The collections of the American Folklife Center contain rich and varied materials from Massachusetts that document the diversity of the state's folk traditions. Among its unique recordings are folk music dating from the 1930s to the present, including Anglo-American ballads, shanties, and African Methodist Episcopal religious services. The American Dialect Society Collection include recordings of a rich variety of narratives and oral histories from Massachusetts. From 1987 to 1988, the Center conducted the Lowell Folklife Project, which documented the city's many ethnic communities.
The Lowell Folklife Project was conducted in 1987-1988 as a cooperative project of the American Folklife Center and the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, with support from the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, to document contemporary ethnic neighborhoods, occupations, and community life related to the history of industrialization in Lowell, Massachusetts.
This year-long study yielded an ethnographic collection consisting of 196 hours of sound recordings covering a wide range of subjects and activities, including oral history interviews, religious services and festivals (Catholic and Greek Orthodox holy week and Easter services and religious processions; a Cambodian Buddhist wedding ceremony; Cambodian and Laotian New Year's celebrations; Puerto Rican festivals), musical events, parades, ethnic restaurants, and neighborhood tours. An additional 23 hours of sound recordings of musical events and oral history interviews were copied from originals lent by Lowell residents. Collection materials also include correspondence; field notes; questionnaires; neighborhood maps; reports; publications; administrative files; interview transcripts; black-and-white photographic prints, contact sheets, and film negatives (ca. 10,000 images); and color slides and prints, (ca. 3500 images). Documentation was created by fieldworkers working for the American Folklife Center: Peter Bartis, Michael E. Bell, Douglas DeNatale, Barbara Fertig, Carl Fleischhauer, John Lueders-Booth, Mario Montaño, Martha K. Norkunas, Tom Rankin, David Alan Taylor, Eleanor F. Wachs, and members of the Refugee Arts Group.
The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.
Balla Kouyaté is a griot and virtuoso player of the balaphon, the ancient West African ancestor of the xylophone. Played with mallets, the balaphon is made up of wood slats of varying lengths. Underneath, two rows of calabash gourds serve as natural amplifiers. To say that Kouyaté was born into a musical family is an understatement. His family lineage goes back over 800 years to Balla Faséké, the first of an unbroken line of djelis, or griots, in the Kouyaté clan. Today he lives in Massachusetts and is on the faculty of the New England Conservatory in Boston. He is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award for 2019. This video of his performance at the Library of Congress in 2010 includes members of his band, World Vision, and a special appearance by Malian singer Adjaratou Demba. Library of Congress, April 28, 2010.