Folk and Traditional Music


Over an average twelve-month period, the restaurant [Grand Central Oyster Bar] serves between fifty and seventy-five varieties of oysters. Each is somewhat different in appearance and taste, but nearly all are variants of the eastern oyster or Crassostrea virginica, the species native to the Atlantic and Gulf seaboards.

Bringing Old-Time Fiddling into the Twenty-First Century

The North American Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame and Museum is located in the township of Osceola, New York, in the Tug Hill region of northern New York. The hall of fame and museum was born along with its sister, the New York State Old Tyme Fiddlers’ Association, in 1976…. My grandmother, Alice Clemens—three times New York State ladies’ fiddling champion—was a cofounder of the museum and association. She thought it was important to document not only the lives of the hall of fame inductees, but also the lives and music of other fiddlers. She also worried that some of the older fiddlers might soon pass away without teaching anyone the tunes they played.

First Person

My name is Julissa Vale, a native New Yorker born of Puerto Rican emigrants. I do not remember a time in my life when the sound of music was not present. I was raised on Spanish ballads, salsa, and the Jíbaro music typical of rural Puerto Rico. During the holidays, bomba and plena were also played at home. The songs played in my household weren’t just from Puerto Rico, but from all over Latin America.


We have been singing his songs for more than 150 years—“Camptown Races,” “Oh! Susanna,”and “Old Folks at Home,” the one we called “Swanee”—with not much thought about who created them, for they seem to have sprung into life spontaneously, like folk songs. Those of us who thought we knew a thing or two about Stephen Collins Foster (1826–64) regarded him as a beautiful dreamer, an untutored country boy with a lucky gift for melody, an unworldy songster who permitted publishers to pirate his songs and others to take credit for their composition, a spendthrift alcoholic who died with thirty-eight cents to his name, a racist or at least a highly effective publicist for the South’s peculiar institution. All of these elements of the folk tradition prove upon examination to possess elements of truth without being true, and thus leave us no better prepared
to understand Foster’s life as an artist.

Voices in New York

Grupo Rebolú’s CD, Abriendo Caminos
(or Opening Roads), offers the listener 10
high energy tracks featuring the sounds of
Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast. Nine
of these tracks were written by the group’s
director, Ronald Polo, with arrangements
by co-director, Morris Cañate. Friends since
childhood, Ronald and Morris grew up together
in Barranquilla, Colombia, and first
met as youngsters enrolled in the Escuela
de Música de Barranquilla, Carlos Franco.

A Banjo Story

Everyone listened intently to the words and the lovely trills and his earnest expressive demeanor. There was encouragement mid-song: “Good man, yourself.” “Good man, Paddy.” There was a circle of aunts and uncles and American visitors in attendance. A few others had songs that night. Aunt Peg, from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, offered The Wild Colonial Boy. But Paddy was the real singer, with a seemingly endless store of songs, most of which I had never heard. All the same, I was delighted and moved. We drank and listened and talked. I heard about cousins in Germany and uncles in the Bronx, and I tried to piece it all together and remember who was who. As my grandmother was one of thirteen, there were many people to discuss and to hear about.

A History of the Adirondack Pipes and Drums

It is recorded that the founders of the band wanted to pay tribute to the highlanders that fought in the area during the French and Indian War. The band sought permission from the appropriate officials of the British military in Canada to wear the Royal Stuart tartan for pipers and the Black Watch tartan for drummers. A charter was obtained for the organization from a local judge. Instruction in piping and drumming was arranged through members of the Schenectady Pipe Band.

Voices in New York

Certain places grasp hold of hearts and imaginations of the people who live there. The cadence of language, the rhythms of daily life, the particular way the universal dramas of life, love, and death are played out in a place can lodge themselves under the skin, into the souls of a people. This intense experience of place is shared through the music of the Fraser family on their CD, Home of Our Hearts. For the Fraser family, two locations are “home”: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and the foothills of the Adirondacks in upstate New York.

Remembering Karyl Denison Eaglefeathers

Karyl Eaglefeathers made significant contributions to the preservation of the folklore and culture of New York State, and the Catskill Mountains, in particular… Her research involved ethnomusicology,
folk heritage, and museum studies….Communities around the region still benefit
from her work documenting traditional dances and fiddling styles and facilitating the
mentoring of a new generation of dance
callers and musicians through the Catskills
Folk Connection, an organization she founded
along with fellow folklorist Virginia Scheer in

Remembering Pete Seeger 1919-2014

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of friend and longtime New York Folklore Society member Pete Seeger. Pete contributed in many ways to the conversations and discussions of the Society.

From the Editor

What a blow to hear of
Peter Seeger’s death on
January 27, 2014 at the
age of 94.
I thought the man
would live forever.
What a champion of so
many causes over the
decades of his life, and
a master of weaving music into this activism.
I’m so glad to have joined recent
celebrations of his life’s work.

Voices in New York

This 2010 CD by the duo called Æ, comprised of Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker, is a treasure of women’s voices…The 14 tracks feature Georgian, Albanian, Greek, and Ukrainian songs, with two old-time songs from this country, “Across the Blue Mountains,” and “Wind and Rain,” as well as a Corsican song.

Songs to Keep

This essay describes the Traditional Arts of Upstate New York (TAUNY) project to share the documentation of traditional folk music of the North Country with recordings made between 1942 and 1967 by Marjorie Lansing Porter (1891–1973), with the production of a 40-page songbook, a 17-song CD, and a PBS documentary.

Voices of New York

Sara Milonovich, a brilliant fiddler, singer, songwriter, and bandleader, released her CD Daisycutter in 2009. Described as “rural roots with an urban/world edge,” this album’s songs and music encompass folk, bluegrass, Celtic, zydeco, and American roots-rock music.