Date of Submission

Spring 2011

Academic Program

Music; Literature; American Studies


Geoffrey Sanborn

Abstract/Artist's Statement

In the fall I had the pleasure of working with twenty-two musicians on a concert featuring American music from 1929–1949. On the program were pieces for classical violin, folk songs, jazz standards, fiddle tunes, gospel jubilees, country ballads, and stylized original compositions. This semester I traded my bow for a laptop and have been researching and writing a thesis in double time, one titled A Singing Country: American Folk Expression and The Lomax-Hurston-Barnicle Expedition of 1935. In it, I discuss three weeks in June of 1935, retelling the local narrative of a team of spunky folklorists traveling through Georgia and Florida, and of the creation of an American identity that developed as a reaction to the turbulence of the post-war era. At times it resembles a history paper; at others, an ethnography.

As I am a performer by nature and an academic by training, I felt that I needed to attach another creative outlet to this side of the project. I also recognized the irony in writing about the transmission of folk culture without having any oral or aural component, and so I present to you this Lecture-Performance. Inspired by John Lomax’s work with Lead Belly, I’ve included musical interjections to help explain and draw parallels between the written work and the music it studies. In presenting live music and a library of field recordings—in conjunction with research from my paper—my hope is to provide access to folk culture that will encourage new discourses on the national experience preserved in American folksongs. Of primary concern is the legacy of this music and its relevance to our modernity: though many have never heard of Alan Lomax, his mark on the shape and sound of America’s cultural identity is remarkably familiar, even if it isn’t recognized. In an age of cultural amnesia and nostalgia instigated by the infinite increase of technological knowledge, it is easy to deem bristly field recordings as anachronistic.

This is my effort to reawaken and preserve an interest in America’s cultural roots, but it is also an attempt to show that they’ve never gone away.

Odetta Bess Hartman

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