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Benjamin A. Botkin head and shoulders portrait
Folklorist Benjamin A. Botkin, 1926. Photo courtesy of the Botkin family.
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Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series

Through the Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series, the American Folklife Center (AFC) presents distinguished experts speaking about their research and current issues and best practices in folklore, folklife, ethnomusicology, and related fields. Lectures are recorded for the AFC archive and posted on the Library's website. (See below for list of speakers and topics.) The series honors Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975), a pioneering folklorist who headed the Library's Archive of American Folksong from 1942-1945.


2017 Botkin Lectures

 

Conversations with Smithsonian Folklife Festival Artists: Roy Hirabayashi (co-founder) and PJ Hirabayashi (artistic director emeriti), San Jose Taiko
Moderated by Dan Sheehy, director emeritus of Smithsonian Folkways Records

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Roy and PJ Hirabayashi with drums.
Roy and PJ Hirabayashi. Photo by Tom Pich.
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June 30, 2017, Noon-1:00 pm
Whittall Pavilion, Ground floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

Acknowledged as one of the premier music ensembles in the United States, San Jose Taiko has mesmerized audiences and critics alike with the powerful, spellbinding and propulsive sounds of taiko, the Japanese drum.  Founded in 1973 by young Asian Americans searching to convey their experiences as third generation Japanese Americans, and inspired by traditional Japanese drumming, company performers express the beauty and harmony of the human spirit through the voice of the taiko as they strive to create new dimensions in music and movement. NEA Heritage Fellows, Roy and PJ Hirabayashi, will discuss the power of taiko to create and sustain community. Presented in conjunction with the 2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

Flowing Tides: Musical Memory, History and Global Culture in County Clare, Ireland
a book talk and signing by Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, Concordia University, Montreal

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Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin playing a concertina
Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin
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July 11, 2017, Noon-1:00 pm
Whittall Pavilion, Ground floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

Despite its isolation on the western edge of Europe, Ireland occupies vast amounts of space on the music maps of the world. Although deeply rooted in time and place, Irish songs, dances and instrumental traditions have a history of global travel that span the centuries. Whether carried by exiles or distributed by commercial networks, Irish traditional music is one of the most popular World Music genres, and Clare, on Ireland's Atlantic seaboard, enjoys unrivaled status as a "Home of the Music," a mecca for tourists and aficionados eager to enjoy the authentic sounds of Ireland.  Musician and ethnomusicologist Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin discusses Clare as a site of musical pilgrimage that has absorbed the impact of global cultural flows for centuries while simultaneously facilitating outflows of musical change to the world beyond. Placing the testimony of music and music makers at the center of Irish cultural history and working from a palette of disciplines, he explores an Irish soundscape undergoing radical change in the period from the Napoleonic Wars to the Great Famine and from the birth of the nation state to the meteoric rise-and fall-of the Celtic Tiger. A book signing will follow the talk.

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Book cover, Flowing Tides: History and Memory in an Irish Soundscape
Cover: Flowing Tides: History and Memory in an Irish Soundscape
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Professor Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin is an award-winning Irish musician, ethnomusicologist, and cultural historian. Formerly Jefferson Smurfit Professor of Irish Studies and Professor of Music at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, he holds the bilingual Johnson Chair in Quebec and Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia University, Montreal. A native of Clare, he has performed, broadcast, adjudicated and lectured on Irish music throughout Europe and North America. He is the author of A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music, as well as numerous recordings, chapters, and articles on Irish music and culture. His book Flowing Tides: History and Memory in an Irish Soundscape was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

 

Billy Bragg talks about his book:
Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World

a book talk and signing by Billy Bragg, singer-songwriter and activist

July 21, 2017, 7:00-9:00 pm
Mumford Room, 6th Floor, James Madison Building
Library of Congress

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Book cover with a photo of young men in a band playing guitars and a washboard.
Cover of Roots Radicals and Rockers:How Skiffle Changed the World
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"Skiffle" is a catchy name for a do-it-yourself music craze that swept Britain in the 1950s, primarily influenced by American jazz, blues, folk, and roots music. Like punk rock, which would flourish two decades later, Skiffle was homemade music: all you needed were three guitar chords and you could form a group, with mates playing tea-chest bass and washboard as a rhythm section. Emerging from the trad-jazz clubs of the early '50s, skiffle was adopted by the first generation of British "teenagers": working class kids who grew up during the dreary, post-war rationing years. Before skiffle, the pop culture was dominated by crooners and mediated by a stuffy BBC. Lonnie Donegan hit the charts in 1956 with a version of "Rock Island Line" (a song first recorded as a field recording and then by Lead Belly for the American Folklife Center archive) and soon sales of guitars rocketed from 5,000 to 250,000 a year.

The story of skiffle is a tale of jazz pilgrims and blues blowers, Teddy boys and beatnik girls, coffee-bar bohemians and refugees from the McCarthy­ite witch hunts. Skiffle is the main reason the guitar came to the forefront of music in the UK, and in this sense led directly to both the UK folk scene and British rock and roll, including the British Invasion of the US charts in the 1960s. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Faces, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and David Bowie—not to mention Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, and the Watersons—all got their start playing skiffle.

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Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg. Photo by Andy Whale.
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Roots, Radicals and Rockers is the first book to explore the skiffle phenomenon in depth. Billy Bragg's meticulously researched and joyous account shows how skiffle sparked a revolution that shaped pop music as we have come to know it. A book signing will follow the talk.

Billy Bragg is an English singer-songwriter and political activist. His music blends elements of folk, punk, and protest songs, with lyrics that mostly treat political or romantic themes. In addition to his own acclaimed recordings, many of his songs, such as "A New England," "Between the Wars," and "Valentine’s Day Is Over," have been covered by others, including Kirsty MacColl, The Watchmen, and June Tabor. In the late 1990s, Billy Bragg and the band Wilco were asked to set some of Woody Guthrie’s unrecorded lyrics to mu­sic. The results were three albums known as The Mermaid Avenue Sessions, as well as the film documentary Man in the Sand, which made Billy Bragg an integral part of the Woody Guthrie story. Bragg's most recent album is Shine a Light, recorded with Joe Henry. For the album, Bragg and Henry traveled across the U.S. by train, and recorded classic railroad songs in train stations along the way. The album features several songs, including "Rock Island Line," which were integral to the skiffle movement, and which were originally known from field recordings in the American Folklife Center archive. Bragg has spent several years researching and writing about skiffle in this exciting new book.

This event is co-sponsored by the Folklore Society of Greater Washington.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

The Fantastic Worlds of Chinese Opera Theater in North America
Nancy Yunwa Rao, Rutgers University

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Nancy Yunwa Raoh
Nancy Yunwa Rao
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August 9, 2017, Noon-1:00 pm
Whittall Pavilion, Ground floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

The Chinatown opera theater provided Chinese immigrants in North America with an essential source of entertainment during the pre–World War II era. Its compelling stories of legends, passions and warriors also attracted diverse patrons into Chinese American communities. In this presentation, Professor Rao unmasks a backstage world of performers, performances, and repertoire as well as the spellbound audiences beyond the footlights. She discusses how the circulation of stellar actors and actresses created a vibrant performing network of Cantonese opera in North America during the 1920s, and also explores how Chinatown theaters played a role in constructing Chinese American identities as well as in the birth of ultra-modern music in America. 

Nancy Yunwa Rao is professor of Music at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. Her recent work highlights the much-neglected musical history of Chinese in North America and transnational issues in the production and opera performance in these Chinatown theaters. Her book, Chinatown Theater in North America (University Illinois Press, 2017) includes analysis of opera arias, playbills, performing networks, stage spectacles, and more. As a music theorist, Rao has explored intersections between China and the West, in particular global perspectives in contemporary Chinese music. She has published on the use of music gestures, vocal styles, and percussion patterns of Beijing opera in contemporary music by composers of Chinese origin and also explored other aspects of American music, including the life and contributions of American composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. 

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

Peggy Seeger: A Life of Music, Love, and Politics
a talk and book signing by
Jean R. Freedman, Montgomery College and George Washington University

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Jean R. Freedman holding her book on Peggy Seeger
Jean R. Freedman
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September 7, 2017, Noon-1:00 pm
Whittall Pavilion, Ground floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

Born into one of folk music's foremost families, Peggy Seeger has been one of the leading voices in the Anglo-American folk revival for more than 60 years. As a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and political activist, Peggy Seeger forged an unconventional and artistically vibrant path. Drawing from her recently published biography of Seeger’s life and contributions as a performer, song writer, and activist on both sides of the Atlantic, Jean Freedman discusses Peggy Seeger’s career from the 1950s to the present day.

Jean Freedman is an adjunct professor at both Montgomery College and George Washington University. She received a PhD in folklore and ethnomusicology from Indiana University. Her first book, Whistling in the Dark: Memory and Culture in Wartime London, analyzed popular culture and political ideology in London during World War II. She has published articles about Scottish folk songs, Jewish folk theater, and unconventional Civil War soldiers, among other topics. Her latest book, Peggy Seeger: A Life of Music, Love, and Politics, has just been published by University of Illinois Press.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

Stetson Kennedy:  Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy
a book talk and signing by Peggy A. Bulger

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Peggy A. Bulger
Peggy A. Bulger
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September 19, 2017, Noon-1:00 pm
Whittall Pavilion, Ground floor
Thomas Jefferson Building

Stetson Kennedy (1916 - 2011) led a remarkable life as a political activist, writer, and folklorist. Yet, he is virtually unknown outside of his home state of Florida. His life was one of cultural advocacy and rebellion and his friends included Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax, Richard Wright, Jean-Paul Sartre, Zora Neale Hurston and others.  This talk explores the work of a remarkable man who was determined to make a positive difference in American life by using folklore and oral history as a vehicle for progressive change. 

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Book cover, Stetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy
Cover: Stetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy
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Dr. Peggy A. Bulger served as the director of the American Folklife Center from 1999-2011 before retiring to her adopted state of Florida, where she had previously served as the state's first folklorist and folklife administrator from 1975-1989. Her research on Stetson Kennedy, which began with her doctoral dissertation in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania, has recently been published by the Florida Historical Society as Stetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

Botkin Lecture Series Past Events Archive

Includes descriptions of each lecture, photos, and informational essays from the event flyers. Links to webcasts of lectures are included as available.

2016 Lecture Series

2015 Lecture Series

2014 Lecture Series

2013 Lecture Series

2012 Lecture Series

2011 Lecture Series

2010 Lecture Series

2009 Lecture Series

2008 Lecture Series

2007 Lecture Series

2006 Lecture Series

2005 Lecture Series

2004 Lecture Series

 

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   June 14, 2017
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