Smithsonian Institution
Search
Festival Blog
Festival Radio
Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

News and Events

June 24, 2014

Teacher Forum Goes GALACTIC at Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Indiana University Center for the Study of Global Change and Center for the Study of the Middle East, in concert with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s Cultural Heritage Policy and Cultural Education programs, will host a teacher’s forum at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on July 2 and 3. Drawing on the Indiana University pilot project “New Models for Teaching About Conflict in a Global Age,” participants will prepare the groundwork for a new initiative called GALACTIC: Global Arts – Local Arts – Curriculum Toward International Citizenship.  

GALACTIC is an Indiana University-based initiative with the long-term goal to create a global consortium of teachers with an arts- and culture-based approach to conflict studies, reconciliation, human rights awareness, and cultural heritage policy in virtual and face-to-face learning environments. One of the primary foci of GALACTIC is to identify cultural practices and policies that promote an understanding of the tensions as well as the commonalities among communities in contention.

The GALACTIC forum at the Folklife Festival will explore intercultural dialogue and collaborations that respect wholesome cultural distinctions and historically grounded identities. The program will consider the construction of new common-space national and cross-national norms of identity reflective of increased global connections among peoples and cultures. Foodways, music-making, folk healing, liturgical practices, language, and visual arts provide shared doorways into culturally diverse and yet at times parallel human expressions through which teachers can guide students in understanding, negotiating, cultivating, and creating new human experiences through the national, religious, and interethnic issues at play locally, nationally, and globally.

June 23, 2014

Young African Leaders to Participate in Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage will host a “Cultural Democracy and Statecraft” seminar on July 3, led by Cultural Heritage Policy director James Early and in collaboration with twenty-five members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

A flagship initiative of President Barack Obama and administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the YALI program is designed for the young leaders “to participate in a multidisciplinary itinerary of academic seminars, cultural and civic activities, and service learning projects geared toward public management … to prepare Fellows for follow-on leadership opportunities in Africa, with the goal of strengthening democratic institutions and spurring economic growth and development on the continent.” YALI’s goals intersect with the Center’s philosophy, mission, and applied cultural democracy and cultural sustainability policies and long-term collaborative planning of the Folklife Festival with citizens and governments.

The one-day seminar includes visits to the China: Tradition and the Art of Living and Kenya: Mambo Poa Folklife Festival programs and proactive-sharing among African participants about their awareness, ideas, questions, problematics, and proposals about why and how creative cultural expressions and knowledge systems in their respective countries and the African continent (e.g. medicinal, artisanal, philosophical, agricultural, and culinary) are already factored into policies or might be sustainably incorporated in democratic governance and policies of material and spiritual wellbeing.

For more information, contact seminar coordinators:
Dr. Jean Bailey, director of cultural and civic activities of the Howard University Washington Fellowship for YALI: jeanbaileyphd@aol.com, 202.421.5552
Sonja N. Woods, assistant: sonja2afrique@gmail.com, 919.724.9107

June 16, 2014

Human Tower of Catalan Protestors Featured in Smithsonian Magazine

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage director Michael Atwood Mason published an article in Smithsonian Magazine on June 13, featuring a peculiar protest that occurred around the world earlier this month. As part of the “Catalans want to vote. Human towers for democracy” campaign, courageous climbers stacked themselves atop one another in public squares in Barcelona and sixty other towns and cities.

“The Catalans are actively seeking international support for a referendum on November 9th, allowing a vote to settle the question of an independent state for the region. The Spanish government maintains that the Catalans have no legal right to pose this question, but most Catalans think that as members of European democracy, they can call for a non-binding plebiscite. The use of human towers to draw attention to the fact that they want their voices to be heard is a dramatic and intriguing display of a performance that was declared in 2010 by UNESCO as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.’”

Read the full article on smithsonianmag.com.

Human towers for democracy at the anniversary of Castellers in Barcelona. Photo by Matthias Oesterle/Demotix/Corbis

January 28, 2014

Smithsonian Folkways Remembers Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

The Smithsonian community was saddened to learn of the death of Pete Seeger Monday, January 27. Seeger, a venerated folklorist, musician and writer, performed and advocated for causes for more than seventy years.

Seeger was a national treasure, and the Smithsonian Institution is honored to have his recordings in its Smithsonian Folkways collection, which he and his family helped establish and support. Smithsonian Folkways—the Institution’s nonprofit record label—has sixty-seven albums in its collection with Seeger as the lead performer. Seeger and his wife Toshi (1922-2013) also served on the Smithsonian Folkways Advisory Board.

Smithsonian Folkways has created a tribute to Seeger, and members of the public are invited to share thoughts in the online guestbook.

“Pete Seeger showed us how folk music—music of the people, by the people, and for the people—has the power to inspire, to bring us together, and to make us think, through refrains such as ‘Oh when will they ever learn?’ He was a bard, a brother, and a bellwether to us all, a cornerstone of the Smithsonian Folkways record label. We will carry his legacy with us always.” – Daniel Sheehy, director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

“Pete Seeger was a giant of our time, and his voice and presence will be truly missed.” – Jeff Place, archivist and producer, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Seeger was involved in almost every important facet of American music. He was on the board of the Newport Folk Festival and has been a board member of Sing Out!, Smithsonian Folkways, and many other organizations. Since the 1960s, he has been involved in a successful fight to clean up his beloved Hudson River, near his Beacon, New York home. Along with the sloop The Clearwater, Seeger and others have spent years sailing the Hudson to sing songs in support of the river clean up to audiences in towns along the way. He and his wife Toshi ran the Clearwater Festival in New York state each year.

Right up until his death, Seeger continued to compose and perform folk music as well as advocate for social change. In January 2009, he led a crowd of hundreds of thousands sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” on the Lincoln Memorial steps during the pre-inauguration concert before Barack Obama became president of the United States.

He was nominated in 2014 for a GRAMMY Award for Best Spoken Word Album. Just days before his death, he helped organize a celebration of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Beacon, New York. He was out there doing what he felt was right, up to the end.

Seeger was a recipient of The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1993), The National Medal of Arts (1994), and the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Honor (1994); he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1996). He earned GRAMMY awards for Best Traditional Folk album in 1996 and 2008, and Best Children’s Album in 2010. In 2008 he earned The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for his commitment to peace and social justice as a musician, songwriter, activist, and environmentalist. He has also been suggested as a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pete Seeger. Photo by Diana Davis

December 3, 2013

Sabrina Lynn Motley Named Director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Sabrina Lynn Motley, senior director of programs and exhibitions at Asia Society Texas Center, has been appointed director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, effective Dec. 4. With a diverse background in arts, education, philanthropy and community engagement, Motley is known for the development of content-rich programming and a multidisciplinary approach to nurturing the work of artists and cultural organizations.

“Sabrina’s background reflects a passion for the ways in which public presentations are conceived, executed and evaluated,” said Michael Mason, director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “We will soon launch a new strategic plan calling for greater integration of the Center’s program areas, which will enable Sabrina to re-envision the Festival.”

In 2012, Motley was hired by Asia Society Texas Center to create a mission-driven framework for core programs in areas of arts and culture, business and policy, and education. Under Motley’s leadership, the Texas Center expanded its public offerings and strengthened its collaborative approach to program creation and implementation. Through performances, lectures, exhibitions and workshops, its programming reflected Houston’s rapidly changing demographics and its role as a gateway to Asia. While at the Texas Center, Motley oversaw the mounting of several critically acclaimed exhibitions, including Universe Is Flux: The Art of Tawara Yusaku, organized by the Indianapolis Museum, and Weavers’ Stories from Island Southeast Asia, organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Motley’s most recent exhibitions speak to her ongoing interest in exploring the creative lives of women and the role of traditional arts in contemporary life.

Motley received her bachelor’s degree from the World Arts & Cultures Program and a master’s degree in African studies at UCLA. She is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at UCLA, where she conducted research on the interplay between religious faith, doubt and social activism. An avid photographer and world music aficionada, for more than five years Motley was a popular host of “The Global Village,” KPFK 90.7 FM’s flagship music program. As a teacher, Motley has taught cultural anthropology at the Art Center College of Design and the Otis Institute for Art and Design.

“Since its inception in 1967, the Festival has been celebrated as the nation’s laboratory for cultural exchange and exploration through artist-focused, research-based programming,” said Motley. “As it approaches its 50th anniversary, we are charged with investigating new avenues to support cultural sustainability and vitality, using new tools such as social media to amplify the Festival’s mission even as it stays true to its core values and purpose.”

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, celebrates traditional culture with people from across the United States and around the world. The Festival includes daily programs of music, song and dance, crafts, occupational skills and cooking demonstrations, storytelling, workshops and narrative sessions for discussing cultural issues. It attracts approximately 1 million visitors a year. The Festival is a research-based production of the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. For more information about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, visit Festival.si.edu.


Media only:
Becky Haberacker
202-680-2042; haberackerb@si.edu
Linda St.Thomas
202-633-5188; stthomasl@si.edu

Sabrina Lynn Motley Named Director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by Richard Watson

October 30, 2013

Special program with Dr. Franklin Odo to celebrate the publication of
Voices from the Canefields: Folksongs from Japanese Immigrant Workers in Hawai`i

(Oxford University Press, 2013)

Date: Thursday, November 7, 2013, 6:00 pm
Location: National Museum of American History
Presidential Reception Suite (enter on Constitution Ave.)
1300 Constitution Ave NW
Washington D.C., 20560

6:00 to 6:30 - Book signing
Books will be available for sale
6:30 to 7:30 - Author’s presentation
7:30 to 8:00 - Book signing and refreshments

Event is free, no RSVP necessary.

Voices from the Canefields focuses on folk songs, holehole bushi, from Japanese plantation workers in Hawai`i. Holehole is the Native Hawaiian word for the withered and dying leaves of the sugar cane and the task of stripping them from the stalks. Bushi is the Japanese word for “tune” or “melody.”

This volume is based around the work of Harry Urata (1917-2009), who preserved and perpetuated the music for the holehole bushi. Beginning in the 1960s, he recorded interviews with aging immigrants who had sung these songs on rural plantations and in urban tea houses. As a whole, holehole bushi expresses the experiences of people caught in the global movements of capital, empire, and labor during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Voices from the Canefields, author Franklin Odo situates over two hundred of these songs, in translation, in a hitherto largely unexplored historical context.

Franklin Odo was the founding director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. He has also served as acting chief of the Asian Division of the Library of Congress, and he is currently leading the National Park Service initiative to address the under-representation of designations of Asian Pacific American historic sites. He will be accompanied by Glen Hirabayashi on the ukulele.

“Make room for another musical icon of regional America! Simple, direct, and powerful, the holehole bushi tradition shatters cultural stereotypes and grounds this niche of the Japanese American experience in its stark and trying historical reality. Historian Franklin Odo has parlayed Harry Minoru Urata's decades of song-hunting into a spectacular, engaging, and eye-opening view of a seminal Japanese American regional tradition.”
--Daniel Sheehy, director and curator, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Our American Journey: Smithsonian Immigration/Migration Initiative, and the National Museum of American History.

August 8, 2013

White House Workers: Traditions and Memories features “The Butler” Eugene Allen

On August 16, 2013, theaters will premiere Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a historical drama that follows the experience of an African American butler in the White House during eight presidential terms from 1952 to 1986. The film’s main character is based on Eugene Allen (1919–2010), a White House butler and maître d’ who witnessed the remaking of American racial history.

The Butler is not the first film that features Allen. In 1990, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage curator Dr. Marjorie Hunt began researching White House workers for the 1992 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Workers at the White House program. One of the results of the research was a 32-minute documentary, Workers at the White House, directed by Hunt, that features Allen and other workers who served many presidents. Hunt’s documentary, which was produced in collaboration with the White House Historical Association, also appears on the 2009 DVD, White House Workers: Traditions and Memories, along with an introduction by President Jimmy Carter; a 12-minute video accompanying the Smithsonian traveling exhibition, The Working White House; and two hours of additional interviews produced by Center curator James Deutsch and media director Charles Weber. The DVD illuminates the social and cultural history of America’s most famous residence, exploring the skills, customs, knowledge, and experience of a wide range of White House workers. The DVD contains Allen’s stories about the differing customs among first families, golf with President Ford, presidential birthday celebrations, and many others.

Watch the man who inspired The Butler on White House Workers: Traditions and Memories, and learn how the dedication, skills, and sacrifices of residence staff members have helped the White House fulfill its multiple roles as a family residence, seat of government, ceremonial center, historic building, and museum.

Other Videos:
Eugene Allen and First Lady Nancy Reagan
Eugene Allen and President Carter

White House Workers: Traditions and Memories features “The Butler” Eugene Allen

April 24, 2013

Remembering Olive Lewin (1927-2013)

Olive Lewin—a renowned Jamaican folklorist, musicologist, singer, actress, and community servant—passed away on April 10, 2013, at the age of eighty-five. The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage was honored to work with her on past Folklife Festivals, including the African Diaspora program (1973-1976) and The Caribbean: Cultural Encounters in the New World program (1989).

Read a tribute by James Early (Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage)

Read a tribute by Jake Homiak (Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology)

February 11, 2013

Association for Critical Heritage Studies – US Chapter Launch Event on February 20th

On February 20, 2013, 6 - 7:30 p.m., representatives of the Association for Critical Heritage Studies (ACHS) will be launching its U.S. Chapter at Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Find out more about this event.

January 31, 2013

The Stone Carvers Screening at MoMA, February 3, 2:30 pm

CFCH curator Marjorie Hunt joins co-director Paul Wagner at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a screening of their documentary about the Italian American stone carvers who worked on the Washington Cathedral. This screening is part of the Museum’s series “Oscar’s Docs, 1955-2002: American Series,” which features a selection of Oscar-winning films. Find out more about the series and the screening schedule.

<i>The Stone Carvers</i> Screening at MoMA, February 3, 2:30 pm

January 15, 2013

Roberto Martínez (1929-2013): Appreciating a Musical Life

Roberto Martínez (1929-2013) was a prominent musician, composer, and standard bearer of northern New Mexican-southern Coloradan musical tradition. He was born in the heartland of New Mexico’s 400-year-old Hispanic community, in the village of Mora, and he lived most of his life in Albuquerque with his wife Ramona and his musically talented children. Roberto was the mainstay of the prominent New Mexican ensemble Los Reyes de Albuquerque, the founder of the regional record label Minority Owned Record Enterprises (M.O.R.E.), and the author of regionally prominent corridos (narrative ballads) that instilled cultural pride and the struggle for social justice.  He performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on several occasions, he toured nationally with the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and he received the National Endowment for the Arts’ prestigious National heritage Fellowship. Today, the M.O.R.E. collection is part of the Smithsonian Folkways family of historic record labels, part of the national museum’s permanent holdings.

Read an appreciation of Roberto Martínez by Smithsonian Folkways Director and Curator Daniel Sheehy.

January 14, 2013

Save the Date! January 30, 2013—The Will to Adorn lecture by Diana Baird N’Diaye at the Library of Congress

January 30, 2013, 12:00 noon - 1:00 pm
Whitthall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building
101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington DC

Diana Baird N'Diaye will present on The Will to Adorn: Reflections on African American Identity and the Aesthetics of Dress as part of the Benjamin A. Botkin Foklife Lecture Series at the Library of Congress. Diana, who is a cultural heritage specialist and curator at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, will share stories, observations, and insights from The Will to Adorn, a community-centered research and public presentation project, which explores and examines the diversity of African American cultural identities as expressed through traditional arts of the body, dress, and adornment. The project, which includes the work and perspectives of researchers and cultural practitioners across the United States, challenges notions of a monolithic African American community at the same time that it explores the ways that dress and body adornment are powerful expressive art forms grounded in the history and experiences of people of African descent in the nation.

Through the Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series, the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress presents the best of current research and practice in folklore, folklife, and closely related fields. The series invites professionals from academia and the public sector to present findings from their research. The lectures are free and open to the public. In addition, each lecture is recorded for permanent deposit in the Archive of Folk Culture, where researchers can access them.

For more information, contact the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress: (202) 707-5510.  

Diana Baird N’Diaye

December 26, 2012

Mahalo and Aloha, Senator Daniel K. Inouye

As members of the public pay their last respects to Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage recalls the honor of his participation in three Center projects: the Hawai‘i Folklife Festival (1989), the National World War II Reunion (2004), and the Asian Pacific Americans: Local Lives, Global Ties Festival program.

The Senator, who passed away on December 17, 2012, has left behind a remarkable legacy that includes military service and a Congressional Medal of Honor, over a half-century in national politics, and a lifetime commitment to championing the causes of his home state of Hawai‘i and furthering the civil rights of all Americans.

CFCH media director Charlie Weber interviewed the Senator in 2004 on the occasion of the National World War II Reunion.

Click here for a segment in which the Senator describes the transformative impact of WWII on the course of his life and relays several poignant stories about the wisdom of his father Hyotaro Inouye.

Click here for a segment in which the Senator describes his WWII military experiences, including his enlistment, basic training, and the relationship between the mainland and Hawai‘i soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Click here to read Charlie Weber’s blog about his interview with the Senator.

December 14, 2012

Presentation to Cuban jazz musician Chucho Valdés

Cuban musician Jesús Chucho Valdés was guest of honor at a reception at the Cuban ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., on December 6. After a performance by his quintet, Valdés was presented with JAZZ: The Smithsonian Anthology," on which he is among the featured artists. Click on image to enlarge and view caption.

December 10, 2012

Remembering Walter Milton “Teeth” Kelly (1926-2012)

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage mourns the recent passing of Walter Milton “Teeth” Kelly (1926-2012), a Baltimore Arabber, who was a concessionaire at the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival for over thirty years.

In late November, as news spread of his passing, Center staff shared their thoughts and remembrances through a flurry of emails. Among them:

Barbara Strickland (Associate Director, Finance and Administration): “Mr. Kelly began selling fruit in the early seventies and continued selling fruit at the Folklife Festival till 2010. Each year he would bring his mule and wagon to the Mall and sell watermelon by the slice and fresh pineapple with a stick of peppermint candy in the center. What a treat that was for many Festival goers!”

Betty Derbyshire (Director of Financial Operations, Smithsonian Folkways): “I am truly saddened by this news. Mr. Kelly was a fixture at the Festival, as well as a truly sweet man who cared about others. His fruit cart wasn’t just a source of income to him, but a prideful profession—one that he loved sharing with others. I will miss him.”

Marjorie Hunt (Education Specialist/Folklife Curator): “Mr. Kelly was a true Festival treasure. He not only sold his fruit at the Festival, but was a participant for the American Talkers Festival in the late 1970s. Steve Zeitlin and I were privileged to be able to visit with Walter Kelly in his stables in Baltimore to interview him about his work and his artful street cries, and go with him on his rounds through the streets of Baltimore, shouting his traditional cries and selling his fruit from his horse-pulled wagon. He was a kind, gentle person and will be missed greatly.

Read an appreciation of Mr. Kelly by photographer and CFCH research associate Roland Freeman and listen to a recording of some of his classic street hollers.

October 30, 2012

CFCH Curator Olivia Cadaval recognized with 2012 Américo Paredes Prize

For her work in integrating scholarship with community engagement, Olivia Cadaval  was awarded the American Folklore Society’s 2012 Américo Paredes Prize. Cadaval is curator and chair of Cultural Research and Education at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Since joining the Center in 1988, she has produced curriculum enrichment materials, exhibitions, and Web sites; and she has curated numerous Festival programs including El Rio (2000), México (2010), and Colombia: The Nature of Culture (2011).

Américo Paredes (1915-1999), a scholar of folklore and Greater Mexico studies, taught at the University of Texas from 1957 until his retirement in 1984. His work reflects his commitment to, in the words of Olga Najera-Ramirez, "better understand, represent, and respect the rights, lives, and culture of U.S. Latinas and Latinos." The Paredes Prize recognizes his contributions to the field and to the Society, gives respect to his memory, and recognizes exemplary achievements that build upon his cross-disciplinary, socially engaged legacy.

October 15, 2012

Joe Bataan: The Afro-Filipino King of Latin Soul—a discussion and concert about the intersections of music, activism, and community life

Music, activism, creativity, and community collaboration are celebrated in this FREE evening concert and discussion on Friday, October 19, between 6:30 p.m and 9 p.m. at the Baird Auditorium of the National Museum of Natural History.

This program is a tribute to Joe Bataan, a musician who symbolizes the intersections between Afro-Asian-Latino histories and cultural forms. Born and raised in Spanish Harlem, Bataan said, “My father was Filipino and my mother was African American, and my culture was Puerto Rican.” Through the 1960s and 70s, Bataan was an enormously popular bandleader and hailed as the “King of Latin Soul.” Of his music, he said, “Latin soul comes straight from the streets of Harlem. It’s a cha-cha backbeat with English lyrics and a pulsating rhythm that makes your feet come alive.” Bataan recorded his first album Gypsy Woman in 1966 and later founded the company Salsoul Records. After a hiatus of 20 years, during which he worked as a youth counselor, he is performing again at venues worldwide.

The program features a concert by Joe Bataan and his band. It is preceded by a discussion with Joe Bataan, African American Studies scholar Dr. Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, and activist and performer Nobuko Miyamoto, whose 1973 album A Grain of Sand was recorded on Paredon Records and is now part of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings catalog. With them, we revisit the political and cultural ferment and collaboration of the late 1960s and early 70s in New York City when groups such as the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Party, Asian Americans for Action, and El Comité contributed to dynamic social justice movements, catalyzed largely by young people, which inspired cultural pride, creativity, and activism. Miguel “Mickey” Meléndez, author and former member of the Young Lords, will moderate the discussion.

The program is presented by the Asian Pacific American Program and the Smithsonian Latino Center, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the Americans All: Immigration/Migration Initiative. It is part of a project, led by the Asian Pacific American Program and the Smithsonian Latino Center, which explores the ways that the American experience is animated by the many intersections connecting Asians and Latinos, the two fastest-growing populations in the U.S. Through a year-long series of programs, this pan-institutional and interdisciplinary initiative is expanding public understanding of the changing face of American history, art, and culture.

This program is free. But seating is limited and available on a first come-first served basis.

For more information, please visit www.apa.si.edu or call 202-633-1240.

August 22, 2012

Ralph Rinzler to Be Inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame

Ralph Rinzler, co-founder of the Festival of American Folklife, now the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, will be inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards Show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Thursday, September 27, 2012.

In 1976, Rinzler became director of the Smithsonian Office of Folklife Programs, now the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, where he continued to pursue the vision of Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley to “take the instruments out of their cases and let them sing.” The Smithsonian Institution named the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections in his honor in 1998. He was a positive risk-taker who engaged and included diverse cultural points of views and aspirations in his approach to public programming. He championed cultural diversity employment in Smithsonian curatorial and administrative decision-making, which has had an impact on cultural policy across the Smithsonian.

Rinzler is recognized for his groundbreaking work with famous musicians for Folkways Records, and he played with Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Mary Travers; was David Grisman’s first teacher; helped Doc Watson tour nationally; and managed Bill Monroe. Rinzler was a member of the legendary Greenbriar Boys, played on recordings with Clarence Ashley and Joan Baez, and won a GRAMMY award for his work on Folkways, A Vision Shared: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly. Later, Rinzler planned the acquisition of Folkways Records by the Smithsonian; and he subsequently produced Smithsonian Folkways albums on Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, and Bill Monroe. The Ralph Rinzler Collection in the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s archives includes his field recordings that have been used to create a number of releases on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

The International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame is an institution devoted to the recognition of noteworthy individuals for outstanding contributions to bluegrass music, and is located in the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Read Ralph Rinzler’s biography.

Click here for more information on the International Bluegrass Music Association and Hall of Fame.

May 21, 2012

Chuck Brown(1936-2012) is remembered. Watch video of his electrifying performance at the 2000 Folklife Festival

In Memoriam—The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage mourns the passing of Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go.

Brown was born in North Carolina in 1936. When he was eight, his family moved to Washington, D.C., a city with which he and the music he pioneered are closely associated. A guitar player, he was influenced by a variety of musical forms, including jazz, blues, and Latin genres—even playing with a group called Los Latinos in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, with Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, he released the song "We the People," which is considered the first recording to reflect the distinctive D.C. go-go sound. Their 1978 song "Bustin' Loose" hit number one on the national charts.

In 2005, Chuck Brown was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as a National Heritage Fellow, this country's highest honor for Folk and Traditional artists. When interviewed by Jo Reed on this occasion, Brown explained:

“I was trying to create a sound of my own but it ended up being a sound for the town and all the other bands jumping on it, you know?  Everybody like that groove, you know?  Break down and you caught a response to the people, you know?  And that's what it's about and it just goes and goes.  It got to the point we didn't have to do no more ballads... everybody wanted to stay on the floor.  Once you come through that door, you're gonna get on the floor... I decided to call it go-go music simply because it don't stop, it just keep going and going and going.”

The photograph above shows Chuck Brown at the Ebony Inn, 5367 Sheriff Road, Capital Heights. Brown took photographer Tom Pich here because it’s where he first performed as a young boy. Pich recalls, “During my visit with Mr. Brown at the Ebony Inn, I witnessed how much he was loved and respected by the community: word of his presence spread fast and it took him quite awhile before he could enter the Inn. I watched him take the time to say hello to everyone that wanted to speak with him.”

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage was proud to present Chuck Brown at the 1993 and 2000 Smithsonian Folklife Festivals. This footage from his electrifying 2000 performance demonstrates why his legacy, like the music, will no doubt "keep going and going and going."

March 2, 2012

Award-winning filmmaker Les Blank presents his documentary tribute to legendary Afro-Cuban percussionist Francisco Aguabella

Join Les Blank for a screening of  Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella (1995, 35 minutes) on Friday, March 2, noon to 1:30 pm at the National Museum of American History, Warner Bros. Theater. After the screening, Blank will discuss the film with Smithsonian scholars Marvette Pérez, James Early, and Jim Deutsch.

Les Blank has been making rich, resonant films about music, art, and foodways for over 50 years at his own Flower Films in Berkeley, California. He recently has been honored with the International Documentary Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Folk Alliance International Lifetime Achievement Award, and a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Two of his films are in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.

Aguabella (1925-2010) was a master conga and batá player who bridged traditional Cuban genres with the worlds of rock, jazz, and salsa. Throughout his career, he performed with Tito Puente, Carlos Santana, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Mongo Santamaría, and many other musical legends. In 1995, he was honored as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.

This program is organized by the National Museum of American History, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the Smithsonian Latino Center as part of the Americans All: Immigration/Migration Initiative. It is presented in collaboration with the DC Independent Film Festival.

For more information on this program, call
(202) 633-3773.
For more information on the DC Independent Film Festival, visit dciff-indie.org

December 7, 2011

Colombia Folklife Festival Program Travels Home

On Dec 7, 2011, Folklife Center staff Olivia Cadaval and Cristina Díaz-Carrera travelled to Bogotá, Colombia, to attend the first three days of the restaging of the Colombia: The Nature of Culture program. This reiteration of last summer's Smithsonian Folklife Festival program was presented at Bogotá’s annual Expo Artesanías. It featured 80 of the 100 original participants, the guadua tents (or hojamantas), and the graphic panels and signage. Program coordinator Diaz-Carrera reports, “It was a wonderful experience to observe the ongoing impact of the Festival and to continue strengthening our relationships with our partners.”

July 12, 2011

2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival Wrap Up

For ten days, more than 280 artists performed, provided demonstrations, and shared their experiences and knowledge with an estimated 1,083,000 visitors. This was the largest Festival attendance since the 2002 Silk Road program. Check out the Festival Web site and blog for information about the programs and participants. We are continuing to post more photo galleries, video, audio streams, and additional material from the 2011 Festival.

The 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

July 7, 2011

The 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival features Colombia, the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps, and Rhythm and Blues music

After an exciting first week of performances and demonstrations, we jump into week two. Check out the Festival Web site and blog for photographs, videos, schedules, map, and information about the participants and programs.

The 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

December 25, 2010

Long-time Center friend and colleague Kate Rinzler passed away December 25, 2010 in Prescott, Arizona after a long battle with cancer. Kate was a specialist in children’s folklore and for years was the curator of the Children’s Area at the yearly Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She took her knowledge of children’s folklore and used it in classrooms in Washington and North Carolina. Kate also documented children’s games in African, African-American, Anglo-American and Chinese culture. These films became part of series of booklets and videotapes available from the Smithsonian in the 1970s.

Among Kate’s other interests were batik, modern dance, choreography, puppets, and Indian folk culture. Her late husband Ralph Rinzler was the co-founder of the Festival of American Folklife and the director of the Office of Folklife Programs (the predecessor to the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage) for many years. Kate was a partner and collaborator on many of Ralph’s projects during his career. Much of what the Center does today is based on concepts created by Ralph and Kate in years past. We will miss her.

More on Kate’s life can be found at katerinzler.com.

April 20, 2009

The Center for Folklife is saddened to report the death of Irwin Silber on September 8th 2010. Silber was co-founder of Paredon Records with Barbara Dane, longtime collaborator with Folkways founder Moses Asch and constant friend to the Smithsonian.

August 8, 2009

The Center for Folklife remembers traditional music preserver, performer, and teacher Mike Seeger (1933-2009)

"Old-time rural music remains at the center of my life. It's a tactile, emotional, aural pleasure — the words are my Shakespeare and my mysteries, the music is my Bach, my pastime, and it makes me want to dance...Classic, timeless qualities in this music endure. For me, there ain't no way out but nature, and I'll make the most of it."
-Mike Seeger (from the liner notes to the 1997 album There Ain't No Way Out by The New Lost City Ramblers)

Mike Seeger, who devoted his life to documenting, teaching, keeping alive, and carrying forth the sounds of traditional music of the American South, died from cancer Friday night at the age of 75. A self-taught multi-instrumentalist and singer, Seeger's 50-plus-year career included recordings as a solo performer, as a founding member of the influential group The New Lost City Ramblers, and as a documenter of many of the finest 20th-century performers of the genre including Dock Boggs, Elizabeth Cotten, and Kilby Snow.

Seeger's career highlights include producing the first long-playing bluegrass album, American Banjo: Three-Finger and Scruggs Style, earning six GRAMMY nominations (including nominations for Smithsonian Folkways albums Southern Banjo Sounds and 1997's There Ain't No Way Out with The New Lost City Ramblers), and earning the 2009 Bess Lomax Hawes Award from the National Endowment for the Arts among many other awards and grants. In all, Mike Seeger contributed to 75 Smithsonian Folkways albums, most recently a box set available August 25th, 2009 celebrating the 50th anniversary of The New Lost City Ramblers, and numerous Smithsonian Folklife Festivals as a researcher, presenter, and performer, including the first-ever festival in 1967. Mike Seeger will be remembered as tireless preserver, performer, and teacher of traditional music.

Please click here for a profile of Mike Seeger, including video and audio samples.

July 27th, 2009

Nine Smithsonian Folkways songs named to 100 Most Essential Folk Songs list

Nine tracks from the Smithsonian Folkways collection were recently featured on Folk Alley's "100 Most Essential Folk Songs" list, including songs from Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Elizabeth Cotten. Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" was awarded the list's top spot. The list also includes twenty three songs from Smithsonian Folkways collection that are performed by other artists, such as "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" by Pete Seeger (as performed by the Kingston Trio) and "Goodnight Irene" by Lead Belly (as performed by the Weavers).

Smithsonian Folkways Songs on Folk Alley's list of 100 Most Essential Folk Songs:

01."This Land Is Your Land" - Woody Guthrie
04. "If I Had a Hammer" - Pete Seeger
08. "We Shall Overcome" - Pete Seeger
30. "Pastures of Plenty" - Woody Guthrie
36. "Freight Train" - Elizabeth Cotten
41. "Changes" - Phil Ochs
45. "Little Boxes" - Malvina Reynolds
64. "Deportee" - Woody Guthrie
68. "The Crucifixion" - Phil Ochs
93. "Hobo's Lullaby" - Woody Guthrie

July 17th, 2009

Smithsonian Folkways: Sounds to Grow On Episode #7 Now Available on Podcast

Smithsonian Folkways: Sounds to Grow On, the 26-part radio series hosted by Michael Asch, son of Folkways founder Moses Asch, features the original recordings of Folkways Records' vast catalogue. Episode #7 features the Songs of Animals - click here to download or subscribe to the podcast.

Smithsonian Folkways: Sounds to Grow On

April 21, 2009

Smithsonian Folklife Festival needs volunteers

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage needs capable and enthusiastic volunteers before, during, and after its annual Folklife Festival, which will be held on the National Mall Wednesday, June 24 through Sunday, June 28 and Wednesday, July 1 through Sunday, July 5.

Volunteers for "Giving Voice" will assist program participants with the presentation of African American oral traditions as the Smithsonian prepares for the 2015 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Volunteers supporting the "Las Américas" program will help artists from the United States and Latin America feature a myriad of musical styles from throughout the Americas. Volunteers for the "Wales Smithsonian Cymru" program will help the Festival's Welsh participants share their rich culture and heritage, presenting connections between traditional culture, new technologies, and national efforts for sustainability. Volunteers also are needed to support a wide variety of other areas, including the Marketplace (the Festival's retail venue), information kiosks, and with the Festival recycling program.

Certified American Sign Language interpreters and volunteers who speak Spanish or Welsh are especially needed. More information on all the volunteer opportunities and an application are available here or by contacting volunteer coordinator Laura Jenkins at jenkinsl@si.edu or (202) 633-6484.

April 20, 2009

Pete Seeger: American Favorite Ballads Vol. 1-5 Box Set
will be released April 21st

Check back soon for a special announcement including free downloads, but in the meantime, please enjoy this previously unreleased video of interviews and music performance. Click here to learn more.

Pete Seeger Box Set from Smithsonian Folkways

April 17, 2009

The Working White House:
200 Years of Tradition and Memories online

The White House Historical Society has launched an online version of the traveling exhibition here. Co-curated by the Center's Jim Deutsch, the White House Workers exhibition explores the dedication, skills, and sacrifices of residence staff whose extraordinary service has helped the White House fulfill its multiple roles as a family residence, seat of government, ceremonial center, historic building, and museum.

Smithsonian Folkways has also released a companion DVD with:

  • An introduction by former President Jimmy Carter recalling the White House workers he knew.
  • Workers at the White House, a 32-minute documentary film featuring a broad range of workers who have served presidents from Herbert Hoover to George H.W. Bush. Until now this film was only available in VHS format.
  • The Working White House: 200 Years of Traditions and Memories, a 12-minute introduction to the traveling exhibition.
  • Two hours of interviews conducted in 2007 with recently retired White House workers, recounting memories, describing traditions, and expressing sense of community among staff and pride in their service to First Families and the nation.

Click here for more information about the DVD.

March 24, 2009

Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways is now available on CD and DRM-free Digital Download

War, social injustice, personal plaints, and calls for action have long fueled musical creation and performance. In Classic Protest Songs, Mark Gustafson and Jeff Place tap the historic Smithsonian audio collections to compile 22 songs favored by leaders of antiwar, civil rights, industrial labor, farm worker, and other struggles to air their grievances. Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Janis Ian, Big Bill Broonzy, Pete Seeger, Barbara Dane, Guy Carawan, Phil Ochs, and other marquee artists let their voices ring out with calls for peace and justice.

Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways

March 5, 2009

John Cephas, 1930-2009

Piedmont blues guitarist and vocalist John Cephas passed away March 4th at his home in Woodford, Virginia. Cephas, a 1989 National Heritage Fellowship Award recipient, recorded the album Richmond Blues in 2008 with his longtime musical partner Phil Wiggins as part of the African American Legacy Recording Series.

Cephas & Wiggins teamed up in 1977 after meeting at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and were named W.C Handy Blues Entertainers of the Year in 1987. Cephas, who once said "blues music is truth", served on the Executive Committee of the National Council for the Traditional Arts and was a founder of the Washington D.C. Blues Society. Click here to watch a video of Cephas & Wiggins discussing the Piedmont Blues style and click here to watch them perform in the 2007 Smithsonian Folklife festival Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert.