Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

July 29, 1997

"California Gold": New On-Line Collection of Traditional Music Debuts from the Library of Congress

"California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties," a multi-format ethnographic field collection from the American Folklife Center's Archive of Folk Culture, has just been made available on-line from the American Memory Collections of the National Digital Library Program (

This elaborate collection includes sound recordings, still photographs, drawings and manuscripts documenting the musical traditions of a variety of European ethnic and English- and Spanish-speaking communities in California. It comprises 35 hours of folk music recorded in 12 languages representing 185 musicians.

From 1938 to 1940, while in her 30s, Sidney Robertson Cowell, ethnographer and collector of traditional American music, singlehandedly organized and directed a Work Projects Administration program designed to survey musical traditions in northern California. Sponsored by the University of California at Berkeley and cosponsored by the Archive of American Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center) at the Library of Congress, this undertaking was one of the earliest ethnographic field projects to document English- and foreign-language traditional music in one region of the United States.

One-third of the recordings contain English-language material, and the other two-thirds feature the music of numerous ethnic groups, primarily European, including Armenian, Basque, Croatian, Finnish, Gaelic, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian (including Sicilian), Norwegian, Russian Molokan, Scottish and Spanish. Cowell also recorded music from Azorean Portuguese, Mexicans, Costa Ricans and Spanish- speaking settlers whose ancestors had come to California beginning in the 1600s.

In addition to Cowells field recordings, nearly 200 photographs, drawings and sketches of the musicians and their instruments, and hundreds of pages of field documentation and correspondence provide on-line background information on the folk music research undertaken during the project. Users of this multimedia on-line collection can hear the voices, see the faces and sample the cultural context of the performers who were recorded during the 1930s.

The National Digital Library Program aims to make freely available via the Internet millions of important items from the Library of Congresss collections. In addition to California Gold, another collection relating to the state, California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900," has also recently debuted. The collection offers 190 books about individual experiences in and on the way to California during and after Gold Rush.

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PR 97-124
ISSN 0731-3527

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