Monday, March 16, 2009

Back Where I Come From

It was hard at first for me to imagine but in this program, Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie had equal footing. We all know Alan Lomax did a lot of field recordings. Most of them are presently in the Library of Congress. But he also did radio programs. One of them was a nightly program for CBS called Back Where I Come From.

Lomax was involved in several programs over the years like School of the Air, on CBS, and Ballad Man on the Mutual Network in 1948. In 1940 he also did a series called American Folk Songs and Wellsprings of Music. In 1950 he was blackballed in America after he was accused of being a commie, he fled to England and brought his programming ideas to the BBC. In all these programs Lomax may have been a producer or a host but he always came to the mic to sing a little as well. More here. Damn you Joe McCarthy!

But Back Where I Come From was the first of his programs that went prime-time. It featured folk tales, proverbs, prose, and sermons, as well as songs. Burl Ives, Aunt Molly Jackson, The Golden Gate Quartet, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, and Pete Seeger all performed regularly on the program. This was the program that really introduced city-dwelling Americans to old-time music, folk music and world music. Sadly it was short-lived. I have found a very concise tale of the etymology of the program name and quote it here unabridged.
"The show’s title came from an incident they had observed at Barney Josephson’s Greenwich Village nightclub, CafĂ© Society, in which a tourist loudly objected to the club’s inter-racial atmosphere, saying that such things were unheard of “back where I come from.” It stressed the America is, on the contrary, a multi-cultural mosaic of people from different ethnicities and backgrounds; guests swapped stories and anecdotes as well as music."
In 1984 Ronald Regan awarded Lomax the national medal of Arts. In 1995 Folk Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award, in 1995 an honorary doctorate in philosophy from Tulane... the list goes on. He retired in 1996 and died in July 2002.