BBC Folk America

Last summer, I posted about my encounter with a BBC television crew at the Mississippi John Hurt Festival. They said that the series on American folk music would air the following February. I found Folk America. This review is very favorable. Much, maybe all, of the show is available as streaming video. The BBC, however, does not permit streaming to the United States. I recently found it on Google Video as episodes 1 Birth of a Nation, 2 This Land Is Your Land and 3 Blowin’ in the Wind.

The series features some familiar people. Twice blogged Tom Paley visited the beloved Folk School a few years ago, and I got to jam with him. Twice mentioned expert on American folk music Tony Russell shares some of his great knowledge. The BBC found great folks for this series.

The part on favorite Mississippi John Hurt starts at 34:14 in the first episode and runs to about 38:20. It features his granddaughter Mary Frances Hurt Wright prominently. Several shots show the Mississippi John Hurt Festival last summer. I was there. I appear 34:48-34:51 as the leftmost person wearing a light blue t-shirt and beige shorts. At 35:13-35:15, the shot looking from Hurt’s parlor out at the gathering shows “Lost Jim” Ohlschmidt and Andy Burke of Willie Mae. Other shots feature the Valley Store and more nearby buildings. Toward the end is the story of “Creole Belle” told by blogged Tom Paxton. This long discussion on the old Mississippi John Hurt Forum brought me to the same connection, and I found the old sheet music. The last part of the episode around 56:30 covers the end of Hurt’s first recording career among the many stalls and collapses in the early folk recording industry. It also has a little more footage of the festival.

Third episode Blowin’ in the Wind 30:40-32:58 is about Hurt’s revival career. He was reintroduced to the world at the Newport Folk Festival. The segment includes brief footage of “Candy Man” along with several touching reminiscences about his reemergence at the festival and subsequent gigging in Greenwich Village.

Twice blogged Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas follows Hurt in Birth of a Nation. Blogged Cecil Brown talks about how itinerant musicians lived, and three times mentioned John Sebastian is featured, too. Because Thomas was older than most recorded musicians of his day, his music presumably reaches further back. It is captivating.

Other segments in Birth of a Nation cover major figures in the early recording era. The two episodes cover later phases of the American folk music movement. I am on the last one, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” right now. The documentary provides an enjoyable overview with reasonble depth that starts at the beginning of the recording era. I am glad that I finally found a way to watch it.

1 Comment »

Michael M. on June 11th 2009 in General, Music

One Response to “BBC Folk America”

  1. Sean R-B responded on 16 Jun 2009 at 11:54 am #

    Thanks for posting this information, Mike. I’ll have to find time to watch the videos. Sounds like good stuff.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.