Movie Series Looks At History Of America's Music

Sep 4, 2013

America's Music is a film and performance series at the North Regional Branch of Wake County Libraries.

America’s Music is a film and performance series that traces the soundtrack of a nation. The program features documentary screenings and discussions about the history of 20th century American popular music from blues to Broadway and bluegrass to rock 'n' roll. 

The series is a collaboration between the Tribeca Film Institute and the American Library Association. The North Regional Branch of Wake County Public Libraries hosts the series for the next six weeks.

The program opens with a look at blues and gospel music.  The North Regional Library will screen part of Martin Scorseses documentary series “The Blues.”  The film opens with John Lomax, who traveled the American South during the 1930s recording music.

“[Lomax] was one of the first American songcatchers.  Ethnomusicologists before the term was invented,” said Jonathan Kramer, a teaching professor of Music and Arts Studies at North Carolina State University, about the program.  

Kramer continued, “He started his journeys around the South [with] sharecroppers, hearing about a bluesman in prison, bringing his trunkload of equipment into prison.  His most famous find was Lead Belly.”

Lomax first recorded Lead Belly in prison in Louisiana.  After Lead Belly was released from prison, Lomax helped Lead Belly start a career as a recording artist. 

Alongside Scorses’s “Blues” documentary, America’s Music will also feature a screening of “Say Amen, Somebody,” a documentary of gospel music. 

Thomas Dorsey is considered the inventor of modern gospel music.  He was a bluesman who found religion, and he adapted blues music into gospel. 

“When [Dorsey] first started using the energies and rhythms and harmonies of blues into his hymnals, into his Sunday morning services, he was criticized.  ‘Why are you bringing the music of the juke joint and the honkey tonk into church?’  But the parishioners loved it and found that they could become ecstatic through this music that had previously been the dance music of Saturday night,” said Kramer.