A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

#FolkloreThursday: Updates from MTAP

Hi Folks,

It’s been a busy time here at the Michigan Traditional Arts Program and regretfully we weren’t able to keep our Great Folks readers up to date with so many ongoings. But today on #FolkloreThursday, I’d love to fill you in on some exciting things that MTAP staff have undertaken and interesting news flashes from around Michigan.

In mid-September, MTAP Coordinator and MSU Museum Folk Arts Curator Dr. Marsha MacDowell was a key organizer for a Folk and Traditional Arts Preconference at the National State Arts Agencies Assembly that happened in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This was a gathering of folk arts program coordinators from across the US that focused on significant and emerging issues these programs are facing: racism and xenophobia, and arts and aging.

In late September, a meet-up for advocates of Michigan fiddle music took place at the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (MSU). This was organized by MTAP in collaboration with the Michigan Folklore Society. It was a successful preliminary meeting that gathered musicians, community organizers, and scholars to discuss what issues are pertinent to the vitality of fiddling in Michigan. We hope to continue these meetings and build networks of communication amongst advocates.
Notes from the September Meet-Up

The MTAP team is working on a new website! It will be more user-friendly and have a host of great resources about traditional arts and everyday culture in Michigan. Keep your eyes out for the debut of our new website in the coming months.

The 2015 Michigan Heritage Award Ceremony
**We are soliciting applications to the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program and nominations for the Michigan Heritage Awards. The deadline to apply to both programs is December 1st. Please feel free to contact us with any questions. We look forward to reading your application or nomination!**

MTAP is excited to announce that we have some new fieldworkers on board for 2017. Our research will focus on vernacular dance forms, hammered dulcimer playing and building, fiddle music, instrument building, and some aspects of material culture related to water. Glimpses of fieldwork will be featured on this blog, the MSU Museum Instagram, the MTAP Facebook, and MTAP Youtube.

From around the MSU Museum:
  • Dr. Laurie Sommers won the 2016 Dorothy Howard Prize for lesson plans on Michigan’s Folksong Legacy she created for the Association for Culture Equity. The Dorothy Howard Prize is awarded by the American Folklore Society Folklore and Education Section and recognizes work that effectively encourages K-12 educators or students to use or study folklore and folkloristic approaches in all educational environments. Congrats to Laurie!
  • A new exhibition of quilts, “The Unbuntutu Legacy of Love and Action,” was debuted this month in South Africa. For more info on key MSU Museum organizers and partners check out this press release.
  • Curator Aleia Brown was selected to be in the 2016 YWCA Rising Star Leadership Program. The program is focused on preparing interested Rising Stars as equity leaders and supports younger women in pursuit of excellence in their careers. Congrats Aleia!

From around Michigan:

Keep your eyes out for new blog posts updated on Thursdays for #FolkloreThursday. Here's a neat clip about bones player Percy Danforth who was from Ann Arbor, Michigan to take us out on:



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Resource for Teachers on Michigan’s Heritage


Attention teachers, students, scholars of Michigan history and music—

As we are all gearing up for another school year, we here at MTAP wanted to share a new resource available on Michigan’s musical heritage. Folklorist and Ethnomusicologist Dr. Laurie Sommers created 10 lesson plans through the Association for Cultural Equity that follow Alan Lomax’s 1938 fieldwork trip through Michigan. Each lesson uses field recordings from a specific area to explore the history and culture of that area, the music tradition heard, and music theory. The lesson plans are designed so students have a hands-on approach to learning history through music. Though the lessons were made with students in grades first through seventh in mind, students of all ages will enjoy these. 

Hear Dr. Sommers speak more in depth about the lesson plans:



The lessons came about due to collaboration between the Association for Cultural Equity,  the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, the Michigan TraditionalArts Program of the Michigan State University Museum, and the Center for the Study of UpperMidwestern Cultures, University of Wisconsin.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

#FolkloreThursday 2016 Heritage Award Spotlight: David Dutcher

David Dutcher
All photos courtesy Nick Schaedig

Continuing our series on 2016 MHA Awardees, here is a little bit more about David Dutcher, awarded for his skill and knowledge in Native american arts, including copper jewelry beadwork, and moccasin making.

From the Michigan Traditional Arts Program bio:
David Dutcher (b.1956) is a member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians and  an artist who works in multiple genres. He began making traditional Anishnabeg black ash baskets at age 9 with his father, Jon Roy Dutcher. David is skilled in a variety of different Eastern Woodland bead styles beyond those commonly employed by traditional Anishnabeg beadwork artists. Today, David maintains traditional Anishnabeg designs as well as developing contemporary Anishnabeg aesthetic patterns with materials traditionally used in Anishnabeg art. He incorporates custom appliqué beadwork into a variety of traditional and contemporary textile products from moccasins and breeches to laptop bags and purses. His custom stitched garments invoke colonial period aesthetics that draw viewers into sophisticated conversations on hegemonic aesthetic forms and counter-appropriation. David is at home in both these types of theoretical discussions of material culture history and in the specialized and challenging work of re-creating the materials. Many regional pow wow dancers perform regularly in moccasins, jewelry, and clothing created and or decorated by David. With hand tools, including some of his own design, he handcrafts copper jewelry.

In addition to his thriving dress and adornment art practice, David also provides a variety of arts and culture-related services for both his tribe and the community at-large. These include direct collections care for many of the most delicate items in the collections of the Tower of History Museum’s (Sault Ste. Marie) most delicate items as well as providing information on appropriate and respectful storage practices and interpretive information for items ranging from snowshoes to ceremonial rattles. He has also been a professional hairstylist and has been enlisted by community art and theater organizations to help with hair and makeup for stage productions.


David will be present at this year's Great Lakes Folk Festival on Saturday, August 13th and Sunday, August 14th, both to receive his 2016 Michigan Heritage Award, and to demonstrate his artistry in our Traditional Arts Marketplace.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

#FolkloreThursday 2016 Heritage Award Spotlight: Thomas Kelly




In the weeks leading up to the Great Lakes Folk Festival (Aug 12-14), we will be focusing some #FolkloreThursday post on one of our seven 2016 Michigan Heritage Awardees. This week, we're focusing on Thomas Kelly (in the light blue shirt in the above video), the 104-year-old a cappella Gospel singer from Detroit.



From the Michigan Traditional Arts Program Bio:
Thomas Kelly is an institution in the Detroit gospel scene. He was born in East Irondale, Alabama, in 1913. His family moved to Detroit in 1922, and he began singing gospel music five years later.  No stranger to hard work and dedication, he is a World War II veteran and worked as a hi-lo driver at the Chrysler Detroit Axle Plant for thirty years. Beginning in the 1930s, as there was high demand for religious programming on the radio, he made time to sing live on Sundays on Detroit station WJLB-AM.
At age 104, Thomas has a literal lifetime of experience, singing a cappella gospel for the last eighty-nine years. The music as he learned it was not written down, but passed on through repetition and practice. He specifically says that he “got [his] education in the singing from the chording,” or the harmonies present in this genre of music. He remembers a time when he and others would sing on the street corners until the wee hours of the morning, or until the police told them it was time to go home. Thomas has formed many groups throughout the years, including the Marine Harmony Four in 1926, The Famous Wandering Four in 1930 and most recently with the Masters of Harmony (with members David Grear, Neal Lewis, and O’Bryant Walker).
The Detroit gospel scene has gone through many transitions and evolutions through the years, such as the move from a cappella singing to the addition of instruments like the Hammond organ and the electric guitar, but Thomas has remained stalwart in the a cappella tradition, bearing this music forward and keeping it alive. He even composes new music in this style. He has taught countless individuals with his “ministry through music,” including his four-year-old great great-granddaughter.
For his outstanding commitment to and skill in the tradition of a cappella gospel singing, and his lifetime of experience, Thomas Kelly is awarded the 2016 Michigan Heritage Award.
If you're interested in seeing Thomas perform, you can find him at the GLFF on Sunday, August 14th, at the City Hall Stage with the Masters of Harmony from 1:30-2:20, or the Campus and Community Stage from 3:00-3:30. He will also be receiving his Michigan Heritage Award at our special ceremony at 4:30pm on Sunday at the Campus and Community Stage.

Monday, June 27, 2016

In Memoriam: NEA Heritage Fellow and GLFF Performer Dr. Ralph Stanley



From the National Endowment for the Arts's Cheryl Schiele:
June 24, 2016
Washington, DC- It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing on Thursday of legendary bluegrass musician Dr. Ralph Stanley, recipient of a 1984 NEA National Heritage Fellowship and a 2004 National Medal of Arts. Stanley was born February 25, 1927, near McClure, Virginia, in the Clinch Mountains. He and his older brother Carter learned ballad singing and claw-hammer-style banjo playing from their mother. Her repertoire ranged from traditional narrative songs to nineteenth-century hymns sung a cappella, which the Stanley Brothers incorporated into their sets when they began playing professionally.
The brothers began performing with Roy Sykes and the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys in 1946, but soon formed their own band, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys. They quickly gained a following due to their broadcasts on WCYB in Bristol, Virginia, which reached a five-state area: Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. From 1947 to 1958, the Stanley Brothers recorded with Rich-R-Tone, Columbia, and Mercury record labels, where they defined their signature sound, which revolved around Ralph's mournful vocals and three-finger banjo playing and Carter's masterful lead singing. 
In 1966, Carter died, and after much consideration, Ralph continued his musical career and formed a new band. Many contemporary bluegrass artists have come up through the Clinch Mountain Boys band, including Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks and Charlie Sizemore. In 2000, his career skyrocketed after his music was used in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? (from which his chilling recording of "O Death" won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance), and in 2002, his band the Clinch Mountain Boys received the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album for Lost In The Lonesome Pines. 
Although Stanley has played primarily a traditional repertoire, he has also written his own songs. "It's something that comes to you. I might write one tonight and I might not write another one for three years. It just hits you, comes on your mind. I've got up at three or four o'clock in the morning, wrote a song or two, maybe wrote three before I went back to bed. If I didn't get up and write them down, I wouldn't have remembered them the next day. One of them was 'Prayer of a Truck Driver's Son.' They were gospel songs. One of them was 'I Want to Be Ready.' There's been so many in so many years. It's hard to remember." 
In addition to his NEA National Heritage Award and National Medal of Arts, Stanley also was a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and named a Library of Congress Living Legend and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 
Visit the National Endowment for the Arts' website to read more about Ralph Stanley https://www.arts.gov/honors/heritage/fellows/ralph-stanley .

View Dr. Ralph Stanley's profile from his 2003 performance on our Great Lakes Folk Festival website here.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Michigan Native Featured in Smithsonian Folkways Magazine



Michigan's own Daniel Kahn and his band, the Brother Nazaroff, are featured in the latest issue of Smithsonian Folkways Magazine. They released an album in the fall of 2015 honoring the work of Nathan "Prince" Nazaroff, based on his 1954 release from Smithsonian Folkways, Jewish Freilach Songs. As Dan puts it...
"Songs may be among the most durable, resilient, and effective reservoirs of personal and cultural memory and identity. In them, we encounter not only the stories of those individuals who sing them, but the stories of all those who sang them before. Their stories are encoded in the ways the songs change as they migrate through generations and geography. Indeed, these songs describe not only a traditional folk culture as something to be protected and preserved, but in that tradition's constant flux, adaptation, and migration. This living culture, if respected and allowed to breathe and grow, can be an invaluable gift. 
... In the twang of Nazaroff's singing and octophone (a kind of tenor mandolin), one hears the sound of Coney Island boardwalks, Odessa streets, bungalows in the Catskills, Polish shtetl barnyards, Broadway buses, and steamship steerages. The Yiddish lyrics speak of cows, Wall Street, vodka, campfires, fishing boats, bicycles, fiddlers, gypsy girls, broken hearts, and dancing. They are as urbane as a tenement, and as rustic as a watermill, as European as Soviet gangster ballads and as American as kosher hot dogs."

Watch the animated video of their version of Ich a Mazeldicker Yid below:


Read the full piece from Daniel Kahn here.

Friday, April 1, 2016

NEA Heritage Fellow Zakir Hussain Comes to East Lansing


GRAMMY award-winning master tabla drummer Zakir Hussain and his collaborators will perform Tuesday, April 5th, at 7:30 in the Cobb Great Hall of the Wharton Center. Tickets are $20-$40 for adults, and $15 for children ages  5-18. Dr. Michael Largey, MSU Professor of Musicology, will give a brief talk at 6:45 as part of the Wharton Center's Insight Preview series, which will contextualize the performance to follow.

International phenomenon, child prodigy, legendary artist, and acclaimed musician Zakir Hussain can move an audience to tears or get them on their feet and cheering, using just his hands and a tabla drum! His work with icons such as George Harrison, Yo-Yo Ma, and Van Morrison opened the beauty of Indian music to the world and inspired a cultural shift in pop music. Hussain has become internationally recognized as an architect of the contemporary world music movement, proving that he can find the commonality in music and translate it into something beautiful for the world to enjoy. Audiences will revel in the craft that Hussain has perfected and will feel the deepest joys and exciting thrills that Indian music can instill.

This video shows a full two-hour performance by Hussain and the Masters of Percussion in 2013. His first appearance can be found at the 13:40 mark. This is not a show to be missed!



To read more about Hussain's fellowship with the National Endowment of the Arts, click here.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

#FolkloreThursday: Playlist for Women’s History Month

#FolkloreThursday is a growing community on Twitter where people post all sorts of folklore tidbits every Thursday. MTAP participates in this digital community by using the hashtag #FolkloreThursday to amalgamate relevant folkloric content. You, too, can participate by tagging posts with #FolkloreThursday or searching with the tag.

Music for Women’s History Month
We here at MTAP have put together a playlist for Women’s History Month of awesome Michigan-based women making music.  Women musicians’ contributions to the development of musical styles, genres, techniques and their vast bodies of work are innumerable and to this day often overlooked. Most of the artists included here are affiliated in some way with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program, but some were too influential to leave out.  This is in no way an exhaustive list, so please post your favorites and recommendations in the comments section! 

Alberta Adams


The Meditation Singers
Gospel music

Also check out their version of "A Change Is Gonna Come"


Sarah Ogan Gunning
Appalachian ballad singer and songwriter, labor activist


Julia Mainer



Ellen J. Stekert
Folklorist and folksinger
Stekert wrote an article, "Autobiography of a Woman Folklorist", in which she discusses her experience as a woman in academia. It appears in The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 100, No. 398, Folklore and Feminism (Oct.-Dec. 1987). 


Ruby John 
Fiddler, 2014 Great Lakes Folk Festival Performer


Lois Bettesworth 


Miiskwaasining Nagamojig (Swamp Singers)
Native American women's hand drum group

Also listen to their "Strong Women's Song". Read about their work protecting language, culture, and community here.


Alice Coltrane
Jazz musician and composer


Aretha Franklin
Queen of Soul 



Thursday, March 17, 2016

#FolkloreThursday: Irish Music in Southeast Michigan

#FolkloreThursday is a growing community on Twitter where people post all sorts of folklore tidbits every Thursday.  We here at the Michigan Traditional Arts Program are joining this community today with an inaugural St. Patrick’s Day #FolkloreThursday post!

Below is a short video of Irish social dancing taken at an Irish Ceili at the Gaelic League in Detroit, Michigan, January 23, 2016. The music is provided by Mick, Michael, and Sean Gavin and the calling by Anne McCallum.



In 2014 James Madison Professor Steve Rohs undertook MTAP fieldwork on Irish music sessions in Detroit and Ann Arbor. He interviewed Mick Gavin who is a fiddler and melodeon player and has been a key tradition bearer of Irish culture, particularly music, in Southeast Michigan since settling in Detroit in the 1970s (Gavin is the melodeon player in the video above).

Mick Gavin and Siobhan McKinney at an Irish music session at the Gaelic League in Detroit, 7/30/2014. Photo from Steve Rohs. 

From Dr. Rohs’ fieldwork report:
Mick Gavin was born in Meelick, Ireland in 1945. He learned to play melodeon and fiddle from family members and from local fiddlers from Limerick, and in 1960, at age 15, his group The Delcassian Ceili Band won the Kerry Fleadh ceili competition. In 1974, Mick traveled to the United States as part of a touring Irish band. He played as a professional musician in Chicago, but soon settled in Detroit and began a flooring business which survives to this day. In the 1980s and 1990s, Mick, a seasoned session player, began to mentor and formally teach young fiddlers in the Detroit area. Like Terence McKinney [a Detroit-area uilleann piper who studied under Al Purcell], he became involved in the Detroit branch of Comhaltas Ceotiori Eireann, and many of his students won regional and All-Ireland awards on their instruments. He also promotes Irish music in Southeast Michigan, bringing international artists to local venues, participating in an annual “Crossroads Ceili” at the Ark in Ann Arbor with current and former students, and hosts the St. Patrick’s Day events at the Hellenic Cultural Center in Detroit. He was inducted into the Midwest Region Comhaltas Ceotiori Eireann Irish Music Hall of Fame in 2003. Mick currently resides in Redford Township, Michigan. 

Dr. Rohs also compiled a list of Irish music sessions in Michigan, posted below. Sessions are a great opportunity to listen to, enjoy, play and learn traditional Irish music.

Conor O’Neill’s in Ann Arbor
Sundays 7 p.m.

Ancient Order of Hibernians in Redford
Second and fourth Fridays at 8 p.m.

Detroit Irish Music Association in Ann Arbor
Thursday nights, 7:30

Gaelic League in Detroit
Wednesdays from 7:30-10:30

Cleary’s Pub in Chelsea
Second and fourth Sundays 2-4 p.m.

Chelsea Ale House in Chelsea
First and third Sundays from 2-4 p.m.

McFadden’s Pub in Grand Rapids
Sunday nights from 7-9 p.m.

London Grill Gastropub in Kalamazoo
Sunday afternoons from 4-6 p.m.

Fenian’s Irish Pub in Conklin
Wednesday nights from 7 p.m. to close

Hennessy’s Irish Pub in Muskegon
First Tuesday night of the month, 7 p.m.

Boyne District Library in Boyne
Sundays 1-3 p.m.

Bravo Zulu Brewing Company in Acme
Monday nights, 7-9 p.m.

Lil’ Bo’s Pub in Traverse City
Tuesday nights 7-9 p.m.

Stein Haus in Bay City
Tuesday nights 7-10 p.m.

Loutit District Library in Grand Haven
Third Saturday 1-3 p.m.

Midland Brewing Company in Midland
Second and fourth Wednesday nights

Stucchi’s Ice Cream in Alma

Thursday nights

Dr. Rohs' fieldwork on Irish music sessions is in the Michigan Traditional Arts Program Research Collections, MSU Museum, Accession no. 2014:58.