A Woman to Know: Sidney Robertson Cowell

I was curious about American folk song — what was American about it? — Sidney Robertson Cowell

(image via The Library of Congress)


Sidney's titles were numerous: song catcher, folk collector, music ethnographer, traveling recorder. For 20 years in the early 20th century, she road tripped across the country with her recorder, leading a WPA team of fellow music enthusiasts. You can listen to the full catalogue of their "catches" — from small town theaters, big city venues, church choir rehearsals, tribal dances, prison cafeterias and more — in the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture.

Toward the end of her life, she took her trusty recorder on a trip through Europe and Asia, bringing back songs from Gaelic fishermen, Iranian vocalists and Pakistani music groups to share with her fellow Americans — many of whom had never before been exposed to folk culture outside their own. Thanks to Sidney, now we can listen to both.

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