Winter Term 2018 – Room A100
Fridays, Jan. 12-March 16, 2018
Co-chairs: Christine Pearce and Diane Johns
This course is a wide-ranging examination of Canadian and American folk music, especially that of the last century. We’ll cover early folk song collecting, field recordings, and leftist protest songs in the context of the 1930s labour movement. Beginning with the commercial breakthrough of the Weavers in 1950, we will examine the 1950s-60s urban folk revival in the US and Canada. We’ll conclude with a discussion of the folk legacy in the singer-songwriter milieu and contemporary folk music traditions.
WEEK 1 Jan 12 Definitions, Collectors, and Publishers
We’ll define folk music and begin our story by looking at the early collectors and publishers of traditional ballads, especially Francis Child. This largely literary pursuit soon gave way to music collectors like Cecil Sharp and John Lomax, who transcribed and notated the melodies that were quickly disappearing in the early twentieth century with the incursions of mass media.
WEEK 2 Jan 19 Recording Folk Song
With recording equipment becoming more portable in the 1930s, John Lomax began combing the American countryside with son Alan in tow. For the Library of Congress, the two recorded pioneering figures like Huddie Ledbetter (AKA Lead Belly) and Woody Guthrie. These artists adapted existing songs and composed new material that brought attention to traditional music and set the tone for the folk revival soon to follow.
WEEK 3 Jan 26 Commercial Old-time Music
Ralph Peer travelled the American South as a recording scout for Okeh Records, and in the process documented country music pioneers like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. A.P. Carter of the Carter Family was a musician-collector, who found traditional material and presented it for mass consumption. His contemporary Bascom Lamar Lunsford was a lawyer and banjoist who helped to establish the first folk festival in 1928.
WEEK 4 Feb 2 Left-wing Protest Song
The labour union movement in the US embraced the use of folk music as a tool of persuasion and morale building. Joe Hill wrote protest songs for the Industrial Workers of the World (AKA the Wobblies) early in the 20th century, and his successors contributed to the Little Red Songbook and rallied the troops at strikes and protests. Aunt Molly Jackson and Florence Reece were important early figures, while the Almanac Singers brought protest song to the urban mainstream in the 1940s.
WEEK 5 Feb 9 Pete Seeger and the Travellers
Pete Seeger, the son of a prominent music professor, became involved in leftist politics and folk music at a young age. After working with Woody Guthrie and the Almanac Singers, he founded a commercially successful folk group, the Weavers, that scored pop hits and helped to inspire the urban folk revival of the 1950s and 60s. The Travellers, encouraged by Seeger, formed at Camp Naivelt near Brampton, Ontario, and brought folk music to the Canadian airwaves.
WEEK 6 Feb 16 Guest Lecturer: David Newland, writer, musician, and speaker
David will present The Northwest Passage in Story and Song, a musical and spoken-word performance of original songs inspired by the sights and sounds of the Canadian Arctic, its history, and its contemporary realities. Combining photography, storytelling, and live original songs, this performance conveys the emotional and spiritual impact of Arctic travel from the point of view of a Zodiac driver and musician who has made multiple trips to the Canadian Arctic, Labrador, and Greenland.
WEEK 7 Feb 23 The Urban Folk Revival
The folk revival proper perhaps begins with the Kingston Trio, who formed in direct imitation of the Weavers. This youthful, professional group appealed to young audiences and scored a #1 pop hit with “Tom Dooley” in 1958. Meanwhile Moses Asch’s Folkways Records was presenting a wide variety of traditional styles on long-playing albums, including the seminal Anthology of American Folk Music, compiled by collector and eccentric Harry Smith.
WEEK 8 Mar 2 The Commercial Folk Boom
The urban folk revival became big business thanks to powerful managers like Albert Grossman, who made megastars out of his clients Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. In this lecture, we’ll look in detail at the careers of these artists. Dylan, in particular, has had a lasting and powerful influence, and his work transformed both folk and rock music.
WEEK 9 Mar 9 The New Left
The protest tradition in folk music was renewed in the 1960s and promoted through publications like Broadside Magazine and by singers like Dylan (before 1964) and Phil Ochs. Ochs, in particular, was known for his sharp wit and trenchant commentary on contemporary affairs.
WEEK 10 Mar 16 Contemporary Folk Music
The sounds and styles of folk music continue to resonate today throughout popular culture. From Hollywood films like O Brother, Where Art Thou and the parody A Mighty Wind to contemporary artists like Great Big Sea, Mumford and Sons, Ashley MacIsaac and the Duhks, folk music is alive and well. hEK the careers of these three BwoFolk festivals across Canada and US bring this music to the masses every summer.