June 26, 2017 Singer Billy Bragg To Discuss the British Skiffle Music Craze
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The roots of skiffle as a musical genre and its influence on popular music will be discussed in a book talk by singer and guitarist Billy Bragg at 7 p.m., Friday, July 21, at the Library of Congress in the Mumford Room, located on the sixth floor of the James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is co-sponsored by the Library’s American Folklife Center and the Folklore Society of Greater Washington.
The program is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required. A book signing is scheduled following the talk. The event also will be livestreamed on the Library’s Facebook page at facebook.com/libraryofcongress and its YouTube site (with captions) at youtube.com/LibraryOfCongress.
Best known as a popular singer-songwriter whose music has affinities with both punk and folk, Bragg has written a history of skiffle, a homegrown music craze that helped create both the folk and rock music scenes in Great Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. In his book, “Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World,” Bragg examines the moment in history following World War II when British teens transformed the country’s pop music from a jazz-based musical form into the guitar-led sound that changed the world of music.
Skiffle is a catchy name for a do-it-yourself music movement led by British working-class kids who grew up during the dreary post-war rationing years. All that was needed to form a group were three guitar chords, a bass made from a tea-chest and a washboard as a rhythm section. 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 at the Library of Congress) and soon sales of guitars rocketed from 5,000 to 250,000 a year.
Skiffle is the main reason the guitar came to the forefront of music in the United Kingdom, leading directly to both the U.K. folk scene and British rock ‘n’ roll, including the British invasion of the U.S. charts in the 1960s. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, David Bowie, Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, and the Watersons all got their starts playing skiffle.
Bragg is a British singer, songwriter and activist, whose music blends elements of folk, punk and protest songs with political and romantic lyrics. His most recent album is “Shine a Light,” which was recorded with Joe Henry. The album features several songs, including “Rock Island Line” that were integral to the skiffle movement. The original source of these songs was field recordings in the American Folklife Center.
The Folklore Society of Greater Washington (FSGW) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving and promoting traditional folk arts in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. FSGW presents dozens of folk events in the area each year, including festivals, concerts, dances and swaps. Visit fsgw.org.
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 preservation, reference, service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. For more information on the center, visit loc.gov/folklife/.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.