Macklemore’s 2013 tribute to thrift shops articulates the enduring association of creative output with secondhand commerce. Voluntary secondhand dress persists precisely because it suggests both cultural and economic distinction. It satisfies a desire to be seen as different than the average consumer dupe, as willing to invest time in the cultivation of originality without utilizing class and wealth privilege. In reality, however, secondhand economies and styles throughout the twentieth century are much more complicated; studying them reveals the futility of pursuing an effective anti-consumer consumption. But whatever the continuing or resurgent stigmas and social critiques of secondhand products may be, many creative dressers continue to agree with Macklemore’s concise assessment: “This is fucking awesome.” Continue Reading Jennifer Le Zotte: Poppin’ Tags: How Musicians Helped Make Used Clothes Fashionable
Twenty years later, dances remain an important part of reservation social life, where live bands play up-tempo songs and couples mostly dance the two-step, a partner dance moving in a counter-clockwise direction. Dance bands play four-hour sets, typically 9 pm to 1 am, and take one break in the middle. The “sweet spot” for these dances is between 12 and 1: this is when the band is really warmed up, the dancers are relaxed, and dancers come out in large numbers onto the dance floor. It’s a short-lived space, nestled between lots of starts and stops and logistical glitches, but catching it is well worth the wait. For me, it’s a bit of time-capsuled, Navajo reservation magic. Continue Reading Kristina M. Jacobsen: “Won’t You Be With Me Tonight (After the Ace’s Wild Dance)”?: Navajo Country Bands, Stage Patter, and Rodeo Announcers
What struck me this time after many months away overseas is the subtle ways that Diné cultural sovereignty is practiced in this informal economy, where unemployment on the Navajo Nation currently hovers above 50%, and where tribal citizens are incredibly creative about ways to make ends meet in order to live on or close to their ancestral homeland (a statement about sovereignty and connection to homeland in its own right). Although not an explicitly “political” space, Diné citizens express their attachments to being Diné through what they choose—or refuse—to sell in this public space. Continue Reading Kristina M. Jacobsen: The Gallup Flea Market and Navajo Cultural Sovereignty
We have celebrated the theme of Community for the past several days with our sibling publishers in the Association of American University Presses’ #UPweek. Today we invite you into our own virtual rolodex to introduce you to just some of the many partner organizations with whom we have collaborated to make many of your favorite books and journals possible. Continue Reading University Press Week 2016 Blog Tour Day 5: #FF UNC Press Publishing Partners
John Hammond’s knack for discovering talent was so uncanny, so unparalleled in the history of American music, that it’s regularly celebrated. It is, however, rarely examined. Perhaps, that’s because scrutiny can come off as suspiciousness poisoned by ungratefulness. Continue Reading Michael Jarrett: John Hammond’s Golden Ears
Early record men, therefore, most resembled movie producers, not movie directors. Ultimately, their control derived from the power to grant or to deny access to capital. “I invented Louis Armstrong,” said Ralph Peer in a 1959 interview with Lillian Borgeson. Continue Reading Michael Jarrett: Early Record Men: How Talent Scouts, Managers, Recording Supervisors, Publishers, and A&R Men Shaped Music
Gina Mahalek: What is Kīkā Kila? What does it sound like?
John W. Troutman: Kīkā Kila is a Hawaiian expression for describing both a type of guitar and a technique for playing it. The instrument, also known as a “steel guitar,” a “lap steel,” a “dobro,” or a “Hawaiian guitar,” among other names and associations, developed in the Islands in the 1880s and 1890s. Players would physically modify a “standard” guitar, add steel strings to it, and fabricate finger picks and a steel bar, about 3” in length (the instrument is named after this bar). After creating new, open tunings for the guitar, players would place the guitar in their laps, pluck the strings with finger picks on one hand, and then, with their other hand, slide the steel bar along the strings, located high above the fretboard. The technique created an entirely new sound for the guitar, one that better mimicked both the gentle rising and falling of a somber human voice as well as the melodic acrobatics that Hawaiian falsetto singers were becoming known for at the time. Hawaiians soon began creating all sorts of other sound effects on the steel guitar, and very quickly, it became the most important accompanying (as well as lead melodic) instrument in Hawaiian music. Continue Reading Interview: John W. Troutman on Kīkā Kila
Videos from Charles Hughes’s YouTube playlist to accompany his book Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South. Continue Reading Video: Country Soul Playlist by Charles L. Hughes
Gina Mahalek: What was the Manhattan Musical Marketplace that you discuss in your book?
David Gilbert: This is a term that I coined to explain the historical formation of New York City as the center of American popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century. I think that many music fans, musicians, and scholars kind of take for granted that NYC has always been America’s capital of popular entertainment, and I wanted to tell the story about how this came to be. Rather than assume Broadway Theater and Tin Pan Alley song publishing just naturally developed into leading culture industries, I want to call attention to the moment in which these spaces—and their connotations—developed. And I want to emphasize African Americans’ roles in creating both New York’s unique culture markets and important facets of American popular culture. Continue Reading Interview: David Gilbert on the birth of the Manhattan musical marketplace
The reason social critics and entertainers still point out white appropriation when they see it is because the American public, and its leaders, have not matured the way black music and culture have. Even though millions of whites may profess to love and respect black music, their daily decisions—and those of their elected and institutional leaders—indicate that they do not love black people. Continue Reading David Gilbert: Who Owns Black Culture?: Racial Appropriation and the Marketplace
Often overlooked in studies of Cuban musicians during the golden age of Latin popular music in the United States are the contributions of Afro-Cuban women singers. Two of the most prominent performers during the1940s and1950s were Graciela Pérez Grillo, lead singer for Machito y sus Afro-Cubans, and Celia Cruz, lead singer for La Sonora Matancera. Continue Reading Christina D. Abreu: Cuban Women Singers and the Mid-Twentieth Century Latin Music Scene, or, Celia and Graciela
It is certainly an interesting time for the creation, selling, and distribution of popular music (not to mention less-popular music, like jazz and classical, which encounter even more drastic dilemmas, as recently pointed out at Salon.com). Many of the artists taking a stand against the new status quo in recorded music allude to the history of music making in the United States, often referring back to earlier eras wherein musicians received unfair deals from recording companies and large majorities of performers struggled to make a living, even as a “top 1%” of musicians dominated sales and marketing. This look back to history makes sense. Continue Reading David Gilbert: The Streaming Music Debate: Some Historical Context
Musically, there continues to be a deep stylistic overlap between country and soul. Some of the biggest country stars of today utilize the sounds and songs of R&B, while many contemporary soul and hip-hop artists (particularly from the South) bring the characteristics of country onto their records. Then there are the folks in the middle—many of whom, like Jason Isbell or Valerie June, are from the triangle—who draw from both traditions and blend them together in new and interesting ways. It remains one of the deepest wells of American music. Continue Reading Interview: Charles L. Hughes on Country Soul
Pete was seventeen years of age in 1936 when he accompanied his father to Asheville to attend Lunsford’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. During Fiona Ritchie and my Wayfaring Strangers book interview with Pete at his home above the Hudson River, Pete recalled that “ordinary working people were making fantastically good music.” The youthful Pete Seeger was mesmerized as Lunsford presided on the spotlighted stage over a parade of square-dance teams, family string bands, singers, fiddlers, and banjo players. There Pete had his formative exposure to the five-string banjo played by Samantha Bumgarner, from whom he acquired his first such instrument. Pete recalled that Lunsford patiently showed him basic banjo licks that Pete would practice and perfect over subsequent years. Continue Reading Doug Orr: A Young Pete Seeger Encounters Music of the Appalachians
Criticism and embrace of identity terms like “Hispanic” and “Latino/a” have been longstanding in the field of Latino/a Studies. Puerto Ricans, Flores argued, share more in common with African Americans than with other Latino/a groups. He contended that Puerto Ricans and African Americans experience similar forms of racial and ethnic subordination in the United States because of parallels in their location in urban areas, their socioeconomic status, and their position as colonized subjects of the same nation-state. Continue Reading Christina D. Abreu: In Honor of Professor Juan Flores
Congratulations to Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr for their New York Times Bestseller, Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia! We’re giving away 5 signed copies to our subscribers!
To celebrate, the UNC Press is giving away six signed copies of Wayfaring Stranger when you sign up for our monthly e-newsletter in the Music, Travel, or Appalachian Studies categories. Just enter your name and email address and subscribe to the Music, Travel, and/or Appalachian Studies mailing list(s). Continue Reading Enter to Win a Signed Copy of New York Times Bestseller ‘Wayfaring Strangers’
It is generally known that the American banjo’s origins trace back to West Africa and a gourd-like instrument the gnomi, among other names. However, the plantations were something of an incubator for music of the African American slaves in a variety of forms: the fiddle, learned at the plantation house; the call-and-response work songs from the toil of the plantation fields; spirituals stemming from church worship—often clandestine services or camp meetings with hidden messages of freedom’s call; and the hush lullabies sung by mammies to their babies, and sung with irony to the children of the plantation overlords. Continue Reading Doug Orr: The Profound African American Influence on Appalachian Music
In Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia, the songs have always been viewed as more important than any one individual singer. The anonymous authorship of much of the repertoire meant that no one questioned the fact that people often had their own family versions of ballads, or that they varied in different geographical areas. The tradition of singing and passing songs on has had an unbroken momentum across time and place. In fact, the urge to make music and share it has been even more vital than the repertoire itself. Like any good story, a good song (and the ballads are all stories after all) will live on. It’s the same with strong melodies: they also often have independent lives and may be paired up with many songs and different dances. No one owns this stuff. It belongs to everyone. Continue Reading Interview: Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr on the Music of Appalachia
When NPR first partnered with me in presenting The Thistle & Shamrock®, we talked about using my radio show to open a doorway into a world of evolving Celtic music traditions for public radio listeners. I could never have imagined how far that door would swing open my way, too, helping inspire my search for the depth of connection that underpins our migration story in Wayfaring Strangers. Continue Reading Fiona Ritchie: Living Is Collecting
Help us make a great book even better! We need your support to insert a CD of music in every copy of a forthcoming book about Scots-Irish music in Appalachia. Listen to a sample to hear what’s in store. Continue Reading Give the Gift of Music: Listen and Support Wayfaring Strangers