Program to highlight folklorist Lomax’s Michigan Legacy

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, D.C., 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, including a stop in Posen and Metz to record wedding music, polkas, waltzes, mazurkas, and songs from the local Polish American community.

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.

A multimedia performance event “Folksongs from Michigan-i-o” will take place Friday at 7:30 p.m., at the Rogers City Community Theater. This free event combines live performance with Lomax’s 1938 color movie footage and recorded sound, with a special emphasis on the Polish music recorded in Posen and Metz. Some of these materials haven’t been heard or seen by the general public for more than seven decades.

Pan Franek, Zosia, and the Polka Towners-the crowd-pleasing family polka band from Muskegon – will perform dance music and songs currently popular among Michigan’s Polish American community (music that Lomax might record were he to visit Michigan today).

Local partners are the Presque Isle County Historical Museum and the Rogers City Community Theater.

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 the Michigan State University Museum and its the Great Lakes Traditions Endowment; the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress; the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at the University of Wisconsin; the Association for Cultural Equity; and the Finlandia Foundation.