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Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music (Cultural Studies of the United States)by Benjamin Filene
Synopses & Reviews
In American music, the notion of "roots" has been a powerful refrain, but just what constitutes our true musical traditions has often been a matter of debate. As Benjamin Filene reveals, a number of competing visions of America's musical past have vied for influence over the public imagination in this century.
Filene builds his story around a fascinating group of characters—folklorists, record company executives, producers, radio programmers, and publicists—who acted as middlemen between folk and popular culture. These cultural brokers "discovered" folk musicians, recorded them, and promoted them. In the process, Filene argues, they shaped mainstream audiences' understanding of what was "authentic" roots music.
Filene moves beyond the usual boundaries of folk music to consider a wide range of performers who drew on or were drawn into the canon of American roots music—from Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie, to Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, to Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. Challenging traditional accounts that would confine folk music revivalism to the 1930s and 1960s, he argues instead that the desire to preserve and popularize America's musical heritage is a powerful current that has run throughout this century's culture and continues to flow today.
Filene examines the competing visions of America's musical past — and the cultural middlemen who shaped these visions — that have vied for influence over the public imagination. He moves beyond folk music's usual boundaries to consider a wide range of performers — from Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie, to Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, to Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.
A fascinating history of the shifting notions of what constitutes American folk music.
New York Times Book Review An important work that accurately places the idea of 'folk' and 'roots' music into a realistic context.
Creative Loafing Romancing the Folk proves a fascinating history of an idea and a shape-shifting body of song.
New York Times Book Review Filene's book is smart and careful and should gain a wide audience.
Journal of American History Much of the territory covered here is overlooked in books on folk music.
Benjamin Filene examines the competing visions of America's musical past—and the cultural middlemen who shaped these visions—that have vied for influence over the public imagination in this century. This book brings to light the relationship between folk or roots music and popular culture.
About the Author
Benjamin Filene is a public historian at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Setting the Stage: Identifying an American Folk Music Heritage, 1900-1930
Chapter 2. Creating the Cult of Authenticity: The Lomaxes and Lead Belly
Chapter 3. Mastering the Cult of Authenticity: Leonard Chess, Willie Dixon, and the Strange Career of Muddy Waters
Chapter 4. Searching for Folk Music's Institutional Niche: Alan Lomax, Charles Seeger, B. A. Botkin, and Richard Dorson
Chapter 5. Performing the Folk: Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan
Front cover of Folk Songs of the Kentucky Mountains, 1917
Front cover of Twenty Kentucky Mountain Songs, 1920
Front cover of Carl Sandburg's American Songbag, 1927
Recording equipment in the back of John Lomax's car, probably late 1930s
Prison Compound No. 1, Angola, La., 1934
Lead Belly in prison, Angola, La., July 1934
John A. Lomax
Lead Belly in Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly, 1936
Lead Belly, 1942
Muddy Waters, ca. 1960s
Leonard Chess, ca. 1960s
Willie Dixon, ca. 1960s
Fathers and Sons album cover, 1969
Franklin Roosevelt with local musicians, Warm Springs, Ga., January 1933
Charles Seeger with his family at their home in Washington, D.C., ca. 1937
Alan Lomax with guitar, ca. 1940
Alan Lomax at typewriter, 1941
B. A. Botkin, ca. 1960s
Richard Dorson, ca. 1960s
Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, 1963
Pete Seeger at Newport Folk Festival workshop, 1964
Bob Dylan goes electric, Newport Folk Festival, 1965
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