My father recently sent along a copy of a new CD from Spring Fed Records entitled John Work, III: Recording Black Culture. This is a recording of great interest for anyone who cares about African American culture in the South in the mid-20th century.
A Fisk University professor, Work helped the better-known folklorist Alan Lomax collect songs in the African American community, but he also collected songs on his own. Late last year, the New York Times published a terrific article on this CD and Work’s efforts to record African-Americans.
Where Mr. Lomax tended to treat black vernacular music as an artifact in need of preservation, Mr. Work sought to document it as it was unfolding. Thus on “Recording Black Culture,” instead of spirituals harking back to the 19th century, we hear febrile gospel shouting set to the cadences of what soon would become rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll.
Bruce Nemerov, who won a Grammy Award for the liner notes to Recording Black Culture, spoke at the Rutherford County Historical Society, which was where my father learned of the recording and bought the CD. The first two tunes are fiddle/banjo duets that are in the tradition which will be showcased by the Carolina Chocolate Drops on Monday at the Kennedy Center. There’s also a terrific tune, Walk Around in Dry Bones, by the Nashville institution The Fairfield Four. You may have seen them in O Brother Where Art Thou (they are the gravediggers near the end of the movie), but if you want to get a taste of this wonderful black gospel sound, check out the YouTube video below.
This CD showcases a great little label – Spring Fed Records – which is the records division of the Cannon County Arts Center near my hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. My brother and his wife contribute some of the photography to these recordings, which feature:
…the highest quality digital mastering, interpretive liner notes, engaging graphic design and, of course, the finest old-time music around.
More to come…