78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South

John Minton, 78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. (American Made Music Series), 2008. x+288 pp. (ISBN: 9781934110195) (cloth).

Yves Laberge, Ph.D.   

John Minton is a professor of folklore at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne and his third book, “78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South”, is taken from his Ph.D. thesis from 1990.

Unlike most scholarly written books, this essay is written in the first person. In seven thematical chapters, Minton reflects on his own initiation into the musical world in his youth (occuring mainly during the 1970’s) and his personal experience of discovering the various musical genres from the previous decades, being aware of the social background of the American music and the impact of the manufacturing of the records he used to listen to. He questions why, say, during the early seventies, almost everybody seemed to enjoy Robert Johnson’s songs as interpreted by contemporary rock groups like Cream, The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers, but most of that same audience could not stand (or even have access to) the original recordings of these same works made by the composer in 1937 and 1938, even on LP reissues. The old folk and blues repertoire was revisited for the old folk and blues repertoire (from Woody Guthrie to Mississippi John Hurt) that was “revisited” or rediscovered during the 1960’s by various white artists like Bob Dylan or The Beatles and many British groups (20). In other words, Minton’s awareness and (re)discovery of roots American music was made backwards in chronological terms: “Even then, I knew enough of Southern culture and history to realize they drew breath from a vast rural underclass and a vanished way of life” (20). Back in the 1920’s, most folksongs were not made by professional artists and performers borrowing various identities for every song, but rather by “ordinary people” whose identities were either “workmate, neighbor, church member” when they recorded their music (21). Continue reading “78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South”


The Mothership Connection: Mythscape and Unity in the Music of Parliament

The Mothership Connection
Mythscape and Unity in the Music of Parliament

Kurt Baer
Indiana University

Due to Afro-centric and Afro-futurist themes and the lyrical content of some of their songs, the music of funk musician George Clinton and his band Parliament has been referred to by scholars (e.g. Brown 2008; Nama 2008; McLeod 2003) as linked to the Black Nationalist movement. Other sources, including song lyrics and interviews with Clinton, emphasize themes of promoting unity among people of all races. Although these themes of racial solidarity and unity without regard to race may at first be seen as contradictory, I argue that both interpretations arise from Parliament?s creation of what I am calling a ?unified place.? Through images of places set in outer space and at the bottom of the ocean that are disseminated through the lyrics, album covers, liner notes, costumes, advertisements, and performances of their songs, the band provides the means to turn these abstract spaces into familiar places filled with over-the-top characters and their mythologized stories. These places, constructed from particular and often romanticized landscapes by the individual through such decontextualized images?what Andy Bennett (2002) refers to as ?mythscapes??are then ?brought to life? in performance through devices such as enactment to create this sense of unity. I argue that it is because this enacted mythscape is individually constructed through decontextualized and often ambiguous images that scholars have found such apparently contradictory themes of unity within the same body of music. Continue reading “The Mothership Connection: Mythscape and Unity in the Music of Parliament”

Corridos in Migrant Memory

Chew Sánchez, Martha I. Corridos in Migrant Memory. Albuquerque, N.M.: University of New Mexico Press, 2006. pp. 246 34 halftones, 4 maps, index. Paper $29.95.

Heather A. Vrana
Indiana University

Since the informal declaration of war between the drug cartels and the U.S. and Mexican states, the border zone at El Paso and Ciudad Juarez has become the obsession of gangs, federal police, local police, civilian vigilantes, NGOs, journalists, and academics. Corridos in Migrant Memory apprehends this border region not by spatial practice but by representational space and the song form of the corrido. Following earlier work on Mexican folk song by Américo Paredes, Vicente Mendoza, John McDowell, and Guillermo Hernández, Martha I. Chew Sánchez considers the function of corridos in migrant experience.

Continue reading “Corridos in Migrant Memory”

The Heart is a Mirror: The Sephardic Folktale

Tamar Alexander-Frizer. The Heart is a Mirror: The Sephardic Folktale. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008. Xiv + 690 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8143-2971-9. $65.00 Hardcover.

David Elton Gay
Indiana University

The Heart is a Mirror is a translation of Tamar Alexander-Frizer’s 1999 Hebrew study of Sephardic folk narrative, The Beloved Friend: Studies in Sephardic Folk Literature. The title of the Hebrew original gives a far better sense of what this book is about. It is far more than a book on the Sephardic folktale alone, as implied by the English title; rather, Alexander-Frizer intends to introduce the reader to the wealth of Sephardic prose folk narrative in its many genres. Continue reading “The Heart is a Mirror: The Sephardic Folktale”

Shaping Theory, Bending Method, Tapping [New] Media: Ethnographic Craftsmanship and Responsive Design

Shaping Theory, Bending Method, Tapping [New] Media:
Ethnographic Craftsmanship and Responsive Design

Matthew Hale
Indiana University

This article was awarded the Warren E. Roberts Prize for Best Student Paper in Folk Art (2011) by the Folk Arts Section of the American Folklore Society

This work is about objects and their makers, their relationship, and the negotiation between tradition and innovation in the creation of things. I explore the relationship between tradition, innovation, and technology as it pertains to the creation, perception, and interaction with acoustic steel string guitars and ethnographies. First, I focus on the works of two Nashville based guitar makers, Grant and Cory Batson. I investigate the ways in which the Batsons critically evaluate traditional construction techniques and design features as they create their instruments, looking at their theories of tone production, methods of construction, and their perceptions and uses of various media within their guitars. Second, I recruit the Batsons’ theories, methods, and revisions of tradition as a metaphor to discuss the traditional ways of constructing ethnographic representations. Through this work, I argue for the craftsmanship of more responsive ethnographic things which take into account not only theoretical, but also methodological and media eclecticism. Continue reading “Shaping Theory, Bending Method, Tapping [New] Media: Ethnographic Craftsmanship and Responsive Design”

Music, Mediation, Sustainability: A Case Study on the Banjo

Music, Mediation, Sustainability: A Case Study on the Banjo

Jeff Todd Titon
Brown University

The banjo mediates structurally, culturally and historically, and experientially. Structurally, it resists taxonomic classification. Culturally and historically, it is a mediator among African and European American cultures. For that, I interpret evidence of the Black-white vernacular music exchanges in the 19th-century sketches and genre paintings of the American artist, William Sidney Mount. Experientially, the banjo mediates in the old-time string band session as the banjo player creates melody and rhythm interactively with the other musicians. For this, I offer a phenomenological account of what goes through a player’s mind/body when learning and performing a previously unfamiliar tune at normal tempo in a jam session. This constructive, creative, and integrative faculty is expressive culture’s principal act of resilience, and it may be its main contribution to sustaining life on planet Earth.

Continue reading “Music, Mediation, Sustainability: A Case Study on the Banjo”

Representing Valerie Solanas: Productions of Gender and Sexuality in The Factory

Representing Valerie Solanas:  Productions of Gender and Sexuality in The Factory

Sayo Yamagata
City University of New York


This essay explores the musical and artistic reactions to Valerie Solanas’s shooting of Andy Warhol in order to demonstrate how acts of violence, artistic representation, and constructions of gender not only inform, but also enforce one another.  The present analysis also intends to understand how attempts to represent Solanas within the context of her violent act, as a political tool for radical feminist or anti-feminist ends, can become the occasion for additional violence.  Pivotal examples that activate the discussion of gender construction in Warhol’s Factory scene include Lou Reed’s and John Cale’s song “I believe” as well as Solanas’s writings on violence, gender and sex in her SCUM Manifesto. Continue reading “Representing Valerie Solanas: Productions of Gender and Sexuality in The Factory”