Stories from the Anne Grimes Collection of American Folk Music

By Wolford, John B. | Notes, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Stories from the Anne Grimes Collection of American Folk Music


Wolford, John B., Notes


Stories from the Anne Grimes Collection of American Folk Music. By Anne Grimes. Compiled and edited by Sara Grimes, Jennifer Grimes Kay, Mary Grimes, and Mindy Grimes. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010. [xii, 188 p. ISBN 9780821419083 (hardcover), $59.95; 9780821419434 (paperback), $34.95.] Music examples, transcriptions, map, photographs, bibliography, indexes, compact disc.

Too few presses publish too few studies covering the pioneers of folklore and ethnomusicology. When such a work arises, it becomes essential in filling out our understanding not only of the lives, methods, and motivations of these pioneers, but also in revealing the foundation upon which all of our studies are based.

Stories from the Anne Grimes Collection of American Folk Music is essential for just these reasons. It is also a delight to read on several accounts, not the least being its simple and accessible layout. The book begins with a clear, interesting introduction by the editors providing the details of Grimes' life and the genesis and development of her folk song and dulcimer collecting passion. Forty chapters follow the introduction, each featuring a performer, collector, or craftsman (and they were all men) who contributed to her impressive interview/ song archive and dulcimer collection. Concluding the book are full sections of notes, profiles of the performers and other interview contributors, bibliography, and acknowledgments.

Anne Laylin Grimes (1912-2004) was not a degreed ethnomusicologist, nor did she begin or end her undergraduate or graduate education studying folk culture or folk music. Raised in a family that regularly gathered to sing songs around the piano, she was an accomplished pianist and vocalist from an early age, pursuing classical music studies in college and obtaining an M.A. in music history in the 1930s. She was a music and dance critic for a local newspaper in Ohio, and she hosted a radio music show on WOSU (Columbus, Ohio) in the early 1940s. This early activity, though, centered on classical music, a conventional focus for anyone in higher education in the 1930s and 1940s. She grew up appreciating the songs of her family, and that background proved to be her breakthrough into folk music. On one of her radio shows the featured guest did not arrive, so Grimes improvised by singing her grandmother's songs while accompanying herself on piano. The listener response to that show was overwhelming, which made her realize that a huge popular interest existed for exactly that kind of music-traditional music, of whatever stripe. Members of her radio audience sent her their own stories about the songs she had sung, as well as their variations on them. From that moment, Grimes began documenting the traditional music of Ohio, first by notating the songs and interviews she conducted, and then by taping, beginning in 1953, on a reel-to-reel Magnecorder. Over time, she recorded hundreds of people and songs-in the 1950s, while raising her family of five children, she recorded 170 people. Nearly all were from Ohio, but she also recorded performers, dulcimer collectors, and luthiers when she traveled to several National Folk Festivals (such as in St. Louis in 1953) or to Bascom Lamar Lunsford's Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, notably in 1952. That was the year she was introduced to the dulcimer and to the preeminent dulcimer maker, Wade Martin. Ultimately acquiring forty-two dulcimers, mostly from Ohio but also from Kentucky and other areas of the Upper Ohio River Valley, her dulcimer collection began with Wade Martin.

Others she interviewed and collected songs from-her contributors, as she called them-included a vast array of traditional singers and musicians from Ohio as well as from across the country, coupled with scholars (like Francis Lee Utley) and odd familiar names-Carl Sandburg, Branch Rickey-who had an interest in traditional songs or, in Branch Rickey's case, traditional narrative. Grimes capitalized on her social engagements and gatherings to collect from her contributors-she collected from Sandburg at the 1953 National Folk Festival in St. …

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