What Are Field Recordings?

Much of what we know about the African American musical experience of the ante bellum and Reconstruction eras comes from sound recordings made by scholars between the 1930s and the 1950s. They recorded so-called source singers—who were the source of the music that interested them—in ordinary settings, "in the field," rather than in a professional studio.

Often, the federal government funded this collecting of the nation's heritage, especially through the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration. These collections of traditional music are priceless. Some of the traditional singers recorded in the field went on to become well known folk artists. The Archive of American Folk Song, at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress, is a rich repository for lullabies sung by African Americans and collected throughout the South. Some of the Archive's recordings of African American lullabies are available on CD through Rounder Records.

Compiled by

Judith Tick
Senior Research Analyst, Feminist Sexual Ethics Project

Melissa J. de Graaf
Research Analyst, Feminist Sexual Ethics Project