5-2-14 - Special May programs to highlight folklorist Alan Lomax’s Michigan legacy
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Special May programs to highlight folklorist Alan Lomax’s Michigan legacy

During the month of May, Finlandia University will host two exhibitions that commemorate Alan Lomax’s Michigan legacy. The Michigan State University Museum has produced the traveling exhibition, Michigan Folksong Legacy: Grand Discoveries from the Great Depression, on view May 12-16 at the Finnish American Heritage Center and May 19-26 at the Sulo and Aileen Maki Library, with a special program scheduled for May 15 at the heritage center. 

The exhibition brings folklorist Alan Lomax’s 1938 field trip to life through words, song lyrics, photographs and sound recordings. Ten interpretive banners explore themes such as Alan Lomax and Michigan folksong collecting in the 1930s; the geography of Lomax’s travels; the musical culture of lumberjacks, miners and schoonermen (Great Lakes sailors); Michigan’s ethnic diversity, and its reflection in Lomax’s field recordings; and the importance of the Lomax Michigan legacy today. Each panel contains a QR code that links to related sound recordings from the Alan Lomax Collection at the AmericanFolklifeCenter, Library of Congress. 

As part of the programs, Hilary Joy Virtanen, Finlandia University Assistant Professor of Finnish Studies, will speak on “From Finland to Fulton to the Library of Congress: The Alan Lomax Recordings of Gusti Simila.” The program will be hosted on Thursday, May 15, at 7 p.m. at the Finnish American Heritage Center, and is free and open to the public.

Simila, a Finnish American immigrant from Muhos, Finland, provided Lomax with an interesting selection of music, including a traditional lullaby from Finland, a song about working as a farm hand for a cruel family, and an interesting parody of the WWI era popular song, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” which described the true story of Finnish Americans in Corbin, Minnesota and their attempts to organize a consumer’s cooperative in the late 1910s. Join folklorist Hilary Virtanen as she discusses Simila’s songs, as well as her own work in reuniting Simila’s descendents with his recordings, many of whom still reside in the Copper Country, and learning his story through them. 

About Alan Lomax:
In 1938, a young folk music collector named Alan Lomax—destined to become one of the legendary folklorists of the 20th century—came from Washington, DC to record Michigan’s richly varied folk music traditions for the Archive of American Folk-Song at the Library of Congress. Michigan in the 1930s was experiencing a golden age of folksong collecting, as local folklorists mined the trove of ballads remembered by aging lumbermen and Great Lakes schoonermen. In addition to the ballads of these north woods singers, Lomax recorded a vibrant mix of ethnic music from Detroit to the western Upper Peninsula. A series of commemorative activities will mark the 75th anniversary of Alan Lomax's historic documentation of music and folklore in Michigan― and its lasting impact on our lives today. This includes innovative publications, public programming, performances, a traveling exhibition, community engagement, digital educational resources, and the return of copies of collections to their home communities.   

These programs are made possible in part by a grant from Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; with additional support from theMichigan State University Museum and its the Great Lakes Traditions Endowment; the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress; the Center for the Study ofUpper Midwestern Cultures at the University of Wisconsin; the Association forCultural Equity; Finlandia University; and the Finlandia Foundation.

For more information:
Michigan Folksong Legacy homepage:http://museum.msu.edu/index.php?q=node/1056
Library of Congress Michigan 1938 homepage: http://www.loc.gov/folklife/lomax/michiganproject.html
Laurie Sommers, Michigan Lomax Program Coordinator
Rebecca Daly, Finlandia University