James P. Leary
Folksongs of Another America
Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937–1946
University of Wisconsin Press 2015
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in FolkloreNew Books in HistoryNew Books in MusicNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books Network August 22, 2018 Rachel Hopkin
Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937–1946 (University of Wisconsin Press) first appeared in 2015 when it comprised of a hardback book, five CDs, and one DVD. It went on to win the “Best Historical Research in Folk or World Music” award from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, was nominated for a Grammy for “Best Album Notes,” received universally superlative reviews, and sold out within a year. The project has now been re-issued as a paperback, albeit without any accompanying discs; instead the related tracks and film footage are now available for online access care of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library.
It’s not hard to fathom why this monumental work received so much acclaim. A groundbreaking multimedia endeavor, Folksongs of Another America is the product of decades of work by the distinguished folklorist, James P. Leary. Leary is, amongst other things, Professor Emeritus of Folklore and Scandinavian Studies and Cofounder of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a former editor of the Journal of American Folklore, and a native of rural Wisconsin, which is one of the three states – along with Michigan and Minnesota – whose rich musical bounty is explored in this study.
Leary sifted through over 2,000 field recordings, made by fieldworkers Sidney Robertson, Alan Lomax, and Helene Stratman-Thomas during the 1930s and 40s, to select the 187 tunes and songs that feature here. Together the chosen pieces create the impression of a region populated by immigrants from a host of different lands, as well as by Native Americans, all with their own musical traditions. For every track, Leary offers extensive documentation, information about the performers, and full lyrics (including in the original language with English translation as necessary which, given that the collection includes twenty-five languages, is often the case). The recordings themselves, which have been wonderfully restored and remastered, provide vivid aural experiences.
Folksongs of Another America is, as noted by a reviewer for Deutschlandradio Kultur, “an exceptional achievement that demonstrates for the first time the full worth and cultural wealth of the Upper Midwest for music listeners.”
Rachel Hopkin is a UK born, US based folklorist and radio producer and is currently a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University.