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Frank Clyde Brown Recordings

A guide to the digital collection.

"I write to suggest the organization in North Carolina of a branch of the American Folk-Lore Society" - John A. Lomax correspondence, October/November 1912

"Of course, you are the man for North Carolina," writes John A. Lomax in his November 1912 letter to Brown.  Lomax's note from the previous month urged Brown to form a North Carolina Folklore Society, and while Brown's response does not appear in the Frank Clyde Brown Papers, we can imagine from Lomax's reply that it contained both enthusiasm and some doubt.  Lomax's encouraging words fortified Brown, and the two would have a fruitful relationship for the next 30 years.

Frank Clyde Brown's Ediphone

"Chasing Vanishing Folk-Song" by Maude Minish Sutton

In addition to being one of Frank Clyde Brown's most treasured colleagues in folk collecting -- she collected versions of "Tom Dooley" well before another of Brown's colleagues and former student, Frank Warner, got the song from Frank Proffitt -- Maude Minish Sutton also wrote for newspapers across the state.  Sutton captures a field collecting trip with Brown in Yancey County ("up on the mountain side above 'Little Hungry' creek") in September 1929 in all its glory, in this article from Raleigh's News and Observer, October 27, 1929.  A song Brown collected that day, "The British Lady," can be found here in the digital collection.

"Would it be possible to dispense with shaving off the cylinders after they have been transcribed?" - George Herzog correspondence, October/November 1935

Offering a rare window into Brown's recording and transcription practices, and those of the evolving fields of folklore and ethnomusicology, this exchange between Brown and anthropologist George Herzog highlights an emerging tension between the primacy of the transcript or musical notation, and the recorded audio signal from which those texts were taken.  While Brown may have viewed his recordings simply as disposable, a means of producing a text, Herzog saw improving recording audio technologies on the horizon and perhaps as a consequence felt that preservation of the source document, the actual audio recording, was of great and continued importance to scholarship.  In 1936 Herzog founded the Archives of Traditional Music at Columbia University, moving it to Indiana University in 1948.

Herzog's advice rings true today.  Many of the cylinders in the Brown collection suffer from shallow groove depths, in all probability because Brown had shaved them (erasing them so that he could record new content without added expense), thus narrowing the cylinder and giving his Ediphone's stylus less bite.  During the digital transfer of the wax cylinders at the Northeastern Document Conservation Center in 2016, poor audio quality was attributed, among other factors, to this.

Clare Leighton Woodcuts

A master artist whose wood engravings grace the seven-volume Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, Clare Leighton (1898-1989) emigrated from England to the United States in 1939, and from 1943 to 1945 was on the faculty of Duke University's Department of Art, Aesthetics, and Music.  It was through this association with Duke, and her vision of the pastoral South as expressed in her book Southern Harvest (1942), that Leighton was selected by Newman Ivey White to contribute illustrations for the Folklore volumes that would capture the entirety of the endeavor rather than simply illustrate individual songs.  Many of the wood blocks Leighton created for the project are housed in the Clare Leighton Papers, and the images they produced are presented here on their own, as a particularly sympathetic complement to the spirit of Brown's work.