A song of personal thanksgiving

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With all of the mythology surrounding contemporary celebrations of Thanksgiving, I often turn to field recordings to guide me through the gauntlet of caricatures that can seem to overwhelm the holiday experience. I like A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and the Macy’s Parade too, but this time of year always feels surreal until I pull down my collection of Native American music recordings from the record shelf and listen as I begin to prepare dinner for my family and friends.

FC890_cover_005Looking through the stacks this morning in the Southern Folklife Collection, I found a Library of Congress collection from the Archive of Folk Song, Songs from the Iroquois Longhouse, SFC call number FC890. Compiled by William Fenton from recordings made for the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Six Nations Reserve in Canada and the Allegany reservation in New York in 1941, the record is a powerful document of music from the Eastern Woodlands of North America.

FC890_notes_004The notes are extensive and detail the singers, songs, and performance of the music in a variety of contexts. Among the Seneca performers documented is Chancey Johnny John, called hau’no’on, “Cold-voice,” of the Turtle clan of the Cayuga. According to Fenton, Chancey came from a line of singers and knew more than 1000 verses of song. To be able to hear Chancey Johnny John sing is a remarkable gift and we hope you readers and listeners enjoy this short piece as you join together in body, mind, or spirit with your families and friends this weekend. Click on the bar below to listen to Chancey Johnny John recorded in 1941. 

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The song of personal thanksgiving is an individual chant sung during the Midwinter festival, on the third day of the Green Corn Festival. According to Fenton, “every man should return thanks to the Creator that he has lived to see the ceremonies again and that so many people have once again returned to renew the faith of their ancestors.” A transcription of the chant follows. FC890_notes_personal_006FC890_recording_003

Ham, corn and fiddle tunes at Tommy Jarrell’s

20006_pf0081_0029_Alice Gerrard Collection (20006)_Southern Folklife CollectionBack in 2009 we wrote about a field recording, call no. FS8341 from the Alice Gerrard Collection, documenting the Christmas she and Andy Cahan spent with Tommy Jarrell and his daughter Dena in 1983. For those who are interested, they had chicken and “it was so fine.”

That’s not the only holiday recording in the Alice Gerrard Collection. FS8205 was made in 1981 when Alice and a few others, including old-time musician Rusty Neithammer, spent Thanksgiving with Tommy. They had ham, and also some corn, according to the tape.

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How many other holiday menus and recipes were recorded in the process of doing field work that are now held in Wilson Library at UNC? These recordings and thousands more are available for research in the Southern Folklife Collection. There was quite a bit of music at that Thanksgiving celebration, listen to Jarrell’s solo banjo version of “Let Me Fall” and then Rusty Neithammer and Tommy Jarrell twin fiddle one of my favorites, “Rockingham Cindy.”

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The Southern Folklife Collection is thankful to be able to share this with all of you out there. Happy Thanksgiving.

Turkey time at the Southern Folklife Collection

We recognize that some of you might prefer an entrée other than the noble bird when feasting on Thursday. Perhaps, like Curly Ray Cline, you’d rather serve the noble pig and we would not begrudge your decision, just as we would support our vegan folk compatriots with extra helpings of dairy-free pumpkin pie and whip up a casserole for the National Day of Mourning.

I wonder about Curly Ray’s pork preference because he is a personal friend of Dr. Ralph Stanley, and everyone knows, Dr. Stanley can call up some turkeys whenever he pleases. You can learn from the Doctor himself, documented on the record above, call no. FC8559 in the Southern Folklife Collection. Listen:

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Truth is, we at the SFC duly honor the bird (there are at least 148 different versions of “Turkey in the Straw” in the Collection), but perhaps not as much as the legendary steel guitarist, Red Rhodes**, whose “Great American Thunder Turkey” from his 1979 release on Ashire Records Steel Guitar, call no. FC14363, has become the soundtrack to our archival lives.

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**SFC Steel Guitar Symposium and Concert coming up March 25, but before that the Fiddle Symposium and Concert is right around the corner on January 11 and 12. see Link for more details.