Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

Alan Jabbour (1942–2017)

Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

Alan Jabbour (1942–2017)

Article excerpt

Alan Jabbour was born on June 21, 1942, in Jacksonville, Florida, and passed away on January 13, 2017, at home in Washington, DC. He was educated in Jacksonville public schools and at the Bolles School, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Miami (1963), and received his MA (1966) and PhD (1968) from Duke university. A violinist from the age of 7, Alan was a member of the Jacksonville Symphony, the Brevard Music Festival Orchestra, the Miami Symphony, and the university of Miami String Quartet.

Alan's musical background provided an excellent grounding for his lifelong interest in the study and performance of American traditional fiddle music. While a graduate student, he traveled throughout North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia to record instrumental music, folk song, and folklore. During 1966 and 1967, he paid repeated visits to Henry Reed of Glen Lyn, Virginia, recording as much of Reed's fiddle repertoire as possible and creating a collection, now presented online, under the title Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier ("About This Collection" 2017).Years later, reflecting on the fact that Reed's father had immigrated from Ireland while his own had come from Syria, Alan said: "Your family storytelling creates a felt connection between your past and your present life in America. . . . It's curious that my father was an immigrant, and I ended up the most attentive person [in my family] to certain cultural traditions here" (quoted in Grace 2007).

Alan not only collected recordings on field trips, but he also apprenticed as a fiddle player, with Reed as his most important mentor. Alan's facility as a musician permitted him to embrace folk styles as effectively as he had previously mastered concert styles, and his performances with the Hollow Rock String Band in the midto late 1960s made him an influential member of the old-time music revival.

Alan's classical music background and his immersive study of old-time fiddling underpinned his musicological analyses of traditional fiddle playing. He wrote detailed and insightful annotations for the record albums American Fiddle Tunes (Jabbour [1971] 2016), The Hammons Family (Fleischhauer and Jabbour [1973] 1998), and The Edden Hammons Collection (Jabbour and Cuthbert 1999-2000), as well as for the Henry Reed online collection, which also includes explanatory video recordings ( These annotations bring together musicological, historical, and personal notes that have given them appeal to broad audiences.

In 1968, Alan taught English and folklore at the university of California, Los Angeles. In 1969, he was appointed head of the Archive of Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture) at the Library of Congress. In 1974, he moved to the National Endowment for the Arts to launch that agency's Folk Arts Program. In 1976, Alan came back to the Library as the founding director of the American Folklife Center, continuing in that position for 23 years before retiring from federal service in 1999. During these years, he served on the boards of a number of organizations, and in 1988, he served as President of the American Folklore Society.

In 1996, on the Center's 20th anniversary, Alan wrote a 17,000-word retrospective for the Folklife Center News (Jabbour 1996a, 1996b). He describes the Center's origin and accomplishments as a government cultural agency in counterpoint with a meta-commentary about policy implications and recurrent themes in the Center's work. Some themes are topically defined. For example, Alan notes the wideranging attention the Center paid to the cultural traditions of ethnic groups. Many groups with connections to other parts of the globe were documented in urban and rural field projects, and they were a focus of conferences, surveys, and publications pertaining to ethnic phonograph records, "Saturday schools," and ethnic broadcasting. Other activities focused on Native American musical expression, including a project to preserve century-old cylinder recordings of Indian music, followed by dissemination back to the tribes, and the addition of interpretive booklets to more recent recordings of Indian music assembled by the ethnomusicologist Willard Rhodes. …

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