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October 5, 2001
American Folklife Center To Begin Concert Series
"Homegrown: The Music of America" is the title of a new concert series of traditional music and dance drawn from communities across the United States that will be sponsored by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, beginning on October 24. Reviving a Library tradition of folk music presentations that dates to the 1940s, the noontime concerts will be held at the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building.
"We will be working with federal and state folklorists, and other professionals from associated fields, to identify performing groups noted for their excellence in presenting authentic community-based musical traditions," said Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center.
The series will open on October 24 with a performance by Eddie Pennington on the Neptune Plaza (rain location: Coolidge Auditorium), a thumb picking guitarist from Kentucky who was recently named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. The complex guitar-picking style known as thumb picking was born in a particular area of western Kentucky, Muhlenburg County. Popularized by Merle Travis and further developed by instrumentalists such as Chet Atkins, this music had a common source in Mose Rager, a guitarist from the region. Eddie Pennington, the son of a coal miner, also learned to play guitar from Mose Rager, but he stayed home in Princeton, Kentucky, to become a county coroner and funeral director.
Music was a part of his family heritage. Relatives say that his great-great grandfather, Edward Alonzo Pennington, was a fiddler who was unfairly convicted of murder and who played a tune still played today called "Pennington's Farewell" as he sat on his coffin watching the hangman prepare the noose. Eddie's father played fiddle and exposed his son to songs about the life of a coal miner. Today, Mr. Pennington continues to play this ornamental instrumental style, enlivening his public performances with humorous stories about his experiences as a funeral director. He has recently been featured on stages at the National Folk Festival, as part of the Folk Masters series at the Barns of Wolf Trap and on the Masters of the Steel String Guitar Tour.
On November 15, 2001, at noon, a gospel brass band from the United House of Prayer will perform in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium, the second offering in the new "Homegrown" series. On November 16, at noon, Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Peggy Seeger, and Oscar Brand will also perform in the Coolidge Auditorium. The series will resume from May to November of next year, with dates and performers to be announced. All concerts are free.
The Library of Congress has a long history of folk music concerts, which dates to December 20, 1940, when Alan Lomax presented the Golden Gate Quartet, with Josh White on guitar, to a Washington audience. A folk music concert, September 23, 1976, on the Library's Neptune Plaza celebrated the U.S. bicentennial and the opening of the front doors to the Thomas Jefferson Building. The success of that event led to a "Neptune Plaza Concert Series," sponsored by the newly created American Folklife Center, that lasted for 19 years.
The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival presentation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.
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