cashier for a theater, before she later devoted herself to the entertainment industry, presumably referring to her many hours spent singing for Wobblies and adding to the morale of the labor movement.

Tribute to Katie Phar in the twenty-eighth edition of the Little Red Songbook, issued July, 1945 | Green 451

While these autographs may mark the songbooks as her own, or they may simply be autographs for those who heard her sing and lead the singing at many an IWW meeting, Wilson Library also holds some fascinating traces of Katie Phar in its archival holdings. In the Archie Green Papers of the Southern Folklife Collection, there are three song scrapbooks related to Katie Phar. Two of the scrapbooks were compiled by Katie Phar herself, and the third was compiled by Herbert (Herb) Tulin, a prolific songwriter and member of the IWW.

An example of a labor song written down by Katie Phar in her 1926 notebook. The tune designation was added in blue ink by IWW song scholar John Neuhaus | Archie Green Papers, 1944-2009, Folder 6583

Pages from an undated song scrapbook that belonged to Katie Phar. | Folder 6584

It is in Tulin’s scrapbook that the importance of Katie Phar to the labor movement can be seen. Herb Tulin compiled a scrapbook of clippings and mimeographs of his songs for Katie Phar as a Christmas present in 1928.

Herbert Tulin’s presentation inscription to Katie Phar. The scrapbook is filled with songs written by Tulin. | Folder 6585

He writes:

To Katie Phar,

As you turn the pages o’er to sing
May your spirits soar the higher
To let your heart be light and on the wing
Remembering those you helped inspire.

Songs written by Herbert Tulin about Katie Phar | Folder 6585

The two final pages of the scrapbook are filled with the songs that Tulin wrote for Katie and reveal much about her and her role in the labor movement. These songs describe Katie Phar as a “bright star,” “an inspiration,” “a Rebel-girl,” and one who “lift[s] your thots to nobler things.” Tulin writes in one song: “Her voice brings joy to all who hear her sing.” Katie Phar’s voice and song-leading was an inspiration to many in the IWW and the greater labor movement, as they aspired to be more like her and “make the world more fair,” with these scrapbooks revealing more about her life and her role in the Industrial Workers of the World.

Happy Birthday to Archie Green

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Archie Green, Dorsey Dixon, and an unidentified MulE, East Rockingham, North Carolina, 1962, John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001)

It’s Archie Green‘s birthday today, he would have been 100 years old. The photo above was taken while Green was recording Dixon’s Babies in the Mill (Testament, 1963) album.

Archie played many roles throughout his career–folklorist, archivist, field worker, professor, and public sector advocate. His constant drive to document, archive, and curate is illustrated by his remarkable collection of work, the Archie Green Papers (20002), now housed at the Southern Folklife Collection. Archie was instrumental in the creation of the SFC as well as his advocacy and vision helped orchestrate the transfer of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation collections from UCLA to UNC Chapel Hill in 1983.

Green mentored and inspired countless ethnographers and activists. Archie was constantly engaged with the field, often interviewing fellow folklorists about their work. One interview that feels especially relevant today is one with eminent folklorist Dr. Roger D. Abrahams, who just recently passed away on June 21, 2017, SFC Audio Cassette FS-20002/11163. The interview, conducted in Austin, Texas sometime in the 1970s, while Abrahams is chair of the department and Archie is a professor, includes lots of interesting content about the Austin Cosmic Cowboy scene as well as African American folklore studied. You can hear the entire interview streaming in the SFC’s digital collections

SFC Audio Cassette FS-20002/11163

Tape 8: Archie Green and Roger Abrahams, Austin, Tex. (part 1

Audiocassette

Archie (Aaron) Green grew up in southern California, began college at UCLA, and then transferred to the University of California at Berkeley from which he was graduated in 1939. After working in the shipyards in San Francisco, serving in the Navy in World War II, and becoming active in several labor organizations, Green returned to academia. He received his M.L.S. from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Archie Green and Dock Walsh

John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001)

Green joined the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1960 and served there as librarian and later jointly as an instructor in the English Department until 1972. In 1973, Green took on a creative role at the Labor Studies Center in Washington, D.C., in part assisting with the Smithsonian Institution’s Festival of American Folklife and labor participation in the Bicentennial celebrations. At the same time, he was producing albums, conducting fieldwork, teaching, lecturing, and writing articles. He was active in the John Edwards Memorial Foundation (now Forum) from its inception and lobbied Congress to pass the American Folklife Foundation Act, which it did in 1976, establishing the Center for American Folklife.

Green retired as professor emeritus from the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1980s to his home in San Francisco, Calif., where he continued to work collaboratively on research and other projects with many individuals and institutions dedicated to the study of folklore and the preservation of folklife. He received an honorary degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1991. Archie Green died in March 2009.

Happy Birthday, Archie.

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Archie Green and Eugene Earle

John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday in the stacks: cards from the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific

20002_ArchieGreenPapers_F3823_Holiday Cards_Sailors Union of the Pacific_Southern Folklife Collection_01Running toward the finish line of 2015, it’s been a great year at the Southern Folklife Collection. We pulled a bunch of items to share with you all over the next two weeks for our annual “Holiday in the Stacks” feature. Can’t wait for you to hear some of the 78 rpm discs we pulled so be sure to come back to Field Trip South to hear some special tunes. 20002_F3823_Sailors Union of the Pacific_xmas_Archie Green Papers_Southern Folklife Collection_005

But first, a tribute to the workers of the world. Archie Green worked with countless unions and labor organizers over the years, but I beleive as he was a Journeyman Shipwright and a sailor in the Navy, that the sea always held a special place in his heart. So in honor of Archie and all those who help to move the material goods that make the world go round, we pulled these holiday cards from the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific from Folder 3823 in the Archie Green Papers (20002)20002_ArchieGreenPapers_F3823_Holiday Cards_Sailors Union of the Pacific_Southern Folklife Collection_02

It don’t matter who’s in Austin, Bob Wills is Still the King (or is it Clifton Chenier)?

20002_Archie_Green_Broken Spoke_Southern Folklife CollectionA couple of posters from gigs I would have liked to attend. I was lucky to grow up not 1/2 mile from the Broken Spoke, and despite the best efforts of “New Austin,” I am very glad to report that it’s still there, still honky-tonkin, and the Lone Star is still cold. Both of these posters come from the Archie Green Papers (20002), collected by Archie while a professor at the University of Texas in the 1970s. I feel like artist Michael Priest’s comment written on the bottom of the poster reflects the general sense of wonder those cosmic cowboys and post-hippy hipsters must have felt to be able to attend shows like this on a regular basis, singular moments in music history that transcended the commercial drive of the social scene.

“We seen it right here didn’t we?”

I wish we had, Michael. Long live the kings. 20002_Archie_Green_Antones_Southern Folklife Collection

 

SFC Spotlight: Mother Maybelle talks autoharp at Earl Scrugg’s House in 1962

Once again a researcher pointed the way to a fascinating item in the Southern Folklife Collection. While most of our attention has been on the fiddle as of late, I happily shifted focus to the autoharp (which we recently learned is also known as the “Idiot Zither”) when I digitized a tape recorded interview of Maybelle Carter, FT11829 from the Betty Blackley Collection (#20282).  Conducted September 9 and 10, 1962 by autoharp expert A. Doyle Moore and Archie Green at the home of Earl and Louise Scruggs Madison, TN, the interview offers an in-depth history of the Carter Family’s use of the autoharp and Mother Maybelle’s performance style on the instrument. In the following three clips, she describes her first encounters with the autoharp:

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The conversation continues, reflecting on her career, and eventually to her performance style. After locating the appropriate pick and finding an instrument with the correct tuning, she demonstrates with examples played on one of the multiple autoharps apparently always on hand in Earl and Louise Scruggs’s living room at any given time.  The first two clips lead up to the third, which is a wonderfully wobbly and vibrating version of “Gathering Flowers from the Hillside.” She goes on to demonstrate many other songs on side 2 of the tape. Definitely a treat on this gloomy Thursday afternoon. 

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Robert Pete Williams at the University of Illinois Campus Folksong Club

Robert Pete Williams

From the early 1960s until the early 1970s a student group known as the Campus Folksong  Club, under the leadership of faculty advisor Archie Green, brought folk musicians from all over the country to perform on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Over the years, the Folksong Club hosted performances by the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Doc Watson, and in 1965, Louisiana bluesman Robert Pete Williams.

The story of Robert Pete Williams is well known; while serving a life sentence for murder at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in the late 1950s, Williams’ songs and stories were recorded by folklorist and ethnomusicologist Harry Oster.  Under considerable pressure from Oster and others in the academic community, Williams’ sentence was commuted, and by 1964 he was released from the terms of his parole and allowed to tour outside Louisiana for the first time. We are fortunate that some of these early performances were captured on tape, including the Campus Folksong Club concert featured here, tape number FT-4189/FT-4190 in the SFC’s Archie Green Collection.

Listen to a clip of Robert Pete Williams performing “I’ve Grown So Ugly”, live at the University of Illinois, Feb.12, 1965:

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Hold The Date!

The SFC is happy to announce three events on our Fall 2009 schedule. More details to follow. We hope you’ll be able to join us.

mickmoloney

Mick Moloney

Mick Moloney Lecture
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Reception at 5:00pm, Talk at 6pm
Pleasants Family Assembly Room, 2nd Floor, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
Lecture by folklorist and Irish musician Mick Moloney on the connections between Jewish and Irish musicians and lyricists in Tin Pan Alley.

We are co-sponsoring the event with UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for the Study of the American South, American Studies Dept., Carolina Center for Jewish Studies, and the Friends of the Library.

George Stoney Film Screening

George Stoney

George Stoney

Friday, October 16, 2009
Location Stone Center Theater, Stone Center, UNC-Chapel Hill.
Reception at 5:00pm, Talk at 6pm
Film Screening and Q&A with documentary filmmaker George Stoney.

Event co-sponsored with Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and the Friends of the Library.

Archie Green Memorial Symposium

Archie Green with Dock Walsh, 1963

Archie Green with Dock Walsh, 1963

Saturday November 21, 2009
9am-5pm
Pleasants Family Assembly Room, 2nd Floor, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.
A symposium in honor of folklorist Archie Green. The event will include panel discussions, reminiscences and performances.

Event co-sponsored with UNC-Chapel Hill Folklore Program, American Studies Dept.