Folklore and the Federal Music Project
The Federal Music Project
The Federal Music Project, which ran from 1935 to 1939, was created to employ out-of-work professional musicians, including instrumentalists, composers, vocalists, and teachers. Employees of the project conducted music classes for all ages and ability levels and performed in musical groups nationwide. Band and orchestra concerts, recitals, and music festivals not only allowed musicians to continue earning a living, but they also served to entertain the public and promote the advancement of music appreciation.
Dr. Nikolai Sokoloff (1886-1965), a Russian-American violinist and the founder and former conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, served as director of the project.
WPA Folklife Surveys
The Folklore Section of the WPA's Federal Writers' Project conducted fieldwork around the nation, recording songs, traditions, and stories. The recordings and photographs made during these folklife surveys of various states were sent to the Archive of American Folk-Song (now the American Folklife Center) at the Library of Congress, where they are preserved to this day.
The authors of several books have mined the songs, stories, and oral histories from the Folklife surveys for their work--the first being Benjamin A. Botkin's Treasury of American Folklore. A selection of other books that draw on this fieldwork may be found in the bibliography below.
Recently, some of the WPA Folklife surveys have also been digitized:
Florida Folklife (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/florida/).
WPA California Folk Music Project (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/afccchtml/cowhome.html)
Copies of the Indiana Writers' Project are kept at the Cunningham Library (http://library.indstate.edu/about/units/rbsc/iwpp/iwpp-idx.html) at Indiana State University, Terre Haute.
Ronald Baker's book Hoosier Folk Legends (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1982) includes texts of legends and ghost stories collected during this project.
Several outstanding American folklorists worked for the WPA Folklore section, including those highlighted below.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)
Hurston, a native of Eatonville, Florida, was already a published novelist and folklorist when she took a job with the Florida Federal Writers' Project. "Folklore is the boiled-down juice, or potlikker, of human living," she said. See:
Zora Neale Hurston in Florida -- A list of all the known sound recordings Hurston made while working for the WPA in Florida in the 1930s.
- "Florida Folklife and the WPA, an Introduction," by Stetson Kennedy (Director of Folklore, Life History, and Social-Ethnic Studies, WPA Florida Writers
- Biography of Zora Neale Hurston
- Go gator and muddy the water: writings by Zora Neale Hurston from the Federal Writers' Project (1999). New York: W. W. Norton. GR111.A47 H84 1999
Herbert Halpert (1911-2000)
Halpert conducted fieldwork for the WPA from 1938-1939, driving a specially equipped ambulance with the cumbersome recording equipment around the South, in New York, and around the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey. Some of these recordings of folksongs, ballads, street cries, and stories are held in the Archives of Traditional Music on the IU Bloomington campus. Later he studied folklore under Stith Thompson at IU, graduating with a PhD in 1947. See:
- Herbert Halpert Obituary
- Sullivan, J. (2006). Newfoundland portfolio: a history in portraits. (St John's, Newfoundland: Jesperson Publishing). p. 67-69.
John A. Lomax (1867-1948), and his son Alan Lomax (1915-2002)
John Lomax studied with George Lyman Kittredge at Harvard, cofounded the Texas Follore Society, and in the 1930s began collecting folksongs from the southern states and contributing them to the Archive of American Folk Song. As the Federal Writers' Project's first folklore editor, Lomax directed the gathering of ex-slave narratives and devised a questionnaire for Project fieldworkers to use. His son Alan began accompanying him on field trips while still in his teens. See:
- Voices from the Days of Slavery: Biographies of the Interviewers
- Biography of John A. Lomax
- Alan Lomax Collection
Field recordings from the WPA Folklore Section
"Tilly, lend me Your Pigeon" (performed by Zora Neale Hurston): "The young lady thinks it's time for them to married, in fact she thinks they just have to, and the
boy doesn't want to marry."
- "Mama Don't Want No Pies, No Rice (All She Want Is Whisky, Brandy All the Time)" (performed by Zora Neale Hurston)
- "I'm Old But I'm Awfully Tough" (Hubert Brady, recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell in Columbia CA, 1939)
Portrait of Hubert Brady at http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afccc/p000/p008r.jpg
- "Old Sam Finley Had a Pig" (Mrs. Byron Coffin, Sr., recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell in Alameda, California on April 6, 1939)
- "O Compadre = Come on, Compadre" (Portuguese folksong performed by Alice Lemos Avila, recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell in Oakland,
California on January 23, 1939)
Photograph at http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/cowellbib:@field%28NUMBER%28@%28p147%29%29%29
- "Haste to the Wedding" (Thomas Mann on the hammered dulcimer, recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell in Ortonville, Iowa in July, 1937)
- "Smoky Mountain Blues" (performed by Wallace "Stavin'" Chains and Sylvester "Texas Stavin' hain" Jones, recorded by John Lomax, Ramsey State Farm prison, Otey Texas, 1939)
This list of selected resources contains references to publications by or about the New Deal programs that focus on folk and traditional culture - especially fieldwork and contributions of the Federal Writers' Program's Folklore Project.
Abernethy, F., Mullen, P., & Govenar, A. (Eds.). (1996). Juneteenth Texas: essays in African-American folklore.
Denton: University of North Texas Press. GR110 .T4 no.54
Alho, O. (1976). The religion of the slaves: a study of the religious tradition and behaviour of plantation slaves in the United States 1830-1865. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatema, Academia Scientiarum Fennica. GR1 .F605 no.217
Asmell, J. R., et al. (1940). God bless the devil: liars' bench tales. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. GR110.T2 W7
Baker, R. L. (1982). Hoosier folk legends. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press. GR110.I6 H66
Banks, A. (1980). First person America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. E169 .F56
Barry, P. (1939). Folk music in America. New York: WPA Federal Theatre Project, National Service Bureau. (Publication no. 80-S). PS593.L8 A5 no.4
Botkin, B. A. (1945). Lay my burden down: a folk history of slavery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. E444 .L32 1989
Botkin, B. A. (1944). A treasury of American folklore. New York: Crown Publishers. GR105 .B58
Brown, L. W., Briggs, C. L., & Weigle, M. (1978). Hispano folklife of New Mexico: the Lorin W. Brown Federal Writers' Project manuscripts. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. GR104 .B76
Cox, J. H. (1964). Traditional ballads and folk songs mainly from West Virginia. Philadelphia: Publications of the American Folklore Society. M1629.C8 T7 1964
Davis, H. J. (1972). Christmas in the mountains: Southwest Virginia Christmas customs and their origins. Murfreesboro, NC: Johnson Publishing Co. GT4986.V8 D26
Eddy, M. O. (1939). Ballads and songs from Ohio. Cleveland: Work Projects Administration. M1629.E24 B18
Federal Writers' Project, Indiana. (1939). Hoosier tall stories. Works Progress Administration. ALF PN6161 .F3 1937
Filene, B. (2000). Romancing the folk: public memory and American roots music. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ML3551 .F55 2000
Fry, G.-M. (1975). Night riders in black folk history. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. E443 .F946
Gordon, R. W. (1938). Folk-songs of America. Washington, DC: WPA Federal Theatre Project, National Service Bureau (Publication no. 73-S). PS593.L8 G6
Hendricks, W. C. (Ed.). (1943). Bundle of troubles, and other Tarheel tales by workers of the writers' program of the Work Projects Administration in the state of North Carolina. Durham: Duke University Press.
Hudson, A. P., & Herzog, G. (1937). Folk tunes from Mississippi. New York: WPA Federal Theatre Project, National Service Bureau (Publication no. 25).
Killion, R. G., & Waller, G. T. (1972). A treasury of Georgia folklore. Atlanta: Cherokee Publishing Co. GR110.G4 K48
Lester, J. (1968). To be a slave. New York: Dial Press. E444 .L642
Levine, L. W. (1977). Black culture and black consciousness: Afro-American folk thought from slavery to freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. GR103 .L665
Perdue, C. L., Jr., & Martin-Perdue, N. (Eds.). (1996). Talk about trouble: a New Deal portrait of Virginians in the Great Depression. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. F231 .T2 1996
Perdue, C. L., Jr., Barden, T. E., & Phillips, R. K. (Eds.). (1976). Weevils in the wheat: interviews with Virginia ex-slaves. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. E444 .V57 1980
Porterfield, N. (1996). Last cavalier: the life and times of John A. Lomax, 1867-1948. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ML423.L635 P67 1996
Rebolledo, T. D., & Márquez, M. T. (Eds.). (2000). Women's tales from the New Mexico WPA: la diabla a pie. Houston, Texas: Arte Público Press. F805.M5 W66 2000
Saxon, L., Dreyer, E. & Tallant, R. (1945). Gumbo ya-ya: a collection of Louisiana folktales. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Terrill, T. E., & Hirsch, J.. (1978) Such as us: Southern voices of the thirties. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. HN79.A13 S87
Tyler, R. C., & Murphy, L. R. (1974). The slave narratives of Texas. Austin: The Encino Press. E445.T47 S63
Walker, W. (1939). The southern harmony songbook. New York: Hastings House. PS593.L8 W2
Welsch, R. L. (1982). Mister, you got yourself a horse. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. GR105.5 .W44
The Spanish American song and game book. (1942). New York: A. S. Barnes and Co. GR110.S6 W9
Drums and shadows: survival studies among the Georgia coastal Negroes. (1973). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. E185.93.G4 W7 1973
Yetman, N. R. (1970). Voices from slavery. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. E444 .Y48
Selected Online ResourcesThe Magpie Sings the Great Depression: Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942
Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942. "Features folksongs and folktales in many languages, including blues and work songs from menhaden fishing boats, railroad gangs, and turpentine camps."
Sounds of the New Deal