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December 7, 2015

Smithsonian Folkways Receives Four GRAMMY Nominations

Four Smithsonian Folkways releases earned nominations for the 58th GRAMMY Awards! The winners will be announced by The Recording Academy on February 15, 2016. Click here for the complete list of nominees.

¡Come Bien! Eat Right! José-Luis Orozco, a fun-filled, bilingual album about food and nutrition, was nominated for Best Children’s Album, while Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano’s Tradición, Arte y Pasión, which pays tribute to the golden age of mariachi and its late founder, was nominated for Best Regional Mexican Album. Both are part of the Tradiciones/Traditions series of Latin American music presented with support from the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Our archivist and producer Jeff Place earned a nomination for Best Album Notes for his work on the in-depth box set Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection. And Fannie Lou Hamer’s posthumous album Songs My Mother Taught Me, produced by Mark Puryear and mastered by Pete Reiniger, earned a nomination for Best Historical Album. The Fannie Lou Hamer album is part of the African American Legacy Series and, like the Lead Belly box set, is presented with support from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Smithsonian Folkways has now earned 29 lifetime GRAMMY nominations and seven GRAMMY Awards.

December 2, 2015

Lily Spandorf’s Festival Scenes – We Need Your Help to Identify!

We are excited to announce the digitization of a collection of drawings by artist Lily Spandorf, who documented scenes from the Folklife Festival for more than thirty years. From the very first Festival in 1967, she brought her cart full of materials and supplies to the National Mall and sketched Festival scenes, documenting people, performances, and more. Her work is currently featured at the George Washington University Museum in Washington, D.C.

We need your help to identify scenes, people, and programs featured in the drawings! Please take a look at the collection in the new Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives, and if you recognize any of the people, Festival programs, objects, or years, please send that information to Your knowledge will help us more accurately and completely caption these images! 

October 15, 2015

Moses and Frances Asch Collection Named to UNESCO’s Memory of the World International Register

This month, the Moses and Frances Asch Collection was inscribed to UNESCO’s Memory of the World International Register. This unique collection was provided by Folkways Records founder Moses Asch and his wife and is now housed in the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives. It includes the Folkways catalog, featuring material of both prominent and lesser-known writers, artists, poets, documentarians, ethnographers, and musicians from around the world, including Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Harry Smith, and Langston Hughes.

UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme aims to preserve and promote the world’s documentary heritage. The Moses and Frances Asch Collection is the second Smithsonian collection added to the Memory of the World International Register, and one of only eight collections from the United States to be recognized. It joins the John Marshall Ju’hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection, which was added in 2009 and is maintained by the Smithsonian’s Human Studies Film Archives.

“The Moses and Frances Asch Collection serves as a unique testament to the breadth and depth of the twentieth century human experience,” Center director Michael A. Mason said. “By recognizing its importance, UNESCO continues to support the living legacy of the collection and of our shared cultural heritage.”

The Moses and Frances Asch Collection (1926–1987), acquired by the Smithsonian in 1987, includes a diversity of correspondence, audio, and visual materials from Folkways Records and other labels founded by Asch. One of the most influential record labels of the twentieth century, Folkways Records’ 2,168 titles include traditional and contemporary music from around the world, documentary recordings, spoken word in many languages, instructional albums and documentary recordings of individuals, communities and natural sounds. Its albums remain accessible to the public through Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

August 17, 2015

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Announces $1 Million Gift To Support Language-Sustainability Research

Donation From Ferring Pharmaceuticals Is the Largest in the Center’s History

The Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has received a gift of $1.24 million from Ferring Pharmaceuticals to support a groundbreaking research project aimed at sustaining endangered languages. The donation will fund much of the Center’s new “Sustaining Minority Languages in Europe” project for five years. The project will build on the work of the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Program and the Center’s cultural-sustainability work. The gift brings the Center to 94 percent completion of its Smithsonian Capital Campaign goal of $4 million.

“This project is the first large-scale comparative approach to language revitalization across communities in relation to broader social, cultural, political and economic factors,” said Michael Mason, director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “We are incredibly grateful to Ferring for supporting this important work. Their generosity will help communities sustain their languages and traditions for many years to come.”

The project will address a recognized need for deeper evaluation of approaches to language revitalization. It will compare linguistic and ethnographic data from across several minority language communities to determine factors that drive language revitalization. The Center will collaborate with several international organizations and six research teams over the five-year duration of the program.

“My family heritage includes Frisian, an endangered language, so I am keenly aware of the importance of language to our identity and our humanity,” said Frederik Paulsen, chairman of Ferring Pharmaceuticals and a member of the Center’s advisory council. “The Smithsonian is a leader in the field of cultural sustainability, and the Center is the ideal institution to carry out this groundbreaking research needed to better understand the larger social and cultural milieu within which language revitalization efforts take place.” Paulsen also serves on the boards of the Salk Institute of Biological Research, the Russian Geographical Society and the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan.

August 6, 2015

Exploring Basque Culture at the 2016 Folklife Festival

Visitors to the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival will explore the Basque Country, an autonomous region in Spain, with a unique language and distinct cultural heritage. The 2016 Festival will take place Wednesday, June 29, through Monday, July 4, and Thursday, July 7, through Sunday, July 10. It will be located on the National Mall, between Fourth and Seventh streets, adjacent to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Admission to the Festival is free, and hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, with special evening events beginning at 6:30 p.m. The Festival is co-sponsored by the Regional Government of Biscay and presented in partnership with the National Park Service.

The Basque constitute one of the oldest communities in Europe, and today more than 500,000 people worldwide speak Basque, known locally as Euskara, a language once on the brink of extinction and now an example of successful language revitalization. In addition to its language, the Basque Country is well known for its food, crafts, music, and poetry. The Festival program will host musicians, cooks, language experts, and more from the region to explore themes of cultural sustainability, identity, and migration. The program will also include significant participation of people of Basque descent living throughout the United States.

“Celebrating Basque culture at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an important opportunity to bring forth compelling stories of cultural heritage, vitality, and resilience,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), a Basque American who represents California’s Third District. “These are American stories, too. I’m delighted that Festival visitors will also experience Basque traditions that remain an integral part of this country’s cultural landscape.”

The program will be curated by cultural and linguistic revitalization specialist Mary Linn and folklorist and ethnomusicologist Cristina Díaz-Carrera. More information about the 2016 Festival will be released shortly.

July 28, 2015

A Tribe Called Red at the National Museum of the American Indian

When: Friday, August 7, 2015
Where: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C.

7 p.m., Artist Panel, Rasmuson Theater
8:30 p.m., Free Concert, Potomac Atrium

A Tribe Called Red from Ottawa has become the face of an urban Native youth renaissance, championing their heritage and speaking out on aboriginal issues, while being on top of popular music, fashion, and art. Since 2010, the group—currently featuring DJ NDN, Bear Witness and 2oolman—has been mixing traditional pow wow vocals and drumming with cutting-edge electronic music. The evening begins with a panel session and audience Q&A featuring all members of the group followed by an evening concert. Both events are free and open to the public. Admission is conducted on a first-come, first-serve basis. RSVP to the Facebook event page for latest developments.

This program is presented by the Smithsonian’s Intangible Cultural Heritage project, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

June 12, 2015

Folkways Director Daniel Sheehy Named 2015 National Heritage Fellow

Daniel Sheehy, director and curator of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, has been named a 2015 National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. Smithsonian Folkways artists Rahim AlHaj and Michael Alpert have also been named 2015 National Heritage Fellows for their work in the folk and traditional arts. Every year, the National Endowment for the Arts recognizes master folk and traditional artists by awarding National Heritage Fellowships, honoring their contribution to the excellence, vitality and public appreciation of the folk and traditional arts. It is the country’s highest award in the folk and traditional arts.

Sheehy will receive the Bess Lomax Hawes NEA National Heritage Fellowship, a special distinction that recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage. An ethnomusicologist and folklorist, Sheehy was appointed curator and director of Smithsonian Folkways in 2000. He is author of Mariachi Music in America: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture and co-editor of the South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean volume of the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Under Sheehy’s direction, Smithsonian Folkways has published more than two hundred recordings.

An internationally recognized oud player and composer, Rahim AlHaj integrates traditional Iraqi music with contemporary style and influences. AlHaj has released nine recordings, including When the Soul Is Settled: Music of Iraq,which was released by Smithsonian Folkways in 2006, and in 2007 he was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music Album.

Michael Alpert is one of the finest musicians of the contemporary klezmer revival. A singer, multi-instrumentalist, and dancer, Alpert is also a founding member of klezmer band Kapelye. He performs sekund with the Khevrisa ensemble on the Smithsonian Folkways album European Klezmer Music, released in 2000.

Sheehy, AlHaj, and Alpert will be recognized with the other 2015 National Heritage Fellowship recipients at an awards ceremony at the Library of Congress on Oct. 1, 2015. They will also participate in a concert at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2, 2015. Both events are free and open to the public.

February 23, 2015

Meredydd Evans, Folkways Artist and Language Activist
(December 9, 1919–February 21, 2015)

Meredydd Evans, Welsh scholar, language activist, musician, broadcaster, and writer, passed away at age ninety-five on February 21. While a student at Harvard in 1954, Evans was approached by Folkways Records founder Moses Asch to record songs from his native Wales. The recording, Welsh Folk Songs, has become a classic in Wales and remains a largely hidden gem in the Folkways collection.

On a damp day in August 2008, video producer Charlie Weber and I had the privilege of interviewing Evans at his home near Aberystwyth, Wales. When we arrived at their cozy stone home nestled in a hillside, Evans and his wife Phyllis greeted us like long-lost relatives even though we had never met before, brewed us some tea, and put us at instant ease. Spending a couple of days with the Evanses, and the resulting interview which took place in front of a crackling fire in their living room, remains one of my best memories of my research trips to Wales between 2003 and 2008, preparing for the Wales Smithsonian Cymru program of the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The interview was edited into two fine short videos, one highlighting the process of making the 1954 recording, and the other discussing his views on the Welsh language. These videos offer a brief glimpse of Evans’s work, humor, and broad knowledge of all things Welsh and much more. I am glad our paths crossed, however briefly, and I join in mourning with those who knew him well and his many fans. He will be sorely missed.

—Betty Belanus, curator

January 6, 2015

Preserving Cultural Heritage in Ethnic Tibetan Communities in China

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has begun a five-year integrated development program to preserve cultural heritage and improve sustainable livelihoods in ethnic Tibetan communities in China. The project objectives are:

  1. Increased Use and Promotion of Tibetan Language;
  2. Increased Preservation of Historically Significant Sites, Traditions, and Texts;
  3. Improved Documentation and Dissemination of Traditional Visual and Performing Arts;
  4. Improved Quality, Standards and Business Opportunities for Artisans; and
  5. Building and Strengthening Market Support for the Artisan Sector.

As part of this ambitious project, the Center will offer research fellowships to enhance our resident expertise in Tibetan culture. We seek individuals whose scholarly interests complement the goals of our project. The fellows may also join us on short-term travel to Tibet. The one-year fellowship carries a stipend of US $48,000 and may be renewable through 2019. Prospective fellows should send a brief cover letter describing how their scholarly interests and previous experience complement our project goals, along with a resume or cv to Dr. Robert Leopold (

The deadline for applications is February 5, 2015.

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is dedicated to supporting the understanding and sustainability of cultural heritage and diversity in communities across the United States and around the world. We collaborate with a broad spectrum of individuals and groups to promote cultural scholarship, traditional artistry, and participation as forms of civic engagement.

October 17, 2014

Mary S. Linn Named Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization

Mary S. Linn has been named curator of cultural and linguistic revitalization at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, effective October 6. A specialist in working with Indigenous communities to sustain and revitalize endangered languages, Linn joined the Center in 2014 from the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma, where she was associate curator of Native American languages and associate professor.

“Mary will immediately contribute to our efforts to support cultural sustainability and vitality through her deep experience in community-based work.” said Michael Atwood Mason, director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “She will help to make the Smithsonian and the Center a global leader in language revitalization.”

Linn works actively in language training of Indigenous community members in linguistics and language documentation, revitalization strategies, language policy, survey methods, and culturally based language curriculum. After joining the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in 2002, she started the Native American Languages Collections. Linn’s community-based work, through the Oklahoma Native Language Association and the Collaborative Language Research Institute, has led to extensive programming around language revitalization, including the Oklahoma Breath of Life Workshop (2010–2014) and the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair (2003–2014). 

Linn earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in linguistics from the University of Kansas and her bachelor’s degree in American studies at Wichita State University. Linn’s primary research is in the Euchee (Yuchi) language and effective strategies in the language acquisition of endangered languages, including youth motivation.

“Language revitalization is ultimately about sovereignty and the rights for people to determine their own education, culture, and identities,” Linn said. “Working at the Smithsonian Institution on these exciting new language and cultural initiatives will help me affect positive change in communities, and these changes create a more diverse and sustainable world for everyone.”

Photo by Elisa Hough

October 1, 2014

2015 Folklife Festival Features Peru

Next summer, the forty-ninth annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival will highlight Peru, one of the most culturally and ecologically diverse countries in the world. The Festival will feature more than one hundred Peruvian artisans and cooks, musicians and dancers, as well as artists and tradition bearers from the Peruvian American diaspora.

The Folklife Festival will take place Wednesday, June 24, through Sunday, June 28, and Wednesday, July 1, through Sunday, July 5, 2015. It will be located on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Admission to the Festival is free, and hours are from noon to 6 p.m. each day, with special evening events such as concerts and dance performances beginning at 6:30 p.m. The Festival is co-sponsored by the Government of Peru and the National Park Service.

“The Festival will go beyond stereotypes by focusing on the people behind the traditions and crafts,” said Olivia Cadaval, one of the program’s co-curators. “Peru is a country with a rich history that continues into the present, and we hope that Festival visitors come away with a greater sense of how local communities use sustainable cultural tourism both to honor and reinterpret their heritage.”

“The Folklife Festival will be a wonderful opportunity to showcase our unique talents while demonstrating the cultural expressions of various different regions of Peru,” said Magali Silva, minister of foreign trade and tourism of Peru. “Each participant is part of a social inclusion model to preserve and value the cultural representations of Peru, which is one of the most important objectives of the Peruvian government.”

The program’s theme is “connectivity.” Visitors will experience how ties are made—and maintained—in Peru through cooking and craft demonstrations, music and dance performances, moderated conversations, ritual and celebratory processions, and other activities.

One highlight—as well as a display of the program’s theme—will be a rope bridge or q’eswachaka (in Quechua q’eswa means “to braid” and chaka means “bridge”). Rebuilt every year by five communities from the province of Canas, the bridge represents more than six hundred years of social history, technological ingenuity and cultural pride, and it speaks to the continued relevance of tradition in contemporary Peruvian society. During the ten days of the Festival, visitors will see the creation of a bridge from the twists of its first braids to the rituals marking its completion.

The Festival will complement the National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibition The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire, which will run June 26, 2015, through June 1, 2017.

September 8, 2014

Robert Leopold Named Deputy Director

Robert Leopold, director of the Smithsonian’s Consortium for World Cultures and senior program officer for history, art and culture, has been appointed deputy director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, effective August 24. With an extensive background at the Smithsonian, Leopold is known for promoting interdisciplinary scholarship and public programs that inspire audiences to explore the cultural and artistic heritage of the world’s peoples.

“Robert’s work and research at the Smithsonian demonstrate his dedication to expanding understanding and promoting public engagement and his commitment to supporting cultural sustainability,” said Michael Atwood Mason, director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “I am excited for Robert to add his strong leadership and management skills to our collections and research teams.”

In 2010 Leopold was named the director of the Consortium for World Cultures, where he fostered the development of pan-institutional research teams and guided the review of proposals for innovative research and public programs. To date, the four Grand Challenges Consortia have supported ninety-five interdisciplinary research projects involving no fewer than 365 scholars, scientists, and educators from forty Smithsonian museums, archives, research institutes and outreach programs with more than $6.35 million in seed funding. Leopold also contributes to the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices initiative and will continue his work to preserve and revitalize endangered languages at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Leopold received his bachelor’s degree in English literature from the State University of New York at Binghamton and a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Indiana University. As a Fulbright Fellow, he conducted two years of ethnographic research on marriage alliance and ritual collaboration among the Loma people of Liberia. His current research on information ethics and digital technology explores how scholars and Indigenous communities negotiate access to culturally sensitive heritage collections in libraries, archives, and museums, an interest he developed while directing the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives.

“I am honored to join the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and contribute to its unparalleled legacy of curatorial research, educational initiatives and archival work,” Leopold said. “I’m also thrilled to work with a team of extraordinarily talented colleagues whose passion, dedication, and mission I have always admired.”

Courtesy of Robert Leopold

September 2, 2014

Center Welcomes SARF Fellow LaMont Hamilton

During August and September, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is hosting Chicago-based artist LaMont Hamilton through the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF) program. Hamilton works primarily in portraiture photography, routinely seeking out subjects for non-commissioned portraits. Through the years Hamilton has captured faces of prominent artists of color (75 Portraits), various communities (Portraits with the Public), local teens (Chicago Teen Portrait Project), and more. In addition to his photographic work, Hamilton also uses appropriation or repurposing of archival images to interrogate the construction of certain ideologies and identities via the photographic image.

As one of fifteen SARF recipients for 2014, Hamilton is continuing work on Five on the Black Hand Side, exploring the history, significance, and aesthetics of the handshake “the dap” and other forms of tactile communication among African Americans. He began this project in 2012 with a series of oral interviews, and it has grown into a comprehensive study of the dap and its place in the trajectory of black performativity. Hamilton is working with CFCH curator Diana N’Diaye and National Museum of African American History and Culture curator Tuliza Fleming, and his research is taking him to archival collections across the Smithsonian as well as into the African American community of Washington, D.C.

The SARF program was established in 2007 as a platform for accomplished visual artists to conceptualize and conduct research for existing projects, allowing creative collaboration across all Smithsonian museums and research centers. Fellows may be nominated before applying, and then are awarded a living stipend and research allowance if needed; fellowships last one to two months, which can be divided into multiple visits over the course of a year. See the Smithsonian Office of Fellowships & Internships website for more information.

Courtesy of LaMont Hamilton

August 20, 2014

Siletz and Kallawaya Festival Participants Reunite for Cultural Exchange in Bolivia

An intergenerational group of five Siletz Indians from Oregon traveled to La Paz, Bolivia, this week for a five-day cultural exchange with Kallawaya tradition bearers and members of other Bolivian indigenous groups. The cultural exchange, entitled “Promoting Language Revitalization and Cultural Heritage among Bolivia’s Indigenous Language Communities,” is co-sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and is supported by a grant from the U.S. State Department Fund for Innovation in Public Diplomacy.

The first half of the exchange brought six Kallawaya medicinal practitioners and textile weavers from the Andean highlands of Bolivia to participate in the One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage program at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, along with more than 120 cultural experts from eighteen different language communities across the United States and around the world, including a delegation of Siletz Indian dancers, basket weavers, regalia makers, and language educators from the coast of Oregon. At the Festival, the Kallawaya and Siletz participants shared their ceremonies, craft traditions, dances, and knowledge systems, as well as their efforts to revitalize and sustain their languages and cultural heritage.

The second part of the exchange brings members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians to Bolivia for a series of workshops, meetings, lectures, performances, and demonstrations with the goal of introducing indigenous Bolivians to Native American experts on language and cultural heritage revitalization and building relationships between Bolivian indigenous peoples and Native American communities in the United States.

The Siletz group will return home to Oregon on August 24. Stay tuned for a more detailed account of the Siletz-Kallawaya cultural exchange in an upcoming article in Talk Story: Culture in Motion, the Center’s new online publication!

June 24, 2014

Teacher Forum Goes GALACTIC at Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Indiana University Center for the Study of Global Change and Center for the Study of the Middle East, in concert with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s Cultural Heritage Policy and Cultural Education programs, will host a teacher’s forum at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on July 2 and 3. Drawing on the Indiana University pilot project “New Models for Teaching About Conflict in a Global Age,” participants will prepare the groundwork for a new initiative called GALACTIC: Global Arts – Local Arts – Curriculum Toward International Citizenship.  

GALACTIC is an Indiana University-based initiative with the long-term goal to create a global consortium of teachers with an arts- and culture-based approach to conflict studies, reconciliation, human rights awareness, and cultural heritage policy in virtual and face-to-face learning environments. One of the primary foci of GALACTIC is to identify cultural practices and policies that promote an understanding of the tensions as well as the commonalities among communities in contention.

The GALACTIC forum at the Folklife Festival will explore intercultural dialogue and collaborations that respect wholesome cultural distinctions and historically grounded identities. The program will consider the construction of new common-space national and cross-national norms of identity reflective of increased global connections among peoples and cultures. Foodways, music-making, folk healing, liturgical practices, language, and visual arts provide shared doorways into culturally diverse and yet at times parallel human expressions through which teachers can guide students in understanding, negotiating, cultivating, and creating new human experiences through the national, religious, and interethnic issues at play locally, nationally, and globally.

June 23, 2014

Young African Leaders to Participate in Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage will host a “Cultural Democracy and Statecraft” seminar on July 3, led by Cultural Heritage Policy director James Early and in collaboration with twenty-five members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

A flagship initiative of President Barack Obama and administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the YALI program is designed for the young leaders “to participate in a multidisciplinary itinerary of academic seminars, cultural and civic activities, and service learning projects geared toward public management … to prepare Fellows for follow-on leadership opportunities in Africa, with the goal of strengthening democratic institutions and spurring economic growth and development on the continent.” YALI’s goals intersect with the Center’s philosophy, mission, and applied cultural democracy and cultural sustainability policies and long-term collaborative planning of the Folklife Festival with citizens and governments.

The one-day seminar includes visits to the China: Tradition and the Art of Living and Kenya: Mambo Poa Folklife Festival programs and proactive-sharing among African participants about their awareness, ideas, questions, problematics, and proposals about why and how creative cultural expressions and knowledge systems in their respective countries and the African continent (e.g. medicinal, artisanal, philosophical, agricultural, and culinary) are already factored into policies or might be sustainably incorporated in democratic governance and policies of material and spiritual wellbeing.

For more information, contact seminar coordinators:
Dr. Jean Bailey, director of cultural and civic activities of the Howard University Washington Fellowship for YALI:, 202.421.5552
Sonja N. Woods, assistant:, 919.724.9107

June 16, 2014

Human Tower of Catalan Protestors Featured in Smithsonian Magazine

Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage director Michael Atwood Mason published an article in Smithsonian Magazine on June 13, featuring a peculiar protest that occurred around the world earlier this month. As part of the “Catalans want to vote. Human towers for democracy” campaign, courageous climbers stacked themselves atop one another in public squares in Barcelona and sixty other towns and cities.

“The Catalans are actively seeking international support for a referendum on November 9th, allowing a vote to settle the question of an independent state for the region. The Spanish government maintains that the Catalans have no legal right to pose this question, but most Catalans think that as members of European democracy, they can call for a non-binding plebiscite. The use of human towers to draw attention to the fact that they want their voices to be heard is a dramatic and intriguing display of a performance that was declared in 2010 by UNESCO as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.’”

Read the full article on

Human towers for democracy at the anniversary of Castellers in Barcelona. Photo by Matthias Oesterle/Demotix/Corbis

January 28, 2014

Smithsonian Folkways Remembers Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

The Smithsonian community was saddened to learn of the death of Pete Seeger Monday, January 27. Seeger, a venerated folklorist, musician and writer, performed and advocated for causes for more than seventy years.

Seeger was a national treasure, and the Smithsonian Institution is honored to have his recordings in its Smithsonian Folkways collection, which he and his family helped establish and support. Smithsonian Folkways—the Institution’s nonprofit record label—has sixty-seven albums in its collection with Seeger as the lead performer. Seeger and his wife Toshi (1922-2013) also served on the Smithsonian Folkways Advisory Board.

Smithsonian Folkways has created a tribute to Seeger, and members of the public are invited to share thoughts in the online guestbook.

“Pete Seeger showed us how folk music—music of the people, by the people, and for the people—has the power to inspire, to bring us together, and to make us think, through refrains such as ‘Oh when will they ever learn?’ He was a bard, a brother, and a bellwether to us all, a cornerstone of the Smithsonian Folkways record label. We will carry his legacy with us always.” – Daniel Sheehy, director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

“Pete Seeger was a giant of our time, and his voice and presence will be truly missed.” – Jeff Place, archivist and producer, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Seeger was involved in almost every important facet of American music. He was on the board of the Newport Folk Festival and has been a board member of Sing Out!, Smithsonian Folkways, and many other organizations. Since the 1960s, he has been involved in a successful fight to clean up his beloved Hudson River, near his Beacon, New York home. Along with the sloop The Clearwater, Seeger and others have spent years sailing the Hudson to sing songs in support of the river clean up to audiences in towns along the way. He and his wife Toshi ran the Clearwater Festival in New York state each year.

Right up until his death, Seeger continued to compose and perform folk music as well as advocate for social change. In January 2009, he led a crowd of hundreds of thousands sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” on the Lincoln Memorial steps during the pre-inauguration concert before Barack Obama became president of the United States.

He was nominated in 2014 for a GRAMMY Award for Best Spoken Word Album. Just days before his death, he helped organize a celebration of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Beacon, New York. He was out there doing what he felt was right, up to the end.

Seeger was a recipient of The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1993), The National Medal of Arts (1994), and the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Honor (1994); he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1996). He earned GRAMMY awards for Best Traditional Folk album in 1996 and 2008, and Best Children’s Album in 2010. In 2008 he earned The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for his commitment to peace and social justice as a musician, songwriter, activist, and environmentalist. He has also been suggested as a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pete Seeger. Photo by Diana Davis

December 3, 2013

Sabrina Lynn Motley Named Director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Sabrina Lynn Motley, senior director of programs and exhibitions at Asia Society Texas Center, has been appointed director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, effective Dec. 4. With a diverse background in arts, education, philanthropy and community engagement, Motley is known for the development of content-rich programming and a multidisciplinary approach to nurturing the work of artists and cultural organizations.

“Sabrina’s background reflects a passion for the ways in which public presentations are conceived, executed and evaluated,” said Michael Mason, director of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “We will soon launch a new strategic plan calling for greater integration of the Center’s program areas, which will enable Sabrina to re-envision the Festival.”

In 2012, Motley was hired by Asia Society Texas Center to create a mission-driven framework for core programs in areas of arts and culture, business and policy, and education. Under Motley’s leadership, the Texas Center expanded its public offerings and strengthened its collaborative approach to program creation and implementation. Through performances, lectures, exhibitions and workshops, its programming reflected Houston’s rapidly changing demographics and its role as a gateway to Asia. While at the Texas Center, Motley oversaw the mounting of several critically acclaimed exhibitions, including Universe Is Flux: The Art of Tawara Yusaku, organized by the Indianapolis Museum, and Weavers’ Stories from Island Southeast Asia, organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Motley’s most recent exhibitions speak to her ongoing interest in exploring the creative lives of women and the role of traditional arts in contemporary life.

Motley received her bachelor’s degree from the World Arts & Cultures Program and a master’s degree in African studies at UCLA. She is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at UCLA, where she conducted research on the interplay between religious faith, doubt and social activism. An avid photographer and world music aficionada, for more than five years Motley was a popular host of “The Global Village,” KPFK 90.7 FM’s flagship music program. As a teacher, Motley has taught cultural anthropology at the Art Center College of Design and the Otis Institute for Art and Design.

“Since its inception in 1967, the Festival has been celebrated as the nation’s laboratory for cultural exchange and exploration through artist-focused, research-based programming,” said Motley. “As it approaches its 50th anniversary, we are charged with investigating new avenues to support cultural sustainability and vitality, using new tools such as social media to amplify the Festival’s mission even as it stays true to its core values and purpose.”

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, celebrates traditional culture with people from across the United States and around the world. The Festival includes daily programs of music, song and dance, crafts, occupational skills and cooking demonstrations, storytelling, workshops and narrative sessions for discussing cultural issues. It attracts approximately 1 million visitors a year. The Festival is a research-based production of the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. For more information about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, visit

Media only:
Becky Haberacker
Linda St.Thomas

Sabrina Lynn Motley Named Director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by Richard Watson

October 30, 2013

Special program with Dr. Franklin Odo to celebrate the publication of
Voices from the Canefields: Folksongs from Japanese Immigrant Workers in Hawai`i

(Oxford University Press, 2013)

Date: Thursday, November 7, 2013, 6:00 pm
Location: National Museum of American History
Presidential Reception Suite (enter on Constitution Ave.)
1300 Constitution Ave NW
Washington D.C., 20560

6:00 to 6:30 - Book signing
Books will be available for sale
6:30 to 7:30 - Author’s presentation
7:30 to 8:00 - Book signing and refreshments

Event is free, no RSVP necessary.

Voices from the Canefields focuses on folk songs, holehole bushi, from Japanese plantation workers in Hawai`i. Holehole is the Native Hawaiian word for the withered and dying leaves of the sugar cane and the task of stripping them from the stalks. Bushi is the Japanese word for “tune” or “melody.”

This volume is based around the work of Harry Urata (1917-2009), who preserved and perpetuated the music for the holehole bushi. Beginning in the 1960s, he recorded interviews with aging immigrants who had sung these songs on rural plantations and in urban tea houses. As a whole, holehole bushi expresses the experiences of people caught in the global movements of capital, empire, and labor during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Voices from the Canefields, author Franklin Odo situates over two hundred of these songs, in translation, in a hitherto largely unexplored historical context.

Franklin Odo was the founding director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. He has also served as acting chief of the Asian Division of the Library of Congress, and he is currently leading the National Park Service initiative to address the under-representation of designations of Asian Pacific American historic sites. He will be accompanied by Glen Hirabayashi on the ukulele.

“Make room for another musical icon of regional America! Simple, direct, and powerful, the holehole bushi tradition shatters cultural stereotypes and grounds this niche of the Japanese American experience in its stark and trying historical reality. Historian Franklin Odo has parlayed Harry Minoru Urata's decades of song-hunting into a spectacular, engaging, and eye-opening view of a seminal Japanese American regional tradition.”
--Daniel Sheehy, director and curator, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Our American Journey: Smithsonian Immigration/Migration Initiative, and the National Museum of American History.

August 8, 2013

White House Workers: Traditions and Memories features “The Butler” Eugene Allen

On August 16, 2013, theaters will premiere Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a historical drama that follows the experience of an African American butler in the White House during eight presidential terms from 1952 to 1986. The film’s main character is based on Eugene Allen (1919–2010), a White House butler and maître d’ who witnessed the remaking of American racial history.

The Butler is not the first film that features Allen. In 1990, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage curator Dr. Marjorie Hunt began researching White House workers for the 1992 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Workers at the White House program. One of the results of the research was a 32-minute documentary, Workers at the White House, directed by Hunt, that features Allen and other workers who served many presidents. Hunt’s documentary, which was produced in collaboration with the White House Historical Association, also appears on the 2009 DVD, White House Workers: Traditions and Memories, along with an introduction by President Jimmy Carter; a 12-minute video accompanying the Smithsonian traveling exhibition, The Working White House; and two hours of additional interviews produced by Center curator James Deutsch and media director Charles Weber. The DVD illuminates the social and cultural history of America’s most famous residence, exploring the skills, customs, knowledge, and experience of a wide range of White House workers. The DVD contains Allen’s stories about the differing customs among first families, golf with President Ford, presidential birthday celebrations, and many others.

Watch the man who inspired The Butler on White House Workers: Traditions and Memories, and learn how the dedication, skills, and sacrifices of residence staff members have helped the White House fulfill its multiple roles as a family residence, seat of government, ceremonial center, historic building, and museum.

Other Videos:
Eugene Allen and First Lady Nancy Reagan
Eugene Allen and President Carter

White House Workers: Traditions and Memories features “The Butler” Eugene Allen

April 24, 2013

Remembering Olive Lewin (1927-2013)

Olive Lewin—a renowned Jamaican folklorist, musicologist, singer, actress, and community servant—passed away on April 10, 2013, at the age of eighty-five. The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage was honored to work with her on past Folklife Festivals, including the African Diaspora program (1973-1976) and The Caribbean: Cultural Encounters in the New World program (1989).

Read a tribute by James Early (Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage)

Read a tribute by Jake Homiak (Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology)

February 11, 2013

Association for Critical Heritage Studies – US Chapter Launch Event on February 20th

On February 20, 2013, 6 - 7:30 p.m., representatives of the Association for Critical Heritage Studies (ACHS) will be launching its U.S. Chapter at Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Find out more about this event.

January 31, 2013

The Stone Carvers Screening at MoMA, February 3, 2:30 pm

CFCH curator Marjorie Hunt joins co-director Paul Wagner at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a screening of their documentary about the Italian American stone carvers who worked on the Washington Cathedral. This screening is part of the Museum’s series “Oscar’s Docs, 1955-2002: American Series,” which features a selection of Oscar-winning films. Find out more about the series and the screening schedule.

<i>The Stone Carvers</i> Screening at MoMA, February 3, 2:30 pm

January 15, 2013

Roberto Martínez (1929-2013): Appreciating a Musical Life

Roberto Martínez (1929-2013) was a prominent musician, composer, and standard bearer of northern New Mexican-southern Coloradan musical tradition. He was born in the heartland of New Mexico’s 400-year-old Hispanic community, in the village of Mora, and he lived most of his life in Albuquerque with his wife Ramona and his musically talented children. Roberto was the mainstay of the prominent New Mexican ensemble Los Reyes de Albuquerque, the founder of the regional record label Minority Owned Record Enterprises (M.O.R.E.), and the author of regionally prominent corridos (narrative ballads) that instilled cultural pride and the struggle for social justice.  He performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on several occasions, he toured nationally with the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and he received the National Endowment for the Arts’ prestigious National heritage Fellowship. Today, the M.O.R.E. collection is part of the Smithsonian Folkways family of historic record labels, part of the national museum’s permanent holdings.

Read an appreciation of Roberto Martínez by Smithsonian Folkways Director and Curator Daniel Sheehy.

January 14, 2013

Save the Date! January 30, 2013—The Will to Adorn lecture by Diana Baird N’Diaye at the Library of Congress

January 30, 2013, 12:00 noon - 1:00 pm
Whitthall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building
101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington DC

Diana Baird N'Diaye will present on The Will to Adorn: Reflections on African American Identity and the Aesthetics of Dress as part of the Benjamin A. Botkin Foklife Lecture Series at the Library of Congress. Diana, who is a cultural heritage specialist and curator at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, will share stories, observations, and insights from The Will to Adorn, a community-centered research and public presentation project, which explores and examines the diversity of African American cultural identities as expressed through traditional arts of the body, dress, and adornment. The project, which includes the work and perspectives of researchers and cultural practitioners across the United States, challenges notions of a monolithic African American community at the same time that it explores the ways that dress and body adornment are powerful expressive art forms grounded in the history and experiences of people of African descent in the nation.

Through the Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series, the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress presents the best of current research and practice in folklore, folklife, and closely related fields. The series invites professionals from academia and the public sector to present findings from their research. The lectures are free and open to the public. In addition, each lecture is recorded for permanent deposit in the Archive of Folk Culture, where researchers can access them.

For more information, contact the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress: (202) 707-5510.  

Diana Baird N’Diaye

December 26, 2012

Mahalo and Aloha, Senator Daniel K. Inouye

As members of the public pay their last respects to Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage recalls the honor of his participation in three Center projects: the Hawai‘i Folklife Festival (1989), the National World War II Reunion (2004), and the Asian Pacific Americans: Local Lives, Global Ties Festival program.

The Senator, who passed away on December 17, 2012, has left behind a remarkable legacy that includes military service and a Congressional Medal of Honor, over a half-century in national politics, and a lifetime commitment to championing the causes of his home state of Hawai‘i and furthering the civil rights of all Americans.

CFCH media director Charlie Weber interviewed the Senator in 2004 on the occasion of the National World War II Reunion.

Click here for a segment in which the Senator describes the transformative impact of WWII on the course of his life and relays several poignant stories about the wisdom of his father Hyotaro Inouye.

Click here for a segment in which the Senator describes his WWII military experiences, including his enlistment, basic training, and the relationship between the mainland and Hawai‘i soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Click here to read Charlie Weber’s blog about his interview with the Senator.

December 14, 2012

Presentation to Cuban jazz musician Chucho Valdés

Cuban musician Jesús Chucho Valdés was guest of honor at a reception at the Cuban ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., on December 6. After a performance by his quintet, Valdés was presented with JAZZ: The Smithsonian Anthology," on which he is among the featured artists. Click on image to enlarge and view caption.

December 10, 2012

Remembering Walter Milton “Teeth” Kelly (1926-2012)

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage mourns the recent passing of Walter Milton “Teeth” Kelly (1926-2012), a Baltimore Arabber, who was a concessionaire at the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival for over thirty years.

In late November, as news spread of his passing, Center staff shared their thoughts and remembrances through a flurry of emails. Among them:

Barbara Strickland (Associate Director, Finance and Administration): “Mr. Kelly began selling fruit in the early seventies and continued selling fruit at the Folklife Festival till 2010. Each year he would bring his mule and wagon to the Mall and sell watermelon by the slice and fresh pineapple with a stick of peppermint candy in the center. What a treat that was for many Festival goers!”

Betty Derbyshire (Director of Financial Operations, Smithsonian Folkways): “I am truly saddened by this news. Mr. Kelly was a fixture at the Festival, as well as a truly sweet man who cared about others. His fruit cart wasn’t just a source of income to him, but a prideful profession—one that he loved sharing with others. I will miss him.”

Marjorie Hunt (Education Specialist/Folklife Curator): “Mr. Kelly was a true Festival treasure. He not only sold his fruit at the Festival, but was a participant for the American Talkers Festival in the late 1970s. Steve Zeitlin and I were privileged to be able to visit with Walter Kelly in his stables in Baltimore to interview him about his work and his artful street cries, and go with him on his rounds through the streets of Baltimore, shouting his traditional cries and selling his fruit from his horse-pulled wagon. He was a kind, gentle person and will be missed greatly.

Read an appreciation of Mr. Kelly by photographer and CFCH research associate Roland Freeman and listen to a recording of some of his classic street hollers.

October 30, 2012

CFCH Curator Olivia Cadaval recognized with 2012 Américo Paredes Prize

For her work in integrating scholarship with community engagement, Olivia Cadaval  was awarded the American Folklore Society’s 2012 Américo Paredes Prize. Cadaval is curator and chair of Cultural Research and Education at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Since joining the Center in 1988, she has produced curriculum enrichment materials, exhibitions, and Web sites; and she has curated numerous Festival programs including El Rio (2000), México (2010), and Colombia: The Nature of Culture (2011).

Américo Paredes (1915-1999), a scholar of folklore and Greater Mexico studies, taught at the University of Texas from 1957 until his retirement in 1984. His work reflects his commitment to, in the words of Olga Najera-Ramirez, "better understand, represent, and respect the rights, lives, and culture of U.S. Latinas and Latinos." The Paredes Prize recognizes his contributions to the field and to the Society, gives respect to his memory, and recognizes exemplary achievements that build upon his cross-disciplinary, socially engaged legacy.

October 15, 2012

Joe Bataan: The Afro-Filipino King of Latin Soul—a discussion and concert about the intersections of music, activism, and community life

Music, activism, creativity, and community collaboration are celebrated in this FREE evening concert and discussion on Friday, October 19, between 6:30 p.m and 9 p.m. at the Baird Auditorium of the National Museum of Natural History.

This program is a tribute to Joe Bataan, a musician who symbolizes the intersections between Afro-Asian-Latino histories and cultural forms. Born and raised in Spanish Harlem, Bataan said, “My father was Filipino and my mother was African American, and my culture was Puerto Rican.” Through the 1960s and 70s, Bataan was an enormously popular bandleader and hailed as the “King of Latin Soul.” Of his music, he said, “Latin soul comes straight from the streets of Harlem. It’s a cha-cha backbeat with English lyrics and a pulsating rhythm that makes your feet come alive.” Bataan recorded his first album Gypsy Woman in 1966 and later founded the company Salsoul Records. After a hiatus of 20 years, during which he worked as a youth counselor, he is performing again at venues worldwide.

The program features a concert by Joe Bataan and his band. It is preceded by a discussion with Joe Bataan, African American Studies scholar Dr. Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, and activist and performer Nobuko Miyamoto, whose 1973 album A Grain of Sand was recorded on Paredon Records and is now part of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings catalog. With them, we revisit the political and cultural ferment and collaboration of the late 1960s and early 70s in New York City when groups such as the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Party, Asian Americans for Action, and El Comité contributed to dynamic social justice movements, catalyzed largely by young people, which inspired cultural pride, creativity, and activism. Miguel “Mickey” Meléndez, author and former member of the Young Lords, will moderate the discussion.

The program is presented by the Asian Pacific American Program and the Smithsonian Latino Center, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the Americans All: Immigration/Migration Initiative. It is part of a project, led by the Asian Pacific American Program and the Smithsonian Latino Center, which explores the ways that the American experience is animated by the many intersections connecting Asians and Latinos, the two fastest-growing populations in the U.S. Through a year-long series of programs, this pan-institutional and interdisciplinary initiative is expanding public understanding of the changing face of American history, art, and culture.

This program is free. But seating is limited and available on a first come-first served basis.

For more information, please visit or call 202-633-1240.

August 22, 2012

Ralph Rinzler to Be Inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame

Ralph Rinzler, co-founder of the Festival of American Folklife, now the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, will be inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards Show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Thursday, September 27, 2012.

In 1976, Rinzler became director of the Smithsonian Office of Folklife Programs, now the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, where he continued to pursue the vision of Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley to “take the instruments out of their cases and let them sing.” The Smithsonian Institution named the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections in his honor in 1998. He was a positive risk-taker who engaged and included diverse cultural points of views and aspirations in his approach to public programming. He championed cultural diversity employment in Smithsonian curatorial and administrative decision-making, which has had an impact on cultural policy across the Smithsonian.

Rinzler is recognized for his groundbreaking work with famous musicians for Folkways Records, and he played with Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Mary Travers; was David Grisman’s first teacher; helped Doc Watson tour nationally; and managed Bill Monroe. Rinzler was a member of the legendary Greenbriar Boys, played on recordings with Clarence Ashley and Joan Baez, and won a GRAMMY award for his work on Folkways, A Vision Shared: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly. Later, Rinzler planned the acquisition of Folkways Records by the Smithsonian; and he subsequently produced Smithsonian Folkways albums on Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, and Bill Monroe. The Ralph Rinzler Collection in the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s archives includes his field recordings that have been used to create a number of releases on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

The International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame is an institution devoted to the recognition of noteworthy individuals for outstanding contributions to bluegrass music, and is located in the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Read Ralph Rinzler’s biography.

Click here for more information on the International Bluegrass Music Association and Hall of Fame.

May 21, 2012

Chuck Brown(1936-2012) is remembered. Watch video of his electrifying performance at the 2000 Folklife Festival

In Memoriam—The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage mourns the passing of Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go.

Brown was born in North Carolina in 1936. When he was eight, his family moved to Washington, D.C., a city with which he and the music he pioneered are closely associated. A guitar player, he was influenced by a variety of musical forms, including jazz, blues, and Latin genres—even playing with a group called Los Latinos in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, with Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, he released the song "We the People," which is considered the first recording to reflect the distinctive D.C. go-go sound. Their 1978 song "Bustin' Loose" hit number one on the national charts.

In 2005, Chuck Brown was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as a National Heritage Fellow, this country's highest honor for Folk and Traditional artists. When interviewed by Jo Reed on this occasion, Brown explained:

“I was trying to create a sound of my own but it ended up being a sound for the town and all the other bands jumping on it, you know?  Everybody like that groove, you know?  Break down and you caught a response to the people, you know?  And that's what it's about and it just goes and goes.  It got to the point we didn't have to do no more ballads... everybody wanted to stay on the floor.  Once you come through that door, you're gonna get on the floor... I decided to call it go-go music simply because it don't stop, it just keep going and going and going.”

The photograph above shows Chuck Brown at the Ebony Inn, 5367 Sheriff Road, Capital Heights. Brown took photographer Tom Pich here because it’s where he first performed as a young boy. Pich recalls, “During my visit with Mr. Brown at the Ebony Inn, I witnessed how much he was loved and respected by the community: word of his presence spread fast and it took him quite awhile before he could enter the Inn. I watched him take the time to say hello to everyone that wanted to speak with him.”

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage was proud to present Chuck Brown at the 1993 and 2000 Smithsonian Folklife Festivals. This footage from his electrifying 2000 performance demonstrates why his legacy, like the music, will no doubt "keep going and going and going."

March 2, 2012

Award-winning filmmaker Les Blank presents his documentary tribute to legendary Afro-Cuban percussionist Francisco Aguabella

Join Les Blank for a screening of  Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella (1995, 35 minutes) on Friday, March 2, noon to 1:30 pm at the National Museum of American History, Warner Bros. Theater. After the screening, Blank will discuss the film with Smithsonian scholars Marvette Pérez, James Early, and Jim Deutsch.

Les Blank has been making rich, resonant films about music, art, and foodways for over 50 years at his own Flower Films in Berkeley, California. He recently has been honored with the International Documentary Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the Folk Alliance International Lifetime Achievement Award, and a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Two of his films are in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.

Aguabella (1925-2010) was a master conga and batá player who bridged traditional Cuban genres with the worlds of rock, jazz, and salsa. Throughout his career, he performed with Tito Puente, Carlos Santana, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Mongo Santamaría, and many other musical legends. In 1995, he was honored as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts.

This program is organized by the National Museum of American History, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the Smithsonian Latino Center as part of the Americans All: Immigration/Migration Initiative. It is presented in collaboration with the DC Independent Film Festival.

For more information on this program, call
(202) 633-3773.
For more information on the DC Independent Film Festival, visit

December 7, 2011

Colombia Folklife Festival Program Travels Home

On Dec 7, 2011, Folklife Center staff Olivia Cadaval and Cristina Díaz-Carrera travelled to Bogotá, Colombia, to attend the first three days of the restaging of the Colombia: The Nature of Culture program. This reiteration of last summer's Smithsonian Folklife Festival program was presented at Bogotá’s annual Expo Artesanías. It featured 80 of the 100 original participants, the guadua tents (or hojamantas), and the graphic panels and signage. Program coordinator Diaz-Carrera reports, “It was a wonderful experience to observe the ongoing impact of the Festival and to continue strengthening our relationships with our partners.”

July 12, 2011

2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival Wrap Up

For ten days, more than 280 artists performed, provided demonstrations, and shared their experiences and knowledge with an estimated 1,083,000 visitors. This was the largest Festival attendance since the 2002 Silk Road program. Check out the Festival Web site and blog for information about the programs and participants. We are continuing to post more photo galleries, video, audio streams, and additional material from the 2011 Festival.

The 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

July 7, 2011

The 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival features Colombia, the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps, and Rhythm and Blues music

After an exciting first week of performances and demonstrations, we jump into week two. Check out the Festival Web site and blog for photographs, videos, schedules, map, and information about the participants and programs.

The 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

December 25, 2010

Long-time Center friend and colleague Kate Rinzler passed away December 25, 2010 in Prescott, Arizona after a long battle with cancer. Kate was a specialist in children’s folklore and for years was the curator of the Children’s Area at the yearly Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She took her knowledge of children’s folklore and used it in classrooms in Washington and North Carolina. Kate also documented children’s games in African, African-American, Anglo-American and Chinese culture. These films became part of series of booklets and videotapes available from the Smithsonian in the 1970s.

Among Kate’s other interests were batik, modern dance, choreography, puppets, and Indian folk culture. Her late husband Ralph Rinzler was the co-founder of the Festival of American Folklife and the director of the Office of Folklife Programs (the predecessor to the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage) for many years. Kate was a partner and collaborator on many of Ralph’s projects during his career. Much of what the Center does today is based on concepts created by Ralph and Kate in years past. We will miss her.

More on Kate’s life can be found at

September 10, 2010

The Center is saddened to report the death of Irwin Silber on September 8, 2010. Silber was co-founder of Paredon Records with Barbara Dane, longtime collaborator with Folkways founder Moses Asch and constant friend to the Smithsonian.

August 8, 2009

The Center for Folklife remembers traditional music preserver, performer, and teacher Mike Seeger (1933-2009)

"Old-time rural music remains at the center of my life. It's a tactile, emotional, aural pleasure — the words are my Shakespeare and my mysteries, the music is my Bach, my pastime, and it makes me want to dance...Classic, timeless qualities in this music endure. For me, there ain't no way out but nature, and I'll make the most of it."
-Mike Seeger (from the liner notes to the 1997 album There Ain't No Way Out by The New Lost City Ramblers)

Mike Seeger, who devoted his life to documenting, teaching, keeping alive, and carrying forth the sounds of traditional music of the American South, died from cancer Friday night at the age of 75. A self-taught multi-instrumentalist and singer, Seeger's 50-plus-year career included recordings as a solo performer, as a founding member of the influential group The New Lost City Ramblers, and as a documenter of many of the finest 20th-century performers of the genre including Dock Boggs, Elizabeth Cotten, and Kilby Snow.

Seeger's career highlights include producing the first long-playing bluegrass album, American Banjo: Three-Finger and Scruggs Style, earning six GRAMMY nominations (including nominations for Smithsonian Folkways albums Southern Banjo Sounds and 1997's There Ain't No Way Out with The New Lost City Ramblers), and earning the 2009 Bess Lomax Hawes Award from the National Endowment for the Arts among many other awards and grants. In all, Mike Seeger contributed to 75 Smithsonian Folkways albums, most recently a box set available August 25th, 2009 celebrating the 50th anniversary of The New Lost City Ramblers, and numerous Smithsonian Folklife Festivals as a researcher, presenter, and performer, including the first-ever festival in 1967. Mike Seeger will be remembered as tireless preserver, performer, and teacher of traditional music.

Please click here for a profile of Mike Seeger, including video and audio samples.

July 27th, 2009

Nine Smithsonian Folkways songs named to 100 Most Essential Folk Songs list

Nine tracks from the Smithsonian Folkways collection were recently featured on Folk Alley's "100 Most Essential Folk Songs" list, including songs from Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Elizabeth Cotten. Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" was awarded the list's top spot. The list also includes twenty three songs from Smithsonian Folkways collection that are performed by other artists, such as "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" by Pete Seeger (as performed by the Kingston Trio) and "Goodnight Irene" by Lead Belly (as performed by the Weavers).

Smithsonian Folkways Songs on Folk Alley's list of 100 Most Essential Folk Songs:

01."This Land Is Your Land" - Woody Guthrie
04. "If I Had a Hammer" - Pete Seeger
08. "We Shall Overcome" - Pete Seeger
30. "Pastures of Plenty" - Woody Guthrie
36. "Freight Train" - Elizabeth Cotten
41. "Changes" - Phil Ochs
45. "Little Boxes" - Malvina Reynolds
64. "Deportee" - Woody Guthrie
68. "The Crucifixion" - Phil Ochs
93. "Hobo's Lullaby" - Woody Guthrie

July 17th, 2009

Smithsonian Folkways: Sounds to Grow On Episode #7 Now Available on Podcast

Smithsonian Folkways: Sounds to Grow On, the 26-part radio series hosted by Michael Asch, son of Folkways founder Moses Asch, features the original recordings of Folkways Records' vast catalogue. Episode #7 features the Songs of Animals - click here to download or subscribe to the podcast.

Smithsonian Folkways: Sounds to Grow On

April 21, 2009

Smithsonian Folklife Festival needs volunteers

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage needs capable and enthusiastic volunteers before, during, and after its annual Folklife Festival, which will be held on the National Mall Wednesday, June 24 through Sunday, June 28 and Wednesday, July 1 through Sunday, July 5.

Volunteers for "Giving Voice" will assist program participants with the presentation of African American oral traditions as the Smithsonian prepares for the 2015 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Volunteers supporting the "Las Américas" program will help artists from the United States and Latin America feature a myriad of musical styles from throughout the Americas. Volunteers for the "Wales Smithsonian Cymru" program will help the Festival's Welsh participants share their rich culture and heritage, presenting connections between traditional culture, new technologies, and national efforts for sustainability. Volunteers also are needed to support a wide variety of other areas, including the Marketplace (the Festival's retail venue), information kiosks, and with the Festival recycling program.

Certified American Sign Language interpreters and volunteers who speak Spanish or Welsh are especially needed. More information on all the volunteer opportunities and an application are available here or by contacting volunteer coordinator Laura Jenkins at or (202) 633-6484.

April 20, 2009

Pete Seeger: American Favorite Ballads Vol. 1-5 Box Set
will be released April 21st

Check back soon for a special announcement including free downloads, but in the meantime, please enjoy this previously unreleased video of interviews and music performance. Click here to learn more.

Pete Seeger Box Set from Smithsonian Folkways

April 17, 2009

The Working White House:
200 Years of Tradition and Memories online

The White House Historical Society has launched an online version of the traveling exhibition here. Co-curated by the Center's Jim Deutsch, the White House Workers exhibition explores the dedication, skills, and sacrifices of residence staff whose extraordinary service has helped the White House fulfill its multiple roles as a family residence, seat of government, ceremonial center, historic building, and museum.

Smithsonian Folkways has also released a companion DVD with:

  • An introduction by former President Jimmy Carter recalling the White House workers he knew.
  • Workers at the White House, a 32-minute documentary film featuring a broad range of workers who have served presidents from Herbert Hoover to George H.W. Bush. Until now this film was only available in VHS format.
  • The Working White House: 200 Years of Traditions and Memories, a 12-minute introduction to the traveling exhibition.
  • Two hours of interviews conducted in 2007 with recently retired White House workers, recounting memories, describing traditions, and expressing sense of community among staff and pride in their service to First Families and the nation.

Click here for more information about the DVD.

March 24, 2009

Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways is now available on CD and DRM-free Digital Download

War, social injustice, personal plaints, and calls for action have long fueled musical creation and performance. In Classic Protest Songs, Mark Gustafson and Jeff Place tap the historic Smithsonian audio collections to compile 22 songs favored by leaders of antiwar, civil rights, industrial labor, farm worker, and other struggles to air their grievances. Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Janis Ian, Big Bill Broonzy, Pete Seeger, Barbara Dane, Guy Carawan, Phil Ochs, and other marquee artists let their voices ring out with calls for peace and justice.

Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways

March 5, 2009

John Cephas, 1930-2009

Piedmont blues guitarist and vocalist John Cephas passed away March 4th at his home in Woodford, Virginia. Cephas, a 1989 National Heritage Fellowship Award recipient, recorded the album Richmond Blues in 2008 with his longtime musical partner Phil Wiggins as part of the African American Legacy Recording Series.

Cephas & Wiggins teamed up in 1977 after meeting at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and were named W.C Handy Blues Entertainers of the Year in 1987. Cephas, who once said "blues music is truth", served on the Executive Committee of the National Council for the Traditional Arts and was a founder of the Washington D.C. Blues Society. Click here to watch a video of Cephas & Wiggins discussing the Piedmont Blues style and click here to watch them perform in the 2007 Smithsonian Folklife festival Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert.

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