has been invited to participate in the 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 30-February 4, 2017, in Elko, Nevada. [Your name] is appearing for the XX time at the Elko Gathering. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is an international festival that honors the arts, culture and traditions of the rural West, with poetry, music, storytelling, dancing, workshops, exhibitions, discussions, food and fellowship. The 33rd Gathering will celebrate the art and tradition of storytelling in the rural West, presenting first-hand narratives wrought from personal experience and told in verse, song, film, visual art, new media and prose.


[add a paragraph or two of biographical information about yourself]


[your name] will join nearly 50 other poets, musicians and musical groups from the U.S., Canada and Australia who will perform on seven stages at four different venues in Elko. A full list of artists and their hometowns is listed below. For artist bios and audio samples, visit www.nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering also features hands-on workshops in traditional Western arts including rawhide braiding and horsehair hitching, foodways, dancing, songwriting, and how to play the bones. A special exhibition will present an artful view of the horse in the American West and will display contemporary gear from the Western Folklife Center’s collection. Tickets to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering can be purchased at www.nationalcowboypoetrygathering.org, or by calling 888-880-5885.


The 33rd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is supported by ArtPlace, NV Energy, Newmont Gold Corporation, Barrick Gold of North America, Frontier Communications, Nevada Humanities, Nevada Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Elko Convention and Visitors Authority, the City of Elko, the Elko County Recreation Board and many more foundations, businesses and individuals.


The mission of the Western Folklife Center is to use story and cultural expression to connect the American West to the world.


“Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys” sheds a light on the music, culture, and the complex history of the golden era of the Wild West. In this single volume of music, the first of its kind, Dom Flemons explores and reanalyzes this important part of our American identity. The songs and poems featured on the album are meant to take the listener on an illuminating journey from the trails to the rails of the old west. This is a century old story that follows the footsteps of the thousands of African American pioneers that helped build the United States of America.”


In early spring of 2018, Flemons will release his first solo album on GRAMMY Award winning record label Smithsonian Folkways, titled “Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys”. This recording is part of the African American Legacy Recordings series, co-produced with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

00061803.JPGArtists say the setting couldn’t get much better. “The natural environment has a transportive element, the way that you want music to be,” says Chris Ousley, guitarist and banjoist for the Sligo Creek Stompers. “It takes you someplace else.”

This year’s headliners are the high-energy Asheville, N.C., string band Town Mountain, D.C.-area powerhouse quartet Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Don Flemons, and Walter Martin, formerly of The Walkmen and now fresh off his third solo studio release. An array of mostly local performers will join them, from soloists like Julie Outrage and Sarah Cortana to ensembles like the Stompers, The Woodshedders and Moose Jaw.

The festival will have five stages: Two main ones, respectively, for bluegrass and more Americana sets, a third called the Fraser Stage, another dubbed the Half-Shell Stage on a dock (think oysters) and a singer-songwriter stage a short walk away to connecting Heritage Island.

Read more here.

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For more than 50 years, Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations have lured children into reading. He is the celebrated illustrator of more than 100 children’s books, including The Lion and the Mouse, a wordless depiction of Aesop’s fable, for which he won the 2010 Randolph Caldecott Medal. The Germantown-born artist, a 2012 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is the subject of the Woodmere Art Museum’s new exhibition, The Storybook Magic of Jerry Pinkney.

‘It was Time,’ 1997, by Jerry Pinkney. (Image courtesy of the artist)

The show explores Pinkney’s art through two collaborations. Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story (1998), is the tenth book he created with his friend, the author Julius Lester. In Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World (2009), he illustrated a series of poems by Marilyn Nelson.

Pinkney works in watercolor, and this exhibition provides an in-depth companion to the wide-ranging survey of the medium currently on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Read more here.



Photo credit: Vania Marie Kinard
People: Dom Flemons and Michael Kiwanuka at the Dranouter Festival in Belgium, 2016

Michael Kiwanuka & Inflo were presented the Song of the Year Award for “Black Man in a White World” at Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, MO, 2017. 
The halls, hotel lobby, and hotel rooms are alive with the sound of music here at the 29th annual Folk Alliance International Conference at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City from early every morning to early the following day. Nearly everyone in the elevators, strolling the walkways between hotels, carries a guitar or banjo strapped to his or her back, or carries along a ukulele, fiddle, mandolin, an upright bass, an autoharp, or rolls a small harp. At any moment you can find musicians gathered around in a circle calling out a tune and jamming. In an American culture quickly going to hell in a handbasket, these enduring strains of music foster unity and harmony, offering solace and reminding us that well-played tunes and passionately written lyric continue to tell a story that touches our human spirit. From out of the cacophony of voices in every hall emerges a sweet chorus lifting to the heavens to wonder at the vagaries of love, to ponder the abysmal vagaries of the human character, and to praise the resilience of human nature. This music is all about community, and it’s nowhere more apparent than at this year’s Folk Alliance International.
Read more.

Louisiana Musicians Need YOUR Help!

Dear friends, fans, and supporters –

Last week we told you about 91 year old blues legend Henry Gray, who lost his home in the Louisiana Flood, and how Music Maker stepped in to help. This week, we are asking for YOUR help.

Music Maker has created the Baton Rogue Musicians Fund (BRMF) in partnership with the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation. The fund will directly support musicians who have been impacted by the Louisiana Flood.

We have already learned of dozens of artists who need assistance, and are currently working to identify their needs and sending emergency relief. Some will have lost everything; most will have lost their source of income from regular gigs being disrupted. Emergency relief has already been sent down to Henry Gray, Lee Allen Zeno and Buckwheat Zydeco.

We need your support to make the biggest possible impact. 

It is rare that we make a request with such urgency, but there is a great and immediate need for emergency relief for these musicians in Baton Rouge. Please give what you can, because, as Grammy winning artist Taj Mahal recently told us:

“These musicians are the foundation of all popular music in the world. When disaster turns on them it is not time to turn our backs. Let’s show them the respect!”

Diggin’: Clyde Langford – Tore Up

Clyde is a deep Texas bluesman that plays from the heart – here!

Sam Frazier, Jr. Receives Some Great Honors!
Sam’s church & the Birmingham Record Collectors honor him – here!
Keep up with Music Maker’s gigs 

See who’s playing in your area! You never know when a Music Maker artist will be rolling through your town. Check out the Tour Calendar.

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Recently, I was interviewed for the NPR program Studio 360, which you can listen to over here. The main thing that struck me about the interviewer’s questions was that they came from a place of downplaying Alan Lomax’s role of recording folk music for the Library of Congress. While Alan Lomax was by no means a perfect person his documentation as a folklorist is indispensable. The first question that the interviewer asked me was, “What if I told you that everything Alan Lomax represented was false and that he made it all up?” I couldn’t wrap my mind around that question. It really clouded the rest of my interview. When I heard the final version of the piece I was glad that I had been interviewed because I was the only person in the piece coming from a place that understood the context of WHY the Lomaxes did what they did. People tend not to know that field recording is different than music recorded for commercial purposes. The music industry was never made to represent the music the Lomaxes recorded. They were also a government sanctioned folklore team that made a sizeable archive that we still use as the basis of our national identity. They were New Deal guys. They also worked with the WPA. Alan later worked with Martin Luther King Jr. Alan Lomax’s role as an archivist is a national treasure in itself.

Again, my main problem with the story was that it lacked context. Many people don’t consider that the Lomaxes were sticking their necks out for these folk musicians. There is not much money in old folk songs. The business is tough and unfortunately Lead Belly didn’t get a chance to live to see the way his music was appreciated by every generation that followed. Several people that I respect reached out to me and thanked me for giving a perspective that didn’t let Alan Lomax’s name get dragged through the mud.

I was resistant to write about the program at length but recently on another NPR program, On Point, they featured a great piece on Lead Belly – listen over here. Over the course of this piece, I found the context that was lacking in the previously mentioned radio program. While the discussion of the horrors of segregation are always relevant, the documentation of folk song in the case of Leadb Belly specifically shows the way that the Folk Revival from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s was fueled by the music recorded by John and then Alan Lomax. What makes Alan’s work so much more prevalent is that he wanted to get the sound of the proletariat, the voice of the working people. This included collecting verses and songs that spoke of what they called “complaining” songs. These were songs that black folk musicians might not pull out immediately out of fear of white hate brought upon them by the social oppression.  Also, the middle class black community wasn’t particularly interested in this old “country” music so the Lomaxes’ interest in the music of the secular “folk” thankfully has given us a legacy that would be lost without their advocacy.

I feel so glad that Lead Belly’s legacy can show us something that is truly human in music. This is a very important time for lovers of music and culture to take the time to dig in and embrace our culture. It’s one of the most important things anyone can do. I know because I am one of the folks influenced by it as well. Again, the story is very complex. I’m glad that the whole story can be told after all these years.

Part of my love for this music was realized in the way that I was honored at the Folk Alliancethis year by being asked to open the Lomax Challenge. Jennifer Cutting and Stephen Winick from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress put it on and it was a great program of people interpreting the Alan Lomax Archive. I played a bit of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Hey Hey Baby” which I first heard through a movie filmed by Alan Lomax’s protégée, Pete Seeger. Alan had recorded several sessions with Big Bill but one session with Memphis Slim and Sonny Boy Williamson served as a powerful document letting the musicians from the South talk about the oppressive culture that led them to move up North to Chicago. In his book The Land Where The Blues Began, Alan explains that this was a conversation that many black people from the South were resistant to have out of fear for their lives and the lives of their families down South. Even though they were physically gone, word could get down South and mean trouble for the folks at home. Released as Blues In The Mississippi Night, the album was released without the artists’ names on the cover. It would not be until the re-release in the early 1990s that the musicians’ names were mentioned, after all of them had passed. Though mostly an instrumental, “Hey Hey Baby” has a poignant verse:

Hey Hey Hey Hey Baby Hey

I love you baby

But I Ain’t Gonna Be Your Dog

Knowing I had a small amount of time, I chose another song that I found to be particularly poignant now more than ever. I chose a version of the classic song “Pick A Bale of Cotton”sung in a Texas prison axe-cutting gang in the early 1930s. The group is even listed as “Unknown Axe-Cutting Group.” I added a verse of my own and led the crowd in a sing-along. This is a song that is misinterpreted all the time. This is a victory song. Many times people think of it as an “Uncle Tom-ish” sort of number. The song goes:

(call) I’m gonna jump down turn and around

(respond) Pick A Bale of Cotton

(call) Jump Down And Turn Around

(respond) Pick A Bale A Day 

Oh Lordy (respond) Oh Lordy (respond)

Me and My Buddy Can (respond) Me and My Buddy Can (respond) etc.

The following verse I found on this field recording tells a different story and the vocal inflection gives a sense of what could be described as proto-soul. Many fans of older blues and the songsters have heard this sound. It has a soul or even hip-hop sensibility coming from the same places that those types of music would emerge from years later. The ax-cutting group sang:

Never will I (respond) Never Will I (respond)

Oh Poor Eli (respond) Oh Poor Eli (respond)

Granddaddy had to (respond) And father never had to go and (respond)

So How Can I? (respond) How Can I? (respond)

You Gotta Jump Down Turn Around (respond) Jump Down You Turn Around (respond)

These are the times to reanalyze American vernacular music and also keep the songs on. This is also a time to make new songs with the materials in the Library of Congress. The music has lasting quality.  That never has been the issue. It’s always an issue of getting the word out and sharing the music with everyone you meet. It’s all a team effort.

Here’s to the Year of the Folksinger!  Going Strong!


Dom Flemons

The American Songster