The Great Depression touched nearly every American in some way. Most experiences were difficult and included great hardship as the country’s economic system collapsed. Whether it was out of a determined resiliency or just the nature of the inhabitants of this young immigrant nation, a great body of folk music was produced. These were songs that came from ordinary people who were in the very midst of the struggle. These were the unemployed who stood on breadlines, the Okie migrants who lost all they owned to dust and foreclosures, the urban dwellers who saw their life’s savings disappear with bank closings, miners and millworkers who were squeezed even harder by unscrupulous operators, and the people who managed to hang on in reduced circumstances but were witness to desperation all around them.
It is my intention to present here many of these treasured songs that, for the most part, have long been forgotten. Some were recorded commercially on Race Records (subsidiaries of major record labels that released strictly ‘colored’ music for that specific audience) and have long been out of print while others survived in old field recordings. And some were simply kept alive through the oral tradition. There is a large body of iconic folk songs such as Woody Guthrie’s dust bowl ballads that are easily accessible and will not be included. The same applies to the Tin Pan Alley material.
Along with the songs I include background information and eventually there will be photo essays. The goal is to make this accessible to anyone. But, this is clearly a work in progress. I will be adding material as more is located. Ultimately this may evolve into a different format altogether. Perhaps an iBook or App. But that is down the road. For now I will present songs and supporting information.
I have performed many of these songs on my own and with The 198 String Band at various venues around the country. I am pleased to present this material using the original performances wherever possible. I am available for discussion and even workshops. Please feel free to contact me. I hope you enjoy this site and I welcome your comments.
N.B. You can listen to each song via the music player located at the top of each song page, just click the “play” arrow button.
“There is no need to fear that a people who can sing as these people do will vanish from the earth. They may be ‘dusted out’ and ‘tractored out’ but they are not down and out-not so long as they go on singing songs like these.”
Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin
New York Times, 1939