American Memory

Flick, over at blog/label Chasing Lions, has pointed out the amazing American Memory project, run by the US Library of Congress since 1994.  Their aim is to “provide free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.”

A collection of well over 1000 sound recordings is included in the project, from Blues & Gospel to music played during the Civil War.

What I find most fascinating about this music is the cultural echo chamber it represents – A song like “John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man” has been covered by everyone from Robert Johnson, to Huddie Ledbetter, to Peter Seeger right up to Bruce Springsteen.  And the Carter Family’s rendition here is so volitile, so yearning, that it outdoes many of the versions that came afterward.

In other songs, such as the Mountaineer’s Courtship by Earnest and Hattie Stoneman, you can hear the sound of modern artists who’ve found this music so inspiring – Califone, Wilco, Why? and others.

But most striking is the modernity of some of the songs – in a listening test, I doubt many people would be able to recognize that a song as ancient, and as downright distrubing, as The Fatal Flower Garden by Nelstone’s Hawai’ians, wasn’t written in the modern era.

A fascinating treasure trove – University College Dublin’s Folklore Archive, the largest such archive in Europe, could learn a bit about granting access to recorded history from this remarkable public service.

Can you recommend any “old-timey” music that speaks to more than just it’s time, or have you any favourites from the archives?  I’d love to hear them!


2 Responses to American Memory

  1. turnaroundchurches says:

    There has recently been a return to singing hymns, even the hymns of the 19th century that are so old they are new again. There’s probably a set of 50 or so sung in virtually every kind of church (at least the Protestant variety), every year, week in and week out, for many, many decades. Some, make it to the movies as representative of gospel music (see “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “Amazing Grace,” etc.)

  2. […] – bookmarked by 6 members originally found by tea14 on 2008-11-30 American Memory – bookmarked by 4 members […]

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