Like opening a time capsule, John Work, III: Recording Black Culture takes you back to the sounds of blues, gospels and quartets during World War II America.
This musical piece of time presents a collection of African-American folk music recorded between the late 1930s and early 1940s by folklorist John Wesley Work III. Dr. Work, also a composer and educator at Fisk University in Nashville, traveled throughout the Southeastern states and documented music as it was performed by various African-Americans in the Southern regions. The recordings captured the content as it was and offers an audio snapshot of the music of this particular era.
Recording Black Culture recently established its own place in history, winning Best Album Notes at the 2008 Grammy Awards. Former Center of Popular Music at MTSU employee, Bruce Nemerov, wrote the notes and is the recipient of the award.
The Work family gave Nemerov permission to re-master the records that had shown signs of excessive play?most likely they were personal favorites of Dr. Work?and the 14 songs on the CD were digitally re-mastered from the original acetates on which they were recorded.
“It was a very authentic representation of black culture in churches, dances; you hear people in the background. They [the recordings] are good documents of social settings and were not recorded to make money like commercial recordings,” Nemerov said.
Nemerov’s notes provide a background of Work himself, how he recorded the songs using a Presto Model DRecorder and blank discs, and descriptions of the individuals who contributed to the recordings.
The songs range from social songs, quartets, work songs, congregational singing, blues and colored sacred harp. Listeners can hear an interview Work had with Muddy Waters. “Daniel Saw the Stone” is a harmonious number performed by the Holloway High School Quartet of Holloway High School in Murfreesboro. Banjoist Nathan Frazier from Nashville and fiddler Frank Patterson from Murfreesboro combine their musical talents on the song “Poor Black Sheep.”
Nemerov and The Arts Center of Cannon County folklorist Evan Hatch produced and breathed new life into the songs at the Arts Center’s record label Spring Fed Records in Woodbury.
“Dr. Work recognized quality, he was content to record folk music as it was,” Hatch said.
Work successfully captured African-American folk music of his era and provided sounds of history for generations to enjoy. Upon listening to Recording Black Culture, we can feel as if we have discovered a piece of music history.