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Other titles in the Music in American Life series:
The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience (Music in American Life)by Stephen Wade
Synopses & Reviews
The Beautiful Music All Around Us presents the extraordinarily rich backstories of thirteen performances captured on Library of Congress field recordings between 1934 and 1942 in locations reaching from Southern Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta and the Great Plains. Including the children's play song "Shortenin' Bread," the fiddle tune "Bonaparte's Retreat," the blues "Another Man Done Gone," and the spiritual "Ain't No Grave Can Hold My Body Down," these performances were recorded in kitchens and churches, on porches and in prisons, in hotel rooms and school auditoriums. Documented during the golden age of the Library of Congress recordings, they capture not only the words and tunes of traditional songs but also the sounds of life in which the performances were embedded: children laugh, neighbors comment, trucks pass by.
Musician and researcher Stephen Wade sought out the performers on these recordings, their families, fellow musicians, and others who remembered them. He reconstructs the sights and sounds of the recording sessions themselves and how the music worked in all their lives. Some of these performers developed musical reputations beyond these field recordings, but for many, these tracks represent their only appearances on record: prisoners at the Arkansas State Penitentiary jumping on "the Library's recording machine" in a rendering of "Rock Island Line"; Ora Dell Graham being called away from the schoolyard to sing the jump-rope rhyme "Pullin' the Skiff"; Luther Strong shaking off a hungover night in jail and borrowing a fiddle to rip into "Glory in the Meetinghouse."
Alongside loving and expert profiles of these performers and their locales and communities, Wade also untangles the histories of these iconic songs and tunes, tracing them through slave songs and spirituals, British and homegrown ballads, fiddle contests, gospel quartets, and labor laments. By exploring how these singers and instrumentalists exerted their own creativity on inherited forms, "amplifying tradition's gifts," Wade shows how a single artist can make a difference within a democracy.
Reflecting decades of research and detective work, the profiles and abundant photos in The Beautiful Music All Around Us bring to life largely unheralded individuals--domestics, farm laborers, state prisoners, schoolchildren, cowboys, housewives and mothers, loggers and miners--whose music has become part of the wider American musical soundscape. The book also includes an accompanying CD that presents these thirteen performances, songs and sounds of America in the 1930s and '40s.
"Banjo player and folk music expert Wade was introduced at an early age to the dynamic nature of 'folklife' via Casey Jones, an indigent performer born in 1870 who was famous throughout Chicago for his eccentric street-corner routines involving a chicken named Mae West who, when not perched atop the old man's hat, drank from a flask, tightrope-walked, and danced 'the shimmy-she-wabble' and 'the boogie-woogie' to the sounds of Casey's accordion. Throughout Wade's exhaustively researched excavation of the histories behind a baker's dozen field recordings made by the Library of Congress in the 1930s and Ã¢Â€Â˜40s (which are included with the book on an audio CD, along with 17 other tracks), the author never loses sight of the ebullient and sorrowful lives behind the music, of which Casey Jones and his hat-top chickens were merely one example among many. From 12-year-old Mississippian Ora Dell Graham singing 'Pullin' the Skiff' to Kelly Pace and prisoners of the Arkansas State Penitentiary doing a rendition of 'Rock Island Line,' Wade profiles these and other 'vernacular builders' while 'grappl with questions of culture and ownership, and by extension, what is ours, individually and collectively.' Tracing these songs' and singers' roots from cotton fields to prison yards, from front porches to back alleys, Wade's study offers an understanding not only of a musical thread vital to American culture, but of America itself. 50 b&w photos. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Musician, recording artist, and writer Stephen Wade is best known for his long-running stage performances of Banjo Dancing and On the Way Home. He also produced and annotated the Rounder CD collection that gave rise to this book, A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings. Since 1996 his occasional commentaries on folksongs and traditional tunes have appeared on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
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Arts and Entertainment » Music » Genres and Styles » Folk » American Folk