Folk Music in The United States


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The study of folk music in the city is an integral part of American folklore research which has not yet been utilized exhaustively. Indeed, the picture of an individual city has not yet been presented in full, and the only raw material available is a few scattered and largely unpublished collections from individual non-English speaking groups and a collection of industrial songs from Pittsburgh. Most of this chapter, consequently, is devoted to a preliminary survey of the situation in Detroit, the only city for which even such a tentative report is available. But there is reason to believe that these findings would apply also to other American cities.

The folklore of the Detroit area has been extensively collected by Thelma G. James and her students at Wayne State University, especially in the field of oral literature and folk beliefs. Some collections and studies of music have been included in their project,^ and in preparing the present chapter I have used these as well as material gathered by myself and by my students.^

Folk music of the city is interesting because it diflFers from rural folk music in structure and function. We would like to know whether it can be called folk music at all, whether it behaves like other folk music when it is transmitted, and whether it reflects the urban culture of which it is a part. We wish to know what kind of people participate in the folk music of the city, and what happens to songs which are brought from a rural into a city environment. We wish to explore the difference between



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