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The Hewlett Foundation Blog




The Kodály Center for Music Education at Holy Names University 

February 7, 2014 — By Heath Wickline

The Kodály Center for Music Education, a Performing Arts program grantee, has been the subject of two excellent pieces in the Bay Area press recently. 

Nanette Asimov, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle:

No one knows why Jim Boyd was locked up in the Texas Penitentiary back in 1934. What is known is that he had a fine tenor voice and a talent for clapping out a rhythm as nimbly as if the guards had let him have a guitar.

Care to hear him?

Music professors at Holy Names University in Oakland have transcribed hundreds of rare folk songs on a website - including 63 with recordings of regular people, like Boyd - that will transport you from the 21st century into the midst of a children's chanting game in Mississippi, 1939. Or to Virginia in 1935 as J.M. Hunt croons a sea shanty. Or behind bars with Boyd and his rendition of "This Little Light of Mine," sung at a faster clip than anyone does it today.

And Joshua Johnson's post for the KQED News Fix blog featuers several of the actual recordings from the archive:

“Genuine folk music has been handed down from parents to children, through generations, and it changes, and each time it changes and might develop something deeper, some deeper meaning. It’s a very different thing than someone writing a folk song and recording it and having it be this one thing that never changes,” [ Kodály Center Director Anne] Laskey says.

“Mary Has a Red Bird” is good example of this oral history. A father and daughter in Texas sang this recording 75 years ago:

“This was a song sung to the babies way back in the cotton fields of slavery back down in about 1845,” Henry Truvillion explains to the archivist after singing the song. Then he names the generations who sang this melody to their children, and eventually, to him.

Both pieces are worth a read (and a listen).