Rooted in Protest and Uprooted from Folklore: Black Songs of Protest and Lawrence Gellert

Steven P. Garabedian (Marist College)

In the 1920s, ’30s, and ‘40s, white leftwing collector Lawrence Gellert documented musical protest rooted in African American vernacular communities. But, white peers came to dismiss the material as suspect. Were these “songs of protest” genuine folk material? If they were “folk,” were they just “nonce-creations” without collective import? Then again, some charged, maybe they weren’t even real; maybe, they were outright forgeries of Gellert’s own creation. This paper examines representative items in the Gellert archive. The material, I argue, is genuine vernacular expression. It was uprooted from the field of folklore because it upset disciplinary strictures.

Part of 07-09 Folklore, Advocacy, and Community Protest, Saturday, November 04, 8:30 am–10:00 am