TRAVERSE CITY - Early Michigan folk songs recorded on Beaver Island and elsewhere in Michigan in 1938 will come to life at Dennos Museum Center this fall.
“The Michigan Folksong Legacy: Grand Discoveries from the Great Depression” will open Nov. 1 at the Dennos Museum Center and run through Jan. 3. The traveling Library of Congress exhibit chronicles the work of legendary folklorist and music collector Alan Lomax.
Lomax, then 23, spent three months in Depression-era Michigan in 1938 recording immigrant miners, sailors, loggers and immigrant songs across the state for the Library of Congress. By the 1930s, concern was growing across the United States about the need to preserve early American folklore, music and songs endangered by radio, other technology and changing times.
Among the recordings are the ballads of Irish-born sailors and farmers of Beaver Island, lumber camp ballads from Traverse City, Serbian songs sung in Detroit, Finnish labor anthems from Calumet and Detroit blues.
"Lomax was blown away by what he found in Michigan," said Laurie Sommers, an ethnomusicologist who is overseeing the Michigan portion of the national project for Michigan State University. "He called Johnny Green and Dominick Gallagher on Beaver Island the most remarkable ballad singers he had heard and he included Green and Gallagher renditions in the songbooks he was compiling."
The Michigan State University Museum and the American Folk Life Center of the Library of Congress and other partners are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the recording trip with a traveling exhibit.
The Dennos exhibit next month includes an opening night multi-media concert Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. by singer/songwriter Lee Murdock of Kaneville, Ill., and Summers.
The performance combines live music with historic images, color movie footage, and recorded sound from the Great Depression. Some of these materials haven’t been heard or seen by the general public for more than seven decades, said Eugene Jenneman, Dennos executive director.