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, 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. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New MTAP Video on the Masters of Harmony

Check out the new video added to Michigan Traditional Art Program’s YouTube channel! It highlights the Masters of Harmony, an a cappella Gospel group from Detroit, Michigan.  In the video we hear how the Masters of Harmony came to be and how each member started singing Gospel.




The Masters of Harmony performed recently at the 2015 GreatLakes Folk Festival.  After their GLFF performance, volunteer Dave Langdon and Molly McBride were able to sit down with the group and interview them.  Current members are Thomas Kelly, Neal Lewis, O’Bryant Walker, and David Grear.  Masters of Harmony was formed in 1952 by Thomas Kelly, who has been singing Gospel since 1926.  Since 1952, there have been many different members and sometimes four to six men.  They have performed along side Gospel music’s most prominent ensembles.

Don’t forget to subscribe to MTAP’s YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with videos we post from recent fieldwork, the Great Lakes Folk Festival, and our Research Collections!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Michigander Frank Ettawageshik Delivers Paris Climate Convention Address


Image courtesy Native News Online
Frank Ettawageshik (Odawa) spoke recently at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Ettawageshik gave his address on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians, as well as indigenous peoples worldwide. In addition to serving as the former Chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa and as a research associate of the Michigan State University Museum, he was recognized by the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program as a master artist in Woodland Indian pottery in 1993 and 2001.

Due to recently events in Paris and around the world, this convention has been highly publicized. It is incredible to have one of our own speaking out about climate change and Native Rights on such an impressive platform.

Here is the transcript of his full remarks:
International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change
Statement at Closing Plenary of UNFCCC COP21Paris, France  December 12, 2015Presented by Frank Ettawageshik, supported by Chief Bill Erasmus, Hindou Ourmou Ibrahim, and Saoudata Aboubacrine 
Aanii, Nakwegeshik N’diznikas. Pipigwa Ododem. Waganakising n’doonjibaa.    (Hello.  Noonday is my name. The Sparrow Hawk is the mark of my family. I am from the Land of the Crooked Tree.)

Mr President, I greeted you in my Native language.  My name is Frank Ettawageshik and I represent the National Congress of American Indians. Thank you for this opportunity to address you on behalf of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change.   Indigenous Peoples are those who least contribute to climate change, having safeguarded our traditional lands, territories and resources for millenia. Because our lives are inextricably and intimately related to the natural world, every adverse effect on that world acutely affects our lives.
The members of our caucus come from all the regions of the world.  Indigenous peoples came here with three key messages. We are pleased that during these negotiations all of our points were addressed to some degree.
  1. It is essential that the rights of indigenous peoples be recognized, protected and respected within a broad human rights framework. We sought such assurance in the operative section of the Agreement. We are keenly disappointed that the Parties did not see fit to accommodate this request in which we joined with a broad constituency. The Parties do recognize the importance of such rights in the Preamble and we intend to insist on our rights at every turn. We are sovereign governments with international treaties and rights to land territories, and resources toward which we have a sacred duty which we intend to fulfill.
  1. A temperature goal of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. We are disappointed this was not adopted as the Structured Expert Dialog stated that our traditional livelihoods will be severely affected at two degrees. However, we are thankful that the vital importance of achieving the 1.5 degree Celsius goal is recognized in the agreement language.
  1. Recognition, respect for, and use of our traditional knowledge, with our free, prior, and informed consent. We appreciate that a provision appears in the operative section under adaptation, but it should apply everywhere in the Agreement and Decision without the qualification “where appropriate.”
We must remember we are here as nations to uphold the future for our children!  We recognize the hope in all children’s eyes and we work so that this hope will remain through the future generations.
Miigwetch (Thank You), Merci Beaucoup
View the full, original posting here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What is Folklore?




Folkstreams is a wonderful online archive of documentary films made about American folklore. They recently made this short video featuring folklorist Daniel W. Patterson describing folklore. Patterson, a Kenan Professor Emeritus of English at UNC-Chapel Hill, Fellow of the American Folklore Society, and author of ten books, relates in the video that:
“People think of folklore as… a quilt on the wall, it’s a pot on the mantelpiece…it’s an old song…but actually, folklore makes you very uncomfortable.  It’s powerful.  If it’s anything at all it’s powerful because it’s what you use to survive…it comes out of struggle and difficulty.”
In Michigan, folklore is a fiddle tune passed down through generations, a pasty recipe, a style of duck decoys or pottery, a gospel shout.  And it’s also a ritual at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, a quilt made in response to the AIDS epidemic, the refinement of a recipe at a microbrewery, the making of a Quinceañera dress, it’s improvisation in tap dancing. 

As Patterson describes in the video, folklore arises from every-day lived experiences; in the back woods of the Upper Peninsula, on the waterways winding through our state, in the auto factories speckled throughout the mitten, the convivial din of a house party, and even the careful knot in a web of lace, folklore affects and comprises our lives.  We’re always interested to hear how folklore is a part of our readers lives, so please leave a comment with a personal story or thought!

Folkstreams is a great resource to learn about traditions and folklife through videos.  They even have a few films based in Michigan.  The Michigan Traditional Arts Program is also a great resource to learn about Michigan-specific folklife.  Our YouTube channel is a great place to find short videos on contemporary traditions from recent fieldwork and archival footage from our research collections. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Document Your Family Folklore This Thanksgiving


Become a folklorist this Thanksgiving holiday and document your family folklore.

Quillworker Yvonne Walker Keshick with her grandchildren at the 2015 GLFF.

Family folklore could include stories, jokes, music, rituals, games, scrapbooks, videos, recipes, and material culture. 
"For an individual family [however "family" may be defined], folklore is its creative expression of a common past. As raw experiences are transformed into family stories, expressions, and photos, they are codified in forms which can be easily recalled, retold, and enjoyed. Their drama and beauty are heightened, and the family’s past becomes accessible as it is reshaped according to its needs and desires," (Zeitlin 1982).
Lacemaking has been passed down for generations in Ron Ahren's family.
An easy way for anyone to document family folklore is to interview a relative through the StoryCorps app.


"The StoryCorps app—a free mobile application—seamlessly walks users through an interview by providing all the necessary tools for a wonderful experience. You will receive help preparing questions, finding the right environment for your conversation, recording a high-quality interview on your mobile device, sharing the finished product with friends and family, and uploading your conversation to the StoryCorps.me website. This site is a home for the recordings and also provides interviewing and editing resources. In addition, all interviews uploaded to the platform during the first year of the program will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress," (https://storycorps.me/about/).
Though the app has built-in questions to ask your interviewee, we suggest you make your own questions centering on family traditions.
 
What kinds of traditions does your family have for Thanksgiving?

Ask about Foodways
            What dishes do you always have at Thanksgiving?
            How do you make the dishes?
            Where does the recipe come from?
            Where do the raw ingredients come from?
            Who cooks what?
            What kind of cookware is used?
            Are there special serving dishes?
            When do you eat?

Ask about Music
            What kinds of music do you listen to during the holidays?
            When do you listen to music during the holidays?          
Does anyone in your family play music?
                        Where did they learn?

Ask about Stories
            What are the stories, tales, and myths told?
                        Where do they come from?
                        What kinds of stories are they? Humorous, cautionary, or romance?
            Who tells stories at a gathering?
            In what setting are stories told?
           
Use the Story Corps app to record and archive your interview.  Tag your interview with “MSU Museum” and your interview may be featured on the Great Folks blog! We want to hear about your folklife. 

If you need some pointers for interviewing, the Smithsonian has a free online guide available here.


Work Cited
Steve Zeitlin. A Celebration of American Family Folklore. Cambridge, MA: Yellow Moon Press, 1982, p. 2 

Photos by M. McBride.