Skip to Main Content

American Folklife Center Collections: California

This guide provides access to ethnographic resources documenting expressive culture in the state of California at the Library of Congress.


Sidney Roberston Cowell, collector. Mary and Hartop Goshtigian playing oud and violin, group portrait, photograph. 1939. W.P.A. California Folk Music Project collection (AFC 1940/001). Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

American Folklife Center (AFC) collections from California document expressive culture from across the state and span nearly a century. Beginning with items in the Robert Winslow Gordon cylinder recordings collection, and continuing on to today with StoryCorps interviews and documentation in the Occupational Folklife Project, AFC collections illustrate the rich variety of folklife in this geographically large and culturally diverse state.

Particularly noteworthy are the many cylinder recordings made by Robert Winslow Gordon in California during the 1920s. Gordon recorded nearly a thousand cylinders, collected nearly ten thousand more song texts from the readers of his popular articles, and gathered many thousand additional song versions from old camp-meeting and revival songbooks, broadsides, folios, and hillbilly recordings—ephemeral material of which few of his colleagues were aware.

Other notable collections includes recordings and other documentation gathered by Sidney Robertson Cowell through the Work Projects Administration (W.P.A.) California Folk Music Project in the 1930s; and the Wayland Hand collection of songs and lore, recorded primarily in Los Angeles between 1956 and 1960.

California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties

This collection provides a remarkable survey of living folk musical traditions found in Northern California during the late 1930s and 1940 in a wide variety of musical styles. It includes the folk music of immigrants who arrived in the United States from the turn of the century through the 1920s, American popular songs current from 1900 through 1940, not to mention old California songs from the gold-rush era and before, old medicine show tunes, San Francisco Barbary Coast songs, and ragtime.

Additional Collections of Interest

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Podcasts and Blog Posts

Public Programming

In 2016, the American Folklife Center hosted Artemio Posadas through the Homegrown concert series. Born in 1948 and raised in northeastern Mexico, Posadas moved to the San Franciso-area in 1979. Both a performer and teacher, he received the 2016 Bess Lomax Hawes award from the National Endowment for the Arts in recognition of his lifelong efforts to sustain Mexican musical traditions.

Other videos of interest: