Thursday, March 26, 2009

Archie Green (1917-2009)

Archie Green photographed by Hazen Robert Walker
(image from the Wikimedia Commons)

On March 22, 2009 the Bay Area lost one of its most important public scholars in Archie Green. Folklore was his area of research, primarily what he called laborlore--the creative expression of
working people. He was a prolific writer and a dedicated user of the San Francisco Public Library where many of us knew him and assisted him in his meticulous and wide ranging research.

The library owns several of Archie Green's books and subscribes to databases that contain his shorter articles. While he would have hesitated to call himself a musicologist, several of his most significant works were studies of music. His major work Only A Miner: Studies in Recorded Coal-Mining Songs is a tour de force that examines of the problems in researching industrial folklore, particularly mining lore. Part of Green's approach is a consideration of the importance of commercial recordings in studying this lore. His book closes with a discussion of several of these songs looking at their relation to oral traditions.

The Big Red Songbook: 250-plus IWW Songs was a work that he help shepherd into existence in 2007. Subtitled "Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent! A Collection Of Rebel Workers' Songs And Poems," this book collects the lyrics to songs of the International Workers of The World.

He also assembled a collection of essays by a number of authors entitled Songs About Work: Essays in Occupational Culture for Richard A. Reuss. This book includes his essay "Woody's Oil Songs" about some of Woody Guthrie's music.

JSTOR, a full text database available to San Francisco Public Library card holders, includes several of Archie Green's articles including:

"Vernacular Music: A Naming Compass," The Musical Quarterly Vol. 77, No. 1 (Spring, 1993), pp. 35-46.

"Hear These Beautiful Sacred Selections," Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council Vol. 2, (1970), pp. 28-50.

"Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol," The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 78, No. 309, (Jul.-Sep., 1965), pp. 204-228.

"Labor Song: An Ambiguous Legacy," Journal of Folklore Research Vol. 28, No. 2/3 (May 1991), pp. 93-102.

While he wrote prolifically about music, he also wrote about visual culture. Tin Men, published in 2002, is a exploration of men of tin created and depicted in various two and three dimensional forms. Green wrote that the "tin man serves as does any other artistic piece--as an outlet for creative energy, a mark of defiance, an affirmation of community, a summation of a worker's experience."

His anthology of essays entitled Torching The Fink Books, And Other Essays On Vernacular Culture includes a chapter entitled "Austin's Cosmic Cowboys" that details various psychedelic and counter-cultural illustrations of the cowboy in 1960s-1980s. "Tom Benton's Folk Depictions" is a discussion of Thomas Hart Benton's folk-influenced art. Torching the Fink Books also includes a bibliography of Archie Green's writings from 1959-2000.

Listen to a National Public Radio tribute to Archie Green on Morning Edition, March 25, 2009.

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