Stream Brand New Playlists, Including West Virginia State Folklorist Emily Hilliard's Picks
A new month means another batch of curated playlists to stream and binge listen to on your favorite service. Find Smithsonian Folkways on Spotify and Apple Music.
- Curated – Emily Hilliard: expertly curated selections, excellent listens, this time chosen by Emily Hilliard, West Virginia state folklorist and founding director of West Virginia Folklife Program --scroll down to read annotations on her playlist picks.
- Around the World in Sound: Love: in the month of love, a new playlist digging into the various forms of loving, all pulled from the Smithsonian Folkways collection.
- People's Pick: Christopher Paul Stelling: Fresh off his new album Best of Luck (on Anti-), Christopher Paul Stelling curates an excellent set of music for us.
- Folkways Goes… Maritime: a deep dive into the massive & diverse Folkways collection, this time exploring our store of maritime and nautical holdings.
- Label Spotlight – Folk-Legacy Records: explorations of the many record labels in the Smithsonian Folkways family, hear an overview of the seminal Folk-Legacy Records.
- What We're Listening To: Halle Butvin: Halle Butvin, Director of Special Projects at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage chooses recent listens.
Emily Hilliard went even deeper for her playlist, giving us track-by-track annotations for her choices:
- Furry Lewis – “Kassie Jones (Casey Jones)” from Furry Lewis
- Child Development Group of Mississippi – “Da da da da” from Head Start: With the Child Development Group of Mississippi
- Tony Schwartz – “Street Musicians/Times Square Accordionist/Carnegie Hall Fiddler (medley)” from New York 19
- Grup Bamba Puang – “Kemayoran” from Music of Indonesia, Vol. 20 Indonesian Guitars
- Helen Cockram – “The Pinnacle Mountain Silver Mine” from Virginia Traditions: Native Virginia Ballads and Songs
- Joseph Spence – “Jump In The Line” from Bahaman Folk Guitar: Music from the Bahamas, Vol.1
- Willie Eason – “Franklin D. Roosevelt Poor Man’s Friend” from Sacred Steel: Traditional African American Steel guitar Music in Florida
- Bernard Sanders – “An Overview of Eugene V. Debs” from Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist Revolutionary, 1855-1926
- McIntosh County Shouters - "Sign of the Judgement" from Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions, Vol. I-IV
- John MacLeod – “Hi-Ri-Hoireann O (Waulking Song)” from Songs and Pipes of the Hebrides
- Archie Fisher – “Western Island” from The Man With a Rhyme
- Shirley Collins – “The Cruel Mother” from False True Lovers
- Alhaji Bai Konte and Dembo Konte - "Sutukung Kumbu Sora/So (Tomora Ba Tuning)" from Gambian Griot Kora Duets
- Big Mama Thornton – “Swing It On Home” from Ball N' Chain
- Vera Hall Ward – “Black Woman” from Black Music of Two Worlds
- Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard – “Coal Miner’s Blues” from Pioneering Women of Bluegrass
- Dewey and Tony Balfa, and Tracy and Peter Schwarz – “Mardi Gras Jig" from Les Quatre Vieux Garçons
- Two Little Girls At March - “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” from Freedom Songs: Selma, Alabama
- Michael Hurley – “Blue Mountain” from First Songs
- George, Fanny and Peggy Lou Herod – “Travelin’ Shoes” from Music from the South, Vol. 7 Elder Songsters 2
- Anna & Elizabeth – “Margaret” from The Invisible Comes To Us
“After the collapse of the recording industry during the Great Depression, Furry Lewis, who made his first recordings in 1927, set aside his guitar and took a job as a laborer for the city of Memphis. Furry had not played for about 20 years when Sam Charters met him in 1959. When Charters returned a few months later with a rented guitar to record him, the session became a celebratory yet reverent community event, with Furry’s wife Stella wearing her best dress and a group of friends packing into their small house to pass a drink and listen silently for the entire afternoon. Like the best of blues musicians, Furry’s lyrical arrangements were fluid and improvisational, but the lyrics in his “Kassie Jones” were one of the few that were fairly cemented. His version of the song has since been reworked by many others, including Waylon Jennings in “Waymore’s Blues.”
“The poet and scholar Fred Moten played this recording in his 2007 presentation,“Black Optimism/Black Operation.” He says, “...these children are the voices of the future in the past, the voices of the future in our present. In this recording, this remainder, their fugitivity, remains, for me, in the intensity of their refrain, of their straining against constraint, cause for the optimism they perform. That optimism always lives, which is to say escapes, in the assertion of a right to refuse, which is, as Gayatri Spivak says, the first right: an instantiation of a collective negative tendency to differ, to resist the regulative powers that resistance, that differing, call into being.” ”
“In this 1955 album of recordings from the 10019 postal code in New York, Tony Schwartz set out to record his community’s folklore at its genesis, including the “non-commercial music expression of the people now living and working” within the zip code (which at the time was the commercial music center of the country). Street musician and composer Moondog, “The Viking of 6th Avenue,” is captured on this track; the boat whistle adds a perfect background drone.”
“This whole album is amazing, but this one’s a real standout. The members of Grup Bamba Puang, Suhaeni (female vocalist), Rahman (male vocalist), and Moh. Firdaus (guitarist), are of the Muslim Mandar group from the South Soulawesi penninsula of Indonesia. “Kemayoran” is representative of the Mandar sayang-sayang genre, which generally consists of love song duets between a male and female vocalist, performed at weddings and other family celebrations.”
“Helen Cockram wrote this song in 1979 about a modern legend told in Virginia’s Meadows of Dan, in which a West Virginian who’d relocated to the area began producing counterfeit money from silver he discovered in a local underground silver mine. When he was caught, he returned to his home state, never disclosing the mine’s location. Years later, a farmer is said to have stumbled upon the mine during a storm when seeking a place to shelter his sheep, but he could not find it again upon return. I hope there are more Helen Cockram recordings out there—this is a perfectly executed modern ballad, start to finish.”
“You know the tune, but have you heard Joseph Spence growling to himself over his intuitive guitar picking?”
“Some friends and I became obsessed with this song when we were all DJs at WXYC-Chapel Hill. The rhythmic gymnastics Eason does to fit in some of these long lines is an impressive feat and it’s the only song I know that includes the words “cerebral hemorrhage.” My wonder at this song inspired my ever-growing collection of other vernacular songs about FDR. There’s a great Trinidadian example in the Lomax collection, "Roosevelt in Trinidad.””
“ Yes, that Bernard Sanders.”
“Along with the handclaps and shuffling, the percussive element in this ring shout is made by the “sticker” tapping a broom handle on the floor.”
“I first learned of waulking songs from this WIRE magazine video, in which the featured women sing a version of this track. Waulking songs are Gaelic call-and-response work songs, sung to keep time during women’s communal practice of fulling or waulking—beating wet just-woven tweed on a table to remove the moisture, shrink, and soften it. Though the percussive sound of the wool on the table is absent from this recording, you can hear where it’s supposed to be. ”
“My parents had a large collection of Folk Legacy records, with this one by Scottish musician Archie Fisher, being the favorite. A picture of them with Archie, taken at one of his shows in Chicago, was pinned to our kitchen wall next to the phone. Later I re-discovered Archie’s music through British psych folk, particularly the Incredible String Band and Bert Jansch. He served as a mentor to all of those guys."
“Shirley Collins has recorded this version of Child ballad 20 twice (the recording on her 1967 album The Sweet Primroses features a chorus of other voices on the refrain), and both are totally stunning. In the liner notes to False True Lovers, she writes, “This cautionary ballad has everything, including one of the greatest of tunes...A flat, documentary opening, reporting a private act by conscience-torn young girl. Then the confrontation of the young mother by the ghosts of her murdered twin babies, and her damnation. The refrain has the quality of an incantation, raising one wretched human being to an archetype of remorse.””
“If you couldn’t already tell from their seemingly effortless blood harmony, Alhaji Bai Konte and Dembo Konte are father and son. They also both play the kora and at the time of the recording (1979) lived together on their family’s compound in Brikama.”
“Willie Mae Thornton floors me at every listen. On this recording, she’s backed up by Buddy Guy’s All Stars (on the other half of the album, she’s joined by Muddy Waters’ Band). It’s a variant of the folk song “Cindy” and showcases the mutability of the blues, with her quippy takes on many common floater verses.”
“Alan Lomax said of Hall, “The sound comes from deep within her when she sings, from a source of gold and light, otherwise hidden, and falls directly upon your ear like sunlight. It is a liquid, full contralto, rich in low overtones; but it can leap directly into falsetto and play there as effortlessly as a bird in the wind."”
“A Carter Family song that could be a Hazel Dickens song. She says of this groundbreaking album,“I think this is one of the all-time historic records. To my knowledge, it was the first time that two women sat down and picked out a bunch of songs and had guts enough to stand behind what they picked out and say, ‘We’re not changing anything; you have to do it or else.’”
“The drone and percussive element created by the fiddlesticks on this traditional Cajun jig make for an ideal groove.”
“These recordings of the March from Selma to Montgomery were made by Carl Benkert, a white interior designer from Detroit who served as night watchman during the March and by day, hid a reel-to-reel tape recorder in his overcoat as he walked. He says of the two girls on this recording, “Two little girls, about five years old, who were frequently in the forefront of the group singing in Brown Chapel, sang alone for this recording. Outside in the backyards I had just passed other youngsters engaged in their game "State Trooper" in which half the number lined up, locked arms, and proceeded to march singing "We Shall Overcome", then were set upon and beat down by the others wielding sticks and branches. In situations like these, one must observe the tragedy: that the misdeeds of our immature society are imprinted in the minds of innocent children.”
“Snock songs are rarely this tender, but when they are, it’s such a treat. This song always reminds me of my dear friends’ blueberry farm in Maine, a sweet place for walking and talking and musicking and drinking blueberry wine.”
“I have the paste-up from this album cover—with its Fred Ramsey photo of George and Fanny Herod—hanging on my living room wall. I love the overlapping lines of these three voices that intertwine and diverge and occasionally find themselves in unison before drifting off on their own again, like they each possess slightly different memories of the same song. ”
“This 1941 recording of Margaret Shipman’s “Jeanette and Jeano,” overlaid drones by Anna and Elizabeth, catches me in my throat every time I listen to it. Completely devastating in the way of the best art.”