The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 8

Traditional Music Collections Online
By Dan Margolies

Though old-time musicians harken back to, and often hanker for, the old ways as much as the old sounds, there is no denying that modern technology is ushering in a new golden age in the preservation and distribution of traditional music.  Musicians used to trade scarce field recordings, share hard-earned snippets of information and technique, and occasionally have opportunity to buy from the tiny independent labels that valiantly re-released old recordings.  Nowadays it is commonplace to have free access to oceans of recordings in a stunning array of digital archives.  The problem now is not accessibility so much as making sense of what is available, and having the time to begin even to scratch the surface. 

The following list is focused only on traditional American music, with an emphasis on the music of the South.  I am reluctantly omitting Internet radio stations and MP3 blogs, of which there are a great number presenting some rare gems.

Archives for Secret Museum of the Air with Citizen Kafka and Pat Conte Two years (2000-2002) of this fantastic radio program are archived here, consisting of music from rare 78s from around the world.  Many of the thematic shows focus on specific Southern topics, such as "Roots of Uncle Dave," white blues, country blues in the city, and so on.  All of the shows are full of rare and essential music.
Blue Ridge Institute Heritage Archives The Blue Ridge Heritage Archive, at Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute in Ferrum, Virginia, has made available half of its extensive music holdings online.  Some of these are also accessible through the Digital Library of Appalachia (see below).

Cajun Music MP3 Dedicated to fostering "enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of the history of Cajun music," this presentation makes available hundreds of MP3 recordings of great Cajun music, extensive notes on the music and musicians, and good suggestions for further listening.

California Gold:  Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties
(Library of Congress American Memory) The remarkable body of recordings online here, from a WPA project, is made up of "35 hours of folk music recorded in twelve languages representing numerous ethnic groups and 185 musicians."

Center for Southern African American Music This site from the University of South Carolina is comprised of sections on blues, prison songs, jazz, sacred music, and work songs.  The sound files are drawn from a very wide array of sources, including collections released on Document, Yazoo, Folkways, Rounder, and Shanachie. 

The Cumberland Gap Broadcasting Company: The Phipps Family Here is a site dedicated to the Phipps Family, who played music in a decidedly Carter Family vein.  You can download a baker's dozen of their songs, including a number of tracks recorded live at the 1973 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  You can also read interviews and LP liner notes, and see some nice old photos.

Digital Library of Appalachia This is the motherlode.  Quite likely, you have already spent a vast amount of time wandering through this stunning and invaluable collection of recordings.  The DLA, formed by the partnership of 12 colleges and universities, has provided the incredible service of making accessible over 3,000 rare tunes and songs played by master old-time musicians from across the region.  All the tracks are carefully indexed and hyperlinked.  You can search by artist, title, or instrument, or just browse for tunes and download them for free without limit.  There are three musical essays that alone are worth a visit to the site, as is access to Berea College's "Fiddle Tune Search by Kentucky County."  If you only visit one site in this list, it must be this incredible resource.

Fiddler's Grove
(Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina) This collection details the development and music of the festival at Fiddler's Grove and the convention at Union Grove with music, sound, and photographs.

Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier:  The Henry Reed Collection
(Library of Congress American Memory) This collection, an ethnographic model, provides 184 rare tunes from Henry Reed, recorded by Alan Jabbour in 1966 and ‘67.

Florida Folklife Collection The Florida Folklife Program produced many great recordings and other materials between 1976 and 1995, which are online here. The site features links to four different volumes of music arranged by genre.  There are collections of bluegrass and old-time string band music, African American sacred music, and two volumes of music spanning fifty years of recordings.  Especially nice are the recordings of the Florida Folklife Festival from 1954 to 1979, along with programs and information on the performers.  These festivals featured a great variety of artists, including many famous musicians, and a wide array of styles.

Folk-Songs of America: The Robert Winslow Gordon Collection, 1922-1932
(American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress) This collection is a re-release of a large portion of Gordon's rare cylinder recordings, previously available only on LP. The music is raw and incredible (for instance, check out Mary C. Mann singing "Ol' Man Satan/Drive Ol' Satan Away" and "Finger Ring," recorded in Darien, Georgia, on April 12, 1926), and very well described, placed in context with detailed notes by Debora Kodish, Neil V. Rosenberg, and Joseph C. Hickerson.
Folkstreams Not actually a music archive, Folkstreams is the next best thing.  Available here for viewing are several dozen documentary films on folk music and folk culture, many of them otherwise hard to find.  There are excellent films on Bois Sec Ardoin and Canray Fontenot, Sarah Ogan Gunning, Texas fiddling, "T-Bone" Walker, the Balfa Brothers, Texas prison songs, Madison County, North Carolina, ballad singing, and much more.

Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol
(Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina) This site is worth a visit, though it functions as a teaser for the broader collection, showcasing hillbilly music in a variety of materials and sound clips.

Hispano Music & Culture from the Northern Rio Grande:
The Juan B. Rael Collection (Library of Congress American Memory) This collection features recordings of music from Spanish-speaking residents of rural northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, such as "alabados (hymns), folk drama, wedding songs, and dance tunes."

The Honking Duck An excellent, deceptively low-key site, provides 701 recordings of old-time music taken from classic 78s from the 1920s through the 1940s. The records feature string bands, dance calling, Sacred Harp singing, skits, ballads, popular songs, etc.  All of these recordings are from 78s originally owned by Jim Bollman.  Honking Duck cautions, "The sound of these recordings is not great. Each tune started on a 'well loved' 78, then went through two generations of cassette tape, then MiniDisc, AIFF, and RealAudio. A few of the beginnings and endings got chopped off along the way. I didn't try to remove any scratches or pops.”

The John Donald Robb Field Recordings (1944-1979) This extensive and excellent collection of MP3s contains recordings of unaccompanied ballad singing, string bands, fiddling, cowboy songs, and other music from Anglo-, Hispanic, Mexican, and Native American musicians in New Mexico, Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado (as well as a few from the Southeast).

The John Quincy Wolf Folk Song Collection This site presents material recorded by John Quincy Wolf between 1952 and 1970, including songs and tunes recorded at the First Annual Arkansas Folk Festival in Mountain View, Arkansas, in 1963.  Featured are a collection of Sacred Harp recordings, and a rare recording of Bukka White talking to and playing for Wolf's folklore class in 1970 or 1971.  There are also articles and other information.
Juneberry78s The Roots Music Listening Room section of this website offers hundreds of old-time and other recordings drawn from 78s and available as MP3 downloads.  The site requests that users limit themselves to 35-40 song downloads per day, but you can listen all you want.

Alan Lomax Collection (American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress) The name about says it all to anyone with an interest in old-time and other traditional music. Includes here is information about the vast materials that Lomax created and gathered that are now housed at the Library of Congress.  There are a few sound files here, but for audio you are better off going to the John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip collection (see below).

The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip
(Library of Congress American Memory) The Lomaxes captured these approximately 700 recordings of traditional music on a 6,502-mile recording trip through the South in 1939.  Supplementing the sound files here are photographs, notes, and other materials.

The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection
http://maxhunter.missouristate.eduThis page features 1,600 recordings of Ozark traditional folk songs, recorded between 1956 and 1976 by Max Hunter, a traveling salesman from Springfield, Missouri.  There are a large number of Child ballads in several different versions, which are cross-indexed.  Each song file also helpfully includes the lyrics.  The files in this Folk Song Collection are available in RealAudio, as downloadable AIFF files, or, if for some reason you can tolerate a MIDI file, in that format as well. 

Música de la Frontera: Archive of Mexican-American Music Rivaling the Digital Library of Appalachia in scale, information, and significance (though the limits placed on each sound sample due to copyright dilute its magnificence a bit), Música de la Frontera was created out of the collection of Arhoolie founder Chris Strachwitz. This incredible bounty of 30,000 recordings (12,000 from 78s) is "the largest repository of Mexican and Mexican-American vernacular recordings in existence".  Found among these fine recordings are examples of all the many styles of borderlands music.

Musics of Alabama This is a free collection of thirty recordings of different traditional music styles, compiled by the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, to highlight the diversity of the state's folk music.  There are four volumes of this collection, though only the first volume is available for free download in its entirety.

The Northeast Mississippi Documentation Project This site features music and images from a 14-county area in the northeastern corner of Mississippi, recorded in 2002 and 2003 by Wiley Prewitt.  Among the recordings are music from Church of the Living God in Toccopola, and from a dulcimer festival in Tishomingo County.

"Now What a Time": Blues, Gospel and the Fort Valley Music Festivals
(Library of Congress American Memory) Another fine Library of Congress collection with recordings from the folk festival at Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia. The collection also includes tracks from Tennessee and Alabama, recorded by John Wesley Work III between 1938 and 1941. The introduction notes, "One interesting feature of this collection is the topical rewording of several standard gospel songs to address the wartime concerns of the performers."

Pilgrim Productions Presents Voices Across America An unusual site, Pilgrim Productions provides an array of gospel of music from around the country, including shape note singing, black gospel, bluegrass gospel, Cajun gospel, and several other styles, all of it uploaded by people across the country.  This is homemade music of widely varying ability levels, which otherwise would not be heard outside of these artists’ often tiny communities. 

Public Domain 4U You have to wade through some nonsense at the top of the page, but scroll down a bit and this site provides a great many old-time and blues MP3s, all of them owned by all of us.  You can listen online on a nifty little player, or download the MP3s.

The St. James Sessions This excellent site features information and recordings from the great but not well known sessions at the St. James Hotel in Knoxville in 1929 and ‘30.  Artists whose recordings can be found here include the "Appalachian Vagabond" (Hayes Shepard), Ridgel's Fountain Citians, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, and Ballard Cross (singing his original version of “Wabash Cannonball”).
South Georgia Folklife Collection Among other resources here, archived radio shows cover many different aspects of the region's folklife and music, such as fiddle traditions, Sacred Harp singing, hollering, auctioneering, and hymn-lining.

Traditional Mountain Gospel Maintained by Dovesong, this site offers MP3s of old-time gospel music from the 1920s-1950s.
Venerable Music

Though this is attached to the commercial site for this retailer, Venerable Radio is a notable standalone feature that is always worth a visit.  The selection digs deep and there are a lot of surprises, which is not always the case with this type of sites.  There is also a very effective request menu.

Voices from the Dust Bowl:  The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection (Library of Congress American Memory)

This collection features music and other materials frommigrant work camps in central California in 1940 and 1941, including "dance tunes, cowboy songs, traditional ballads, square dance and play party calls, camp council meetings, camp court proceedings, conversations, storytelling sessions, and personal experience narratives of the Dust Bowl refugees who inhabited the camps."

Wisconsin Folksong Collection, 1937-1946 collection presented here documents music recorded on four different trips made by "song catcher" Sidney Robertson Cowell in the summer of 1937, and Helene Stratman-Thomas in the summers of 1940, ‘41, and ‘46.  There are many vocal tracks, and recordings of lumberjack songs, fiddle, accordion, guitar, Ho-Chunk drums, Hardanger fiddle, and even instruments like the psalmodikon and tamburica.

Cylinder sites:
Following are a few cylinder sites, in order of overall utility.  Though these sites do not exclusively offer old-time music, it is pretty hard not to be entranced by the recordings given their age and rarity, and it is not uncommon to find versions of popular songs among these recordings that reemerged as "old-time" songs.

Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project the best cylinder archive site on the Web, this site has very old recordings of all varieties (the oldest dates to 1894).  It provides a number of old-time songs and fiddle tunes, as well as Hawaiian music, gospel, and even recordings of whistling.  There are a number of different ways to browse the collection, and a streaming radio feature with music by early black artists and composers. 

The Cylinder Archive

A good source for digitized versions of extremely old recordings on cylinder from the 1890s to the 1920s, with new material released once a month.  The collection at features many more recordings, all of which can be heard instantly on an embedded player without having to download them.

Another site dedicated to very old recordings, which provides a new song each month. 

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