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Music

American folk music celebrated in ‘Beautiful Music All Around Us’

The cover photo from Stephen Wade's new book "The Beautiful Music All Around Us." The book celebrates field recordings made in the 1930s and 1940s.
(University of Illinois Press)

“The Beautiful Music All Around Us”

Stephen Wade

University of Illinois Press: $24.95

Musician and folklorist Stephen Wade dissects and celebrates the vast diversity of American culture in “The Beautiful Music All Around Us,” his book drawn from the Library of Congress’ vast holdings of field recordings made from 1934 to 1942.

The book provides the social, historical and cultural backdrop for each of the tracks, culminating in an examination that proves the value of John Dewey’s 1920 quote cited in the introduction: “The country is a spread of localities, while the nation is something that exists in Washington and other seats of government… Take all the localities of the United States, and extract their greatest coming divisor, and the result is of necessity a crackling surface.”

The book includes a CD with recordings that span the folk fiddle classic “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” as energetically played by Kentucky fiddler Bill Stepp, to an effervescent proto-rap chanted by Drew, Miss., 12-year-old Ora Dell Graham.

These stories and the recordings — capturing the voices of everyday people, not pop stars -- simply crackle. Here’s the official video including some audio samples along with excerpts of an interview with Wade about the detective work he had to do to trace the origins of many of the songs and performers:

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