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Music in the United States: Resources in the American Folklife Center

This research guide focuses on activities such as fieldwork, interpretation, and programming related to music in the United States as they are documented in the collections of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.


Carl Fleischhauer, photographer. John Katsikas, santouri player: Oak Park, Illinois.1977. Chicago Ethnic Arts Project collection. Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

This guide provides an introduction to doing research on traditional and folk music in the United States in American Folklife Center collections. The Collection Policy Statement for the American Folklife Center identifies music in the United States as an area of distinction for our collections, noting:

Music and dance are intangible cultural expressions that lend themselves to documentation and research (given their public or community-based nature). The Library’s collections in this arena are extensive and represent virtually all diasporic communities in America in every state and territory. Particularly strong are pre-1950 African American genres, pre-1950 Anglo American genres, and 1930s-1960s Folk Music Revival materials.

Many American Folklife Center collections include documentation of musical styles, traditions and practices, as conveyed through oral histories, personal recollections, and recordings of performances. Examples include the santouri playing of John Katsikas and the commentary by composer James Mack, both of which are included in the Chicago Ethnic Arts collection. Other gems include a field recording of the song "I Surrender," as rendered by Wallace Quarterman during an interview in which he recalls the day he was emancipated from enslavement in Georgia. Quarterman's interviews from 1933 and 1935 are part of the Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories, which contains recordings of approximately two dozen songs (or song fragments) sung by previously enslaved Americans. The American Folklife Center also houses unparalleled collections documenting the musical styles, traditions and practices of Native American communities, which will be showcased and explored more thoroughly in a dedicated guide.


The following guide offers general research strategies for use of the American Folklife Center collections.