Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
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Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert

GUEST,Steven Garabedian 03 Feb 17 - 05:40 PM
Joe_F 10 Jan 16 - 06:18 PM
GUEST,Bruce Conforth 10 Jan 16 - 11:24 AM
GUEST 14 Oct 15 - 09:57 AM
Joe Offer 14 Oct 15 - 01:56 AM
GUEST 13 Oct 15 - 09:24 AM
GUEST 13 Oct 15 - 07:59 AM
wysiwyg 13 Oct 15 - 06:09 AM
Joe Offer 13 Oct 15 - 04:29 AM
GUEST,Steven Garabedian 13 Oct 15 - 12:34 AM
GUEST,andy 21 Jun 13 - 02:00 PM
Thomas Stern 06 Jun 13 - 02:24 PM
GUEST,Julia 06 Jun 13 - 11:23 AM
Joe Offer 23 Feb 13 - 03:19 AM
GUEST,Andi 23 Feb 13 - 01:13 AM
GUEST,999 22 Feb 13 - 09:20 PM
GUEST 22 Feb 13 - 07:40 PM
GUEST,999 21 Feb 13 - 07:42 PM
GUEST,Andi 21 Feb 13 - 07:24 PM
GUEST,Bennett Graff 23 May 12 - 11:35 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 20 Nov 11 - 07:13 AM
GUEST,Ronald Cohen 07 Jul 10 - 04:39 PM
GUEST,hg 23 Sep 09 - 01:18 PM
GUEST,MBAllen 23 Sep 09 - 12:09 PM
Azizi 24 Aug 09 - 08:18 AM
Joe Offer 24 Aug 09 - 03:21 AM
Joe Offer 21 Aug 09 - 04:34 AM
SINSULL 20 Aug 09 - 04:14 PM
Joe Offer 20 Aug 09 - 04:10 PM
GUEST,Bruce Conforth 20 Aug 09 - 04:05 PM
Jim Dixon 13 Aug 09 - 08:38 AM
Mark Ross 12 Aug 09 - 09:09 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 12 Aug 09 - 08:01 AM
scouse 12 Aug 09 - 06:10 AM
Fred McCormick 11 Aug 09 - 05:57 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 10 Aug 09 - 10:28 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 10 Aug 09 - 09:21 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 10 Aug 09 - 08:29 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 10 Aug 09 - 08:20 PM
Joe Offer 10 Aug 09 - 02:03 AM
Peace 10 Aug 09 - 12:14 AM
wysiwyg 09 Aug 09 - 11:51 AM
Stefan Wirz 09 Aug 09 - 11:49 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 09 Aug 09 - 10:28 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 09 Aug 09 - 10:10 AM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 09 Aug 09 - 09:48 AM
Fred McCormick 09 Aug 09 - 05:11 AM
Peace 08 Aug 09 - 07:17 PM
Peace 08 Aug 09 - 07:09 PM
Joe Offer 08 Aug 09 - 04:53 PM
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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Steven Garabedian
Date: 03 Feb 17 - 05:40 PM

Hello All,

I am writing simply to call attention to my latest work on Lawrence Gellert. For those interested, I have an article out in the latest issue (Winter 2016) of African American Review.

I take a strong stand in favor of Gellert as an honest collector with sincere political convictions and a legitimate archive of vernacular material.

Steve Garabedian

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Joe_F
Date: 10 Jan 16 - 06:18 PM

_Proletarian Literature in the United States: An Anthology_ (International Publishers, New York, 1935; pp. 207-208) contains two songs credited to _Negro Songs of Protest_. One is "Death House Blues", excerpted by Bob Coltman upthread (10 Aug 09). The other, also referring to the Scotsboro Boys, is "Do Lak Alabamy Boys". It ends

Bowed down on yo' knees, askin' Lawd please gi' mah due
Sho' keep you on yo' knees, 'til turkey buzzard get through wit' you
Wha'cher gwine do nigger, ain' nothin' lak what I said
Do lak Alabamy boys an' win or be foun' dead.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bruce Conforth
Date: 10 Jan 16 - 11:24 AM

Since there has been some discussion, and Steve Garabedian's critique of my book (which I just recently learned about) I thought I should respond.

I respect Steve Garabedian's opinion and accept that we can disagree on certain things. but he is simply wrong about many things.

First, I can't imagine where the idea that Gellert was an alcoholic came from - certainly not my book. I never mentioned such a thing, and in fact I have no knowledge of Gellert ever taking a drink.

I never stated that Gellert was never a sincere radical. The case I made, and the evidence is quite clear, was that Gellert did not start to collect songs for political reasons. He stated that many times. He was interested in the natural beauty and cultural aesthetics of the music. It wasn't until his brother Hugo and Mike Gold alerted him to the idea that this music could be used as a great propaganda tool that he then began to collect the material for that purpose, and, as his fame in left-wing circles grew he took advantage of that position.

Garabedian states that in the late 60s (Gellert) was still arguing for socialism prevailing over capitalism. That didn't make him a radical activist. Remember who was interviewing him and about what! Dick Reuss, who I knew quite well, went to Gellert specifically looking for tales about his involvement with the left. Gellert was nothing if not a great storyteller. Should we really expect Gellert to have downplayed his role when he had spent much of his life building it up in ways that were quite often false?

Garabedian did not have the advantage of interviewing Gellert's brothers - Hugo or Otto. I did. They both were quite adamant that Larry was never much of a joiner, that he was never involved in leftist or union organizing, and that he was more prone to leave the scene when situations got tense than to stick around and fight. They had no reason to lie about this or to "protect" their brother. Hugo had already appeared as a "witness" in Warren Beatty's epic movie "Reds." They happily accepted the left-wing, even Communist associations of the family. But they were quite clear that Larry had no initial interest in politics (he wanted to be an actor) and never was involved in organizing or other left-wing activities except to show up when there was an organized protest. Even then he was quick to leave if the situation became too dicey. Gellert even admitted this himself in his own letters. He often said that he wasn't interested in politics and didn't want to be around when there was trouble. The people who knew him in the South - his first great love Alice Lightner, and others also recounted how apolitical Larry was until his brother Hugo and Mike Gold more or less cajoled him into collecting songs they could use for leftist propaganda. It is quite simple: Larry saw this as an opportunity to create an identity for himself and to stand out as a separate entity from his brothers. The more he did this the more he began to buy into his own creation until he created himself anew - as an expert in Negro songs of protest. Gellert was nothing if not a chameleon who could reinvent himself to adapt to any situation that would bring him some notoriety. This is not to take anything away from the totality of his collected material and its importance, merely to say that Gellert had very personal reasons for doing what he did and they really did not have much to do with an overt sense of political affiliation.

In addition to not having been able to interview the people who knew Larry best, Garabedian does not have access to the thousands of pages of Gellert's manuscripts and notebooks and recordings that I was given by Otto and which are still in my possession. The material currently housed at the Indiana University Archives accounts for only a small percentage of Gellert's work. So if Garabedian thinks that those few papers are representative of Gellert's notebooks and manuscripts he's totally wrong.

As per Gellert fabricating his material, again Garabedian did not have the opportunity to see this material or to interview scholars who knew him back when he was collecting. Folklorist Herbert Halpert informed me (and part of this is in my book) that Gellert admitted to him that he "created" a goodly part of the more overtly political material. He would go into a situation and if he didn't hear the kinds of songs he wanted he would teach his informants a song and then record them singing it. There is even a disc in the collection I have that shows him doing precisely that. For Garabedian to assert that he does not believe that Gellert fabricated some of his material is simply to deny the actual facts.

Harold Courlander also was well aware that Gellert was falsifying the more political material. And why did he do this? Because it gave him greater standing within the left.

I never stated that I saw the left of the 1930s and 40s as purely opportunistic as Garabedian asserts, but to assume that the left did not use things to its advantage would be ridiculous. What political organization, party, or movement does not use things to its own advantage? Similarly Gellert used the left to bring himself a degree of fame and attention.

As per Gellert's use of the word "protest" that was Gold's invention. Gellert may have used it a few times but he primarily used other terms.

As per Gellert's work being tied up largely in trying to establish a sense of identity from a huge inferiority complex, that idea was actually first put forth by Dick Reuss. I asked his brothers about this and they absolutely concurred that Larry always felt in the shadow of his older brothers, and was largely dependent upon them his entire life. They financed his trips to the South. They paid his bills. They gave him an allowance. They took care of him his entire life (Otto even helped him "disappear" in the 1970s). Larry was always trying to find a way to make a name for himself to create a unique identity. That is why he took advantage of Hugo and Gold's notion that the songs he originally had no political interest in could actually be important. It is also why he engaged in such ill-conceived and poorly executed ideas as publishing some of Eugene O'Neill's first plays under the title "Lost Plays of Eugene O'Neill." He was roundly and severely criticized for publishing works the playwright never intended to be made public, but he published the material because, as interest in his song collection waned, even, and perhaps especially within the Left, he sought another way to stand out from the crowd: to become a celebrity once again. For Garabedian to say that one of Gellert's primary reasons for doing the things he did was not to get out of his brother's shadows shows, quite simply, that Garabedian simply did not have access to the family and acquaintances who, to a person, related how inferior Larry felt his whole life and how he took every opportunity for self-aggrandizement.

Garabedian may not have actually used the word "anticapitalist" but he certainly danced around the term by saying that Gellert's material was "explicit black disaffection, rage and rebellion with regard to white racial oppression and capitalist exploitation." (pp 193-194 of his work)

I never said that even the songs Gellert did not fabricate did not employ a sense of identity, and perhaps even protest. But I do maintain, and not in a derogatory way, that Garabedian's work is revisionist apologetics for the failure of much 1960s blues scholarship to ignore the political element of the music and culture. This intention is understandable, but he swings the political pendulum too far to the left, especially since there is concrete proof that Gellert did fabricate his more political pieces.
And it still fascinates me that Garebedian, in his article or dissertation, never once cited the admonition of the great scholar Lawrence Levine that:
"There has been an unfortunate if understandable tendency in our political age to conceive of protest in almost exclusively political and institutional terms. This group consciousness and a firm sense of the self have been confused with political consciousness... To state that black song constituted a form of black protest and resistance does not mean that it led to, or even called for, any tangible or specific actions... but rather (was a way)Negroes... could assert their own individuality, aspirations, and sense of being."

But what is most important, and what Garabedian does not mention in his criticism,is one of the main points I try to make in my book: the VAST majority of songs Gellert collected had nothing to do with his kind of protest. They were traditional blues, spirituals, and folk songs, and it is this great mass of folk song and folk LORE (stories, proverbs, sayings, vernacular speech) that makes Gellert's collection so important - not the few protest songs, fabricated or not.

I wish Garabedian luck with his work, although without access to his brothers and the others who knew Larry best, I don't know how he can complete a thorough document.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
Date: 14 Oct 15 - 09:57 AM

Hi Joe,

If you mean ordering the field recordings directly from the Archives of Traditional Music, it would cost you. I had old cassette research copies from my research there in the late '90s. But, now that it's digitized, I ordered the full archive last summer of the earliest 7-inch aluminum discs (285 items) and the later 10-inch Presto discs (220 items). They emailed them to me as Zip files, and sent accompanying printed master indexes. Anyone could order, I assume, by contacting the ATM. But, I'm sure what you're getting at/wondering about is the expense! -- It was expensive, more than $250.

Going through his earliest 7-inch recordings from the latter 1920s is very tedious. The sound quality is not acceptable for general purposes. The recording speed is accelerated and the surface noise makes listening very difficult. But, it's intriguing for me. There are many
items that one can immediately recognize and match to commercial blues parallels from the time period. Bruce Conforth is absolutely right about that, and I always agreed: Gellert collected a lot of non-protest material in common circulation.

Actually, as it appears, Gellert in his earliest novice inroads into black music collecting may have just asked local people to sing and (not literally, of course) "hit" the record button; he didn't have any guiding theory or any grounding in black folklore. These locals, quite naturally perhaps, just sang him songs that were current in their minds, many of them commercial blues, songster, and string band stuff. Then, as these earliest field items progress in sequence in the archive, it seems that the blues and popular stuff falls away. There start to be more and more chain gang songs and even the first examples of more than one singer present. You can hear another singer-informant in the background making the "hunh" sound of a work song, for instance, and you can hear a singer-informant stop short, laugh, and say, "That's all," presumably to Gellert on another recording. But, they are very hard to make out these early ones.

Here's my theory of what the early archive items tell us -- Gellert had gone from more casual recording of whatever at homes to starting to record in a more focused and informed way in prisons.

Then, by the 1930s, he was pursuing it on more serious and systematic terms, with the new better equipment at his disposal. The recordings released on Rounder and Heritage are from the '30s Presto 10-inch discs. Many of them sound very good.

You've likely encountered this one. Someone did us a favor by posting it at Youtube:
That's one of the ones that Bruce Bastin writes about in his book.

It's on the original Rounder LP, which is still around:

Also, here's the second LP release:

Finally, do you know about the Document Records CD? (currently out of stock, though):
There are song samples there, at least.

That Document CD is a reproduction of the third Gellert release, Conforth and Bastin's "Nobody Knows My Name."

All of these LPs, draw on the good-quality 10-inch Presto items in the full Gellert archive. They are all from the mid-1930s. Once Gellert was gone from the scene (disappeared) as of 1979, Conforth did us all right by working through the material to put out these important compilations! The average listener, in the '80s and still now, is not going to be ordering field recordings directly from an archive.

Glad the article came through.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Joe Offer
Date: 14 Oct 15 - 01:56 AM

Here's the Indiana University library index for Lawrence Gellert:

I can't figure out how to order the Gellert field recordings that Steve talks about.

Steve, I've taken a quick look through your article, and it's fascinating. Thank you for it.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
Date: 13 Oct 15 - 09:24 AM


Correction: I just rechecked my Conforth book. In the interest of detail, what Conforth relates specifically about the interracial relationship "myth," as he calls it (p.xviii), is that he was misled by one of Gellert's New York girlfriends, Helen Brand, who was perhaps looking for some profit potential in Gellert storytelling. He was not misled by a local informant in Tryon, NC. In his book, Conforth says he wants to set the record straight on that.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
Date: 13 Oct 15 - 07:59 AM

Hi Joe and Susan,

Yes, the Conforth book is expensive. I have a copy, of course, and I have one ordered and now on the shelf at my college library. Folks can perhaps submit a purchase request at their public libraries. The more research and writing that circulates, the better.

Also, Conforth's book can be glimpsed to some degree via Amazon's "Look Inside" function. Of course, one needs to read the entire book, not glance at it online. But, for those who want an immediate look, it's there at Amazon.

For my part, I do think the gate-keeping mechanisms of scholarly journals is an unfortunate reality that perpetuates divides between academia, general readers, and independent scholars. So, I'm always happy to share. Somebody, not me, uploaded my AQ article as a Google Document. I've shared it this way before. Hopefully, it will work for you, Joe.

Here's the URL:

If that doesn't work, I have the article as a PDF that I'm glad to share under the terms of educational "fair use." I don't know how to upload here at the thread, though.

I also thought to mention this morning that the most recent profile of Gellert at Wikipedia includes an additional mistake that adds to an unsavory characterization of the man as unreliable. It is not true that Lawrence Gellert himself ever claimed to have gained his access to black culture because he had a relationship with a local African American women in Tryon, NC, where he lived and worked. At least, I can say confidently that Gellert says no such thing in his taped interviews or writings. Rather, the story entered into Gellert's profile through Conforth's writing (his M.A. Thesis and then LP liner notes). It was then reproduced from the 1980s forward by subsequent scholars. In his 2013 book, Conforth relates now that he was misled by an unscrupulous local woman in Tryon during his research in the 1980s. She was looking for money, Conforth explains, and fabricated the story. So, this local informant was unreliable in misleading Gellert's biographer, not Gellert himself, who never made such a claim that I've seen. If one reads my article, you will notice that I never mention the story. That's because I found no primary evidence for it. Since I could not corroborate this story of an interracial relationship, I left it out of my own account.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: wysiwyg
Date: 13 Oct 15 - 06:09 AM

The Conforth book is now $63, used.

Dr. G, thank you.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Joe Offer
Date: 13 Oct 15 - 04:29 AM

This continues to be a fascinating thread. I was hoping to get Bruce Conforth's book when it came out, but Amazon has it for sale for $83 frickin' dollars, for a 298-page book published in 2013. Too rich for my taste. And Gellert's two songbooks? They'll cost you hundreds of dollars.
Thanks for your contribution, Steve Garabedian. I found your article in American Quarterly, but it costs twenty bucks. If somebody can point me to a way to get a copy for a reasonable price, I'd be grateful. I wish there were an easy way for us laymen to access Project Muse.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Steven Garabedian
Date: 13 Oct 15 - 12:34 AM

Hello All,

This thread has been quiet for a couple of years. But, I'm writing in anyway.

To this point, I have refrained from addressing the topic of Lawrence Gellert in anything but my formal published academic writing. Many people, including contributors to Mudcat, know the name of Bruce Conforth as it relates to Gellert's biography and archive. Picking up the trail after the early inroads by the great Richard Reuss, Dr. Conforth was the pioneering researcher who opened up Gellert studies in the 1980s. Two years ago, his book, "African American Folksong and American Cultural Politics: The Lawrence Gellert Story," came out with The Scarecrow Press. He has been more and more active in recent years as a blues and folklore expert, and his teaching and writing is highly credited.

I am finally writing in at this forum to speak up for myself and my own research on Lawrence Gellert. I am an academic as well, and have been researching Gellert, African American blues protest, roots music revivalism, and the cultural left of the 1930s and 1960s since the late 1990s. I have published on Gellert myself, and am working on a manuscript involving the man and his collection.

As I see Conforth's take on Gellert show up more and more, I want to say that it is one view, and that I am a researcher of some credibility myself who has a very different view. There is still room for a open discourse on Gellert, and there is still room for additional interpreters and researchers.

No scholarship is definitive, and my own will no doubt have its limitations. But, I can say that I fundamentally dispute Conforth's position on Lawrence Gellert as an apolitical careerist, with no genuine social convictions of any real degree. I also dispute Conforth's dismissive view of the political left of the 1930s and '40s as purely opportunistic. Moreover, I do not think it is "cased closed" that Lawrence Gellert or his Communist handlers fabricated material.

In his many hours of taped interviews with Richard Reuss and Izzy Young from the late 1960s, Lawrence Gellert speaks with authority and emotion about world politics, leftwing cultural policy and figures in the 1930s, and issues of social injustice. As an older man, in these interviews from the '60s, he is still quite emphatic that he believes socialism will prevail over capitalism because it is a "superior system." He also shows a detailed level of knowledge about black history, resistance, and culture that is rare for someone of an age that predated African American Studies as a formal discipline with a canon easily accessible to all. Gellert was an autodidact from an intelligent family of thinkers and arguers. Yes, Gellert was eccentric, but I don't think, as Conforth seems to suggest in his book, that Gellert's main motivation in black vernacular music research was an identify and inferiority complex that drove him to want to make a name for himself out of the shadow of his older brother Hugo. I don't see any reason to psychologize Gellert in these terms. Really, he seemed as intact and as screwy as any of the rest of us, particularly when it comes to writers, artists, bohemians.

Was Lawrence Gellert an alcoholic, as it now states on his Wikipedia page? In sixteen years of research, I've seen no evidence for or against such a characterization.

Was Gellert an acute womanizer? How do we judge such a thing? There were several women with whom he had relationships over the course of a long lifetime. Aside from adding to a profile of the man as unprincipled, I don't see why it is necessary to the discussion. I admit that I have not looked into his romantic life, but I can say that it has never stuck out as a topic needing investigation either.

This is not the place for a disquisition. And, I will keep working on my book and hope it comes out before the door is closed on Lawrence Gellert by interested parties. But, let me give one example of a specific inaccuracy from Bruce Conforth's book that is the kind of thing that matters. In his book (p.118), Conforth highlights as primary evidence a 1935 Gellert article published in the leftwing journal "Music Vanguard." He employs this evidence to further assert his ongoing position that Gellert had no interest in politics and was simply willing to allow the left to use his material in order to build a name for himself. Conforth relates some of the details of the 12-page piece by Gellert and stresses that -- aside from the title "Negro Songs of Protest," which was applied by leftwing editors apart from Gellert's own hand -- Gellert himself, as author, never uses the word "protest" once in the published article text. But, I have and know this same article well, and the primary evidence reads otherwise. Gellert includes the word "protest" in his prose at least three times, quite directly. He also uses the words "revolt" and "insurrection," for instance, to refer to black vernacular song tradition in his time and before. I agree with Conforth that the title "Negro Songs of Protest" likely came from Mike Gold at "New Masses" starting in 1930. But, I disagree that Gellert wasn't a willing participant of genuine conviction in the movement culture of the Old Left. I submit that Gellert used the word "protest" in this article because, like his leftwing editors at "New Masses" and "Music Vanguard," he meant it and he cared.

I have never argued that all of Gellert's field archive is all protest, and I have never argued that only protest blues is the real blues or the only blues that matters. I have never defined "protest" as necessarily supporting only formal leftwing organizing campaigns, causes, or people, and I have never argued, as Conforth presents it in his book, that the blues in the Gellert collection are "anticapitalist." The songs I highlight show resentment toward exploitation under a racialized system of capitalism; that's what I argue in my writing. I never go so far as to say they are "anticapitalist."

Anyone who wants can read my 2005 Gellert article in "American Quarterly" to decide whether I'm nuanced and careful or reductive and exaggerated in my interpretations. I believe I'm the former and grounded responsibly in the evidence; Conforth characterizes me in the book as a radical "revisionist" who is "overpoliticizing" the blues based on my own contemporary views (what I want to see, not what is).

I also think it is important to mention that the Gellert archive (taped interviews, correspondence, writings, and field recordings) is available for all at a public repository, the Archives of Traditional Music and Lilly Library at Indiana University Bloomington. This is the primary evidence base from which I draw conclusions in my writing, and it can all be traced to its public source. The material has been available to all since the 1980s. It is not lost, obscure, or unavailable. It is as easily accessible as any other public archive. This extends to the field recordings themselves, which have been digitized in full (505+ audio items) and can be ordered on CD or as a zip file over email to interested researchers.

There is no reason why a single viewpoint (or even our two viewpoints) on Lawrence Gellert should be the last word. I look forward to any feedback from folks who have investigated the Gellert material on their own, who have read Conforth's book, or who have opinions about my own writing.

Steve Garabedian

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,andy
Date: 21 Jun 13 - 02:00 PM

I own a copy of Lawrence Gellert's orginal timely lp. I put the info on here is the link. If it looks like the one on the site it is the original. I also don't know the value of this record. Mine is priceless to me.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 06 Jun 13 - 02:24 PM

Perhaps if one of the ROUNDER collective is on the list, they
can provide information about the LP, additional to that provided
on the WIRZ site.
My recollection is that the TIMELY LP was pressed by GELLERT, but
no jacket prepared. The Rounders bought the un-distributed LPs
and prepared a jacket and extensive booklet. The original
pressings had a ROUNDER label pasted over the original. When
these sold out, further pressings were made by Rounder. It would
be interesting to know how many actually reached circulation.
I think there were a sizable number, such that finding a copy
on the various vinyl sale or auction sites should not be difficult if
one is patient.
For those who do not know, TIMELY was a 78rpm label in the 1930's
and 1940's which issued a series of Communist/Labor songs with
wonderfully illustrated labela. Theyalso released an album of Earl Robinson and a series of classical records (including the BOYCE Symphonies conducted by Max Goberlan), and an album of EDWIN MARKHAM reading his poetry.
Best wishes, Thomas.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Julia
Date: 06 Jun 13 - 11:23 AM

I'm following your conversation from Graz, Austria. I've been looking for Gellert's collection on the internet, but I can't afford the vinyl right now. It's possible to order the record at Harvard University, but the shipping fee to Europe would add up to another 100 dollars. I read that you own a copy of gellert's recordings and now I'd like to ask, if you'd be willing to share it with me?

I'd be very grateful. Hope to hear from you

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Joe Offer
Date: 23 Feb 13 - 03:19 AM

By the way, Bruce Conforth's book will be published on May 16, 2013. It's titled African American Folksong and American Cultural Politics: The Lawrence Gellert Story. It's part of the American Folk Music and Musicians Series from University of Illinois Press. List price of the book is $75, which is a bit steep for me.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Andi
Date: 23 Feb 13 - 01:13 AM


I am looking to price LP in possession. I believe it may be one of the forty originally printed.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,999
Date: 22 Feb 13 - 09:20 PM

Hey Andi,

I'm not 100% sure what it is you need. If I can be of help please let me know. I'll look out for this thread and any response you post. Best to you.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
Date: 22 Feb 13 - 07:40 PM

Hey 999,

Thank you for your prompt reply as well as the link.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,999
Date: 21 Feb 13 - 07:42 PM

The site said I was blocked by a third-party extension. I don't know what that means, but there is a discography on the page that comes up.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Andi
Date: 21 Feb 13 - 07:24 PM

Currently in my possession I have one of Lawrence Gellert "Negro Songs of Protest". I'm a Library Science Major and have been tasked with locating this vinyl's worth. Does anyone have information regarding his collections.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bennett Graff
Date: 23 May 12 - 11:35 AM

Scarecrow Press has placed Bruce Conforth's book under contract and we're moving swiftly on it. We hope to have it out before the end of 2012.

Bennett Graff
Music Editor & Folk Music Fan
Scarecrow Press

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 20 Nov 11 - 07:13 AM

Any fresh news on the Bruce Conforth and Steve Garabedian books?

It's been over two years ... and on, at least, they still appear not to have been published.

It would be nice to see the real deal on Lawrence Gellert and all the questions raised above.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Ronald Cohen
Date: 07 Jul 10 - 04:39 PM

Much of the context for Gellert's collections can be found in my WORK AND SING: A HISTORY OF OCCUPATIONAL AND LABOR UNION SONGS IN THE UNITED STATES (University of Illinois Press). Steve Garabedian will also be publishing his book on Gellert (University of Pennsylvania Press) in the near future, so, along with Bruce Conforth's book on Gellert, there will be much to consider in the near future.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,hg
Date: 23 Sep 09 - 01:18 PM

great thread, Joe!

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,MBAllen
Date: 23 Sep 09 - 12:09 PM

Folklorists were sometimes criticized for not identifying their informants sufficiently, but "folk" performers may well have exhibited reluctance to identify themselves. It should be kept in mind that African-Americans in the South could not look to the law for protection, and there were rent seekers perpetually hounding them for debt. Sometimes, too, they may have been doing something not strictly legal (such as selling bootleg liquor in the case of Muddy Waters) in order to make ends meet in an economy that was stacked against them from start to finish. I think these reasons contribute to the widespread use of aliases and nicknames among the poor which continue even today. (But then, what about middle class folks with unlisted numbers and internet monikers?)

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Azizi
Date: 24 Aug 09 - 08:18 AM

Here are some of the songs from Thomas W. Talley's 1922 book Negro Folk Songs, Wise and Otherwise that include elements of protest by enslaved African Americans:

Dat ole sow said to de barrer:
"I'll tell you w'at let's do:
Let's go an' git dat broad-axe
And die in de pig-pen too.

"Die in de pig-pen fightin'!
Yes, die, die in de wah!
Die in de pig-pen fightin',
Yes, di wid a bitin' jaw."
(p. 19)


I's off from Richmon' sooner in de mornin'.
I's off from Richmon' befo' de brak o' day.
I slips off rom Mosser widout pass an' warnin'
For I mus' see my Donie wharever she may stay.
(p. 15)

Well: I look dis a way, an' I look dat a way,
An' I hared a mighty rumblin'.
W'en I come to find out, 'twus dad's black sow,
A-routin' an a'grumblin'.

Den: I slipped away down to de Big White House.
Miss Sally, she done gone 'way,
I popped myse'f in de rockin' cheer.
An' I rocked myse'f all day.

Now: I looked dis a way, an' I looked dat a way,
An' I didn' see nobody in there.
I jes run'd my head in de coffee pot,
An' I drink'd up all o' de beer.
(p. 48)


My ole Mistiss promise me,
W'en she died, she'd set me free.
She lived so long dat 'er head got bal',
An' she give out'n de notion a dyin' at all.

My ole Mistiss say to me:
"Sambo, I'se gwine ter set you free."
But w'en dat head git slick an' bal',
De Lawd couldn' a' killed 'er wid
a big green maul.

My ole Mistiss never die,
Wid 'er nose all hooked an' skin all dry.
But my ole Miss, she's somehow gone,
An' she lef' "Uncle Sambo
a-hillin' up co'n.

Ole Mosser lakwise promise, me,
W'en he died, he'd set me free.
But ole Mosser go an' make his Will
For to leave me a-plowin' ole Beck still.

Yes, my ole Mosser promise me;
But "his papers" didn' leave me free.
A does of pizen he'ped 'im along.
May de Devil preach 'is funer'l song.
(pp 25-26)


All of these examples are from the 1968 Kennikat Press edition of Thomas W. Talley's book.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Joe Offer
Date: 24 Aug 09 - 03:21 AM

Another response from Bruce Conforth:

    Hi Joe,
    Dick (Weissman) is aware of my new work, as he was my MA thesis which is where Dick got a lot of his information on Gellert for his book (an excellent book I must say. I was a youngster in Greenwich Village for the folk revival and I must say that no one has caught the scene the way Dick has), and therefore much of it was based upon misinformation I had been led to believe was true.

    As per the Time article: it's a perfect example of Gellert reinventing himself. The lynching scenario never happened. He never saw a corpse "two days dead" in Asheville and perhaps no where else either. In none of his interviews does he ever mention seeing such a sight anywhere at any time. And of course, the article makes it sound like he discovered some new "hidden" genre that white people never heard. That's exactly what the Left wanted people to believe, but of course accounts of the songs that he collected go back to the 1840s and Odum and Johnson, Talley, Krehbiel, Allen, Scarborough, Newman Ivey White, John Lomax, and many, many more found the same songs before Gellert set foot in the South. They, of course, all called the songs "self-pity" songs, "sorrow" songs, or "complainin'"songs... None of them recognized the element of protest that the songs might possibly exhibit. Now as I said, the idea of protest is an interesting one and not to be accepted without some strong consideration. The Left wanted these songs to be protest songs because that would make them the voice of a revolutionary proletariat. Songs that just expressed sentiments of dissatisfaction were not good enough for them. They needed to maintain that these truly were "protest" songs. It's interesting that despite all the field work that had already been done, collecting virtually (and in many cases - exactly) the same songs no one at that time (the 30s when Gellert started publishing his stuff) pointed that out. There are almost no songs in Gellert's collection that I haven't found earlier references for. His blues collection is a bit different and there are some unique things there. But basically Gellert didn't discover anything new and revolutionary, it was just the way his material was packaged and sold to the public. Now that does NOT negate the import of his collection. It still stands as one of the largest and earliest collections of its kind... those other collections I mention were not recorded collections, but songs just written down.

    BUT... then also comes the question of whether Gellert invented any of his songs in order to make his collection seem more important. That was one of the major charges against his collection at the time, and even after - that he invented some of his more definitively "protest" songs and that they were not truly part of African American culture. You'll have to wait for my book for the answer to THAT question, but I have definite proof one way or the other. ;)

    You may post this also if you wish.

    Best, Bruce

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Joe Offer
Date: 21 Aug 09 - 04:34 AM

I got an e-mail this afternoon from Bruce Conforth, and he gave me permission to post it:
    Hey Joe (I enjoyed saying that lol)

    I'll be getting the copy to UIll (University of Illinois Press) probably in September... I have no idea how long it will take them after that. As planned I have a LOT of lyrics as an appendix, but who knows with the cost of publishing these days whether or not they'll make the cut. The IU (Indiana University) Archives of Traditional Music has the original collection of Gellert's material, but after I left there I collected at least twice as much as what they have from family and friends. Their collection is really cursory at best. After the publication of my book I suspect I'll give them the rest of the material, although the Library of Congress is really interested in the material too. Unfortunately my Master's thesis and the notes I did for the albums of his material was based on very preliminary data because I was not aware that any more material was extant. Also I relied heavily on the narratives of a woman who said she was Gellert's wife, but who turned out not to be and rather only knew him in his last years and was seeking to make a profit on the material herself. As such most of the personal data in wrong and much of my book is dedicated to setting the record straight. As you may know Steven Garadebian did an article on Gellert in American Quarterly called "Reds Whites and the Blues: Lawrence Gellert, Negro Songs of Protest, and the Left-Wing Folk Song Revival of the 1930s and 1940s". It was a portion of his doctoral dissertation, but he got a lot of information from me (again in the early stages and much of it inaccurate) and he makes some assumptions about Gellert's material, protest, and African American folk songs that are simply not true. His work on the Left-wing, however, is dead on. I might be okay with digitalizing Gellert's two publications and putting them on line. See, the thing is, most people think of Gellert (those who even heard of him) with regard to those books and his connection with the Left. But he really wasn't at all interested in that when he started out but was cajoled into it by his brother Hugo and Mike Gold. His collection actually contains hundreds of blues, some standard, some variants, most NOT protest. Only the tiniest portion of his material could be classified as protest, and even then I have problems with that word. As Lawrence Levine said, African American songs were never about protest in the usual sense of the word and we need to find a new way to talk about them. Garabedian calls them "overt protest" when nothing could be further from the truth. They were about acknowledging their plight (sometimes) but even then we have to rethink what protest means. To the Left protest meant propaganda, which as Denisoff says has nothing to do with protest, but rather with propagating a movement. The Left's idea of using Gellert's material as a tool for agit-prop was WAY off base. But now I'm getting into the theses of my book.

    Also, almost everything we thought we knew about Gellert's life, and which has been published thus far is also wrong. Part of that was Gellert's fault. He was always inventing stories and even changing his name to try to get some "street cred."

    So, there you have a bit in a nutshell. Feel free to post this email on the site if you wish.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
Date: 20 Aug 09 - 04:14 PM

Negro Songs of Protest $160 on Ebay.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Aug 09 - 04:10 PM

Thanks for your comments, Bruce. I'm looking forward to your book. I suppose it will be part of the remarkable Music in American Life series. It will be interesting to see what you have to say in contrast to the information from Dick Weissman in Which Side Are You On?

-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bruce Conforth
Date: 20 Aug 09 - 04:05 PM

Virtually everything that has been posted on here (except for the listing of the songs that he published or were released on record) is wrong. I've been working with the Gellert material for 20 years now and interviewed everyone who ever had anything to do with him... found ex-girlfriends, family members (like the famed artist Hugo, his other brother Otto, etc.), people who knew him throughout his life. I'm just now in the process of finishing my book on him for the University of Illinois Press. There were a number of people (including some famous scholars and collectors) who didn't want their material used until after their death. So now is the time. I teach in the Program in American Culture at the University of Michigan and my email address is:

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 13 Aug 09 - 08:38 AM

There is some interesting information at WorldCat. You might be able to find his books at a library near you, plus there are some books and articles about him.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Mark Ross
Date: 12 Aug 09 - 09:09 AM

Copies of Gellerts' books start at around $75 on ABE books. here's a link;

It would be nice if these could be reprinted. I remember meeting Gellert back in the '70's when I worked at the NYC Folklore Center. Nice guy. Oh, if I'd known then what I know now.

Mark Ross

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 12 Aug 09 - 08:01 AM

The Gellert archive is housed at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN (also home to Bruce Conforth). The listing:

[United States, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Afro-Americans, 1920-1940] [sound recording]
  Gellert, Lawrence, 1898-1979.
  221 sound discs : analog, 78 rpm, mono. ; 7-10 in. + 4 sound tape reels (10 in.)
copies available at Blmgtn - Archives of Traditional Music (B-ATM)

In addition, the university library has copies of Gellert's books, his papers, copies of the issued sound recordings, and another apparently Gellert-related item whose relevance is uncertain:

[United States, 1966, 1968, 1969] [sound recording]
   6 sound tape reels : analog, 3 3/4 ips, 2 track, mono. ; 5 in. + documentation
copies available at Blmgtn - Archives of Traditional Music (B-ATM)


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: scouse
Date: 12 Aug 09 - 06:10 AM

I have one of the Lp's.4004 Picked it up at the "Kringloop." ( forgot the english word for Kringloop.) Which I can happily digitilize and make a copy and send it to anyone who'd like it. Please PM me if your interested.
As Aye,

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 11 Aug 09 - 05:57 AM

Bob Coltman on Gellert not naming his sources. Quite correct. In fact Mance Lipsomb's performance of Tom Moore's Farm was uncredited for precisely the same reason, when it appeared on an anthology of Texas field recordings. Then again, Alan Lomax was forced to hide the identities of Memphis Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Bill Broonzy when they appeared on Blues in the Mississippi Night; for precisely the same reason.

As a matter of fact, I've just come across a set of LPs on the Hungaraton label, of musicians from the Hungarian ethnic minority in Rumania. The LP sleeves contain a disquieting apology for the fact that Hungaraton was unable to identify the musicians involved. This it said was for "technical reasons". Given that they were released during the Caucesco era, when the Caucesco regime was attempting to eradicate the ethnic minorities within its borders, one wonders whether the "technical reasons" might simply have been concern for the safety of the musicians involved.

I am constantly railing against publishers of ethnic recordings, who are too lazy or too inconsiderate to acknowledge the performers they present. But just occasionally, it's a case of needs must when the devil drives.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 10:28 PM

Correction to something I said above that turns out not to have been fair to Gellert.

Bruce Conforth's notes to the second Rounder album make it clear that Gellert's failure to name his sources was not a lapse of any kind.

Rather, he deliberately refrained from naming many of the people who sang for his collection specifically because he was concerned they might suffer retaliation from white bosses for the frank views expressed in the songs they sang.

That puts a different face on the matter, and I wanted to be sure that point got made, in all fairness to Gellert's principles and methods.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 09:21 PM

Two tidbits of songs collected by Lawrence Gellert, from

How long, brethren, how long,
Must my people weep and mourn?
How long, how long, brethren, how long?

So long my people been asleep
White folks plowin' my soul down deep.
How long, how long, brethren how long?
Too long, too long, brethren, too long.

We just miserin' along too long brethren too long.
White folks ain't Jesus, he just a man,
Grabbin' biscuit out of poor nigger's hand.
Too long, too long, brethren too long.
(Gellert 16)

Re the Scottsboro Boys:
Paper come out, done spread the news that
Seven poor childrin moan death house blues.
Seven poor childrin moanin' death house blues.

Seven nappy heads with big shiny eyes
All bound in jail and framed to die
All bound in jail and framed to die ....

Judge and jury all in the stand
Lawd, biggety name for same lynchin band
Lawd biggety name for same lynchin band (Gellert 44)

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 08:29 PM

It occurs to me to ask: does anyone know where Gellert's recordings now reside, and who has control of them? Are they publicly available for study? Are scans of his books available through libraries?

Wish Rounder could be convinced to reissue those two albums, too. Clearly they had access to the archive at one point.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 08:20 PM

Thanks, Joe, for resolving that issue, and Stefan, I was not calling your information into question, sorry if it seemed I was.

The track listings illustrate another problem mainstream folklorists have had with Gellert. His primary interest was the song. He seems in at least some cases to have regarded ancillary information—like the singer's name and other precise data—as not all that important.

In Gellert's defense, the field was barely opened up when he began, and he came at the music, not as a scholar, but as a fierce proponent of political views. Thus the lyrics, and what they said, were everything.

Still we'd all be grateful today, I'm sure, for even his most fragmentary information, just to hear that archive and see those books.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Joe Offer
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 02:03 AM

Hi, Bob-
It was Dick Weissman's Which Side Are You On? which piqued my curiosity about Lawrence Gellert. Weissman's book has a section called The Strange Career of Lawrence Gellert, which can be read at Google Books.

It appears that the primary expert on Gellert is Bruce Conforth of the University of Michigan, who is writing a book on Gellert.

I downloaded the Document CD from

Good recording, but I wish I had the liner notes.
Let's see if I can get the track listing to post.

Field Recordings Vol. 9: Georgia, S & N Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky (1924-1939) (Document Records CD)

01. Boogie Lovin'
Artist: Unknown 3:36

02. 30 Days In Jail
Artist: Unknown 3:05

03. Ding Dong Ring
Artist: Unknown 3:16

04. Hard Times, Hard Times
Artist: Unknown 2:25

05. Prison Bound Blues
Artist: Unknown 3:48

06. Georgia Chain Gang
Artist: Unknown 2:19

07. Shootin' Craps And Gamblin'
Artist: Unknown 3:25

08. Mary Don't You Weep
Artist: Unknown 1:56

09. Trouble Ain't Nothin' But A Good Man Feelin' Bad
Artist: Georgia Field Hands 3:24

10. Black Woman
Artist: Unknown 3:22

11. Gonna Leave From Georgia
Artist: Unknown 2:49

12. Pick And Shovel Captain
Artist: Unknown 2:19

13. 6 Months Ain't No Sentence
Artist: Unknown 2:22

14. Down In The Chain Gang
Artist: Unknown 1:45

15. Nobody Knows My Name
Artist: Unknown 2:08

16. I Been Pickin' And Shovellin'
Artist: Unknown 2:32

17. Heaven Is A Beautiful Place I Know
Artist: Hannah Bessellion 1:30

18. I've Got Another Building
Artist: Hannah Bessellion 1:35

19. We're Going To Break Bread Together On Our Knees
Artist: Hannah Bessellion 2:00

20. Rabbit In The Pea Patch
Artist: Angie Clark 0:52

21. Run Sinner, And Hide Your Face (Run, Sinner, Run)
Artist: Unidentifed Group Of Tobacco Workers 2:29

22. Bile Dem Cabbages Down
Artist: Belton Reese 1:58

23. The McKenzie Case
Artist: Belton Reese 1:54

24. If You Want To Make A Preacher Cuss
Artist: Arthur Anderson 0:29

25. Never Let The Deal Go Down
Artist: Wheeler Bailey & Preston Fulp 0:55

26. Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane
Artist: Uncle John Scruggs 3:55

27. Tomorrow
Artist: Eddie Thomas & Carl Scott 2:23

28. My Ohio Home
Artist: Eddie Thomas & Carl Scott 1:13

29. Happy I Am
Artist: Elder Michaux 3:31

30. Foldin' Bed
Artist: Whistler's Jug Band 2:31

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Peace
Date: 10 Aug 09 - 12:14 AM

Dear Stefan--great work.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: wysiwyg
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 11:51 AM

Just back from vacay-- his is a promising find I hope to plumb in some way. I wonder if Masato has the material? If anyone here would, it would be Masato.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Stefan Wirz
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 11:49 AM

... don't know how come the track list at turns out that queer ...
... but there are quite a few sources on the net that prove that the track list on my Gellert discography seems to resemble the actual content of that CD not insignificantly (Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters ;-)

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 10:28 AM

Addendum to the above:

The current track list at for Document DODC 5599, Field Recordings Vol. 9, does not match the above. In a hasty search through the Document catalog I have been unable to find the Gellert tracks; they do not appear to be on that release.

More searching might turn up the cause of the discrepancy.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 10:10 AM

Gellert resources on the net are slim. But to give you a taste of what Gellert found are titles of the Lawrence Gellert recordings that reached record.
From Stefan Wirz's excellent labor-of-love discography website (which includes readable scans of the cover notes!) at

Various unknown Artists:
Negro Songs Of Protest
Collected by Lawrence Gellert
Timely Records T1-112, Rounder 4004, 1973

from liner notes:
"This album was originally prepared for release on the Timely label but jackets were never printed and the only copies of the record which left Gellert's apartment went to friends or to others who had heard about it by word of mouth; the total was about 40 discs."

- Cold Iron Shackles
- Two Hoboes
- Negro Got No Justice
- Mail Day I Gets A Letter
- Rocky Bottom
- Come Get Your Money
- Joe Brown's Coal Mine
- You Ask For Breakfast
- On A Monday

- There Ain't No Heaven
- In Atlanta, Georgia
- Cap'n Got A Lueger
- When Sun Go Down
- Give Me Fifteen Minutes And You Calls It Noon
- Lawdy Mamie
- Cap'n Got A Pistol
- Cap'n What Is On Your Mind?
- Mr. Tyree


Various unknown Artists:
Cap'n You're So Mean
Negro Songs Of Protest Volume Two
Rounder 4013 (1973), CD 1982

- Cap'n You're So Mean
- Don't Go To Georgia
- Listen Here Cap'n
- This Ol' Hammer
- Joe Brown
- Nine Pound Hammer
- You Don't Know My Mind
- Cap'n You Oughta Be Shamed
- Standin' On The Streets Of Birmingham
- Trouble, Trouble
- 30 Blows From Time
- Gonna Leave Atlanta

- Chain Gang Blues
- Red Cross Store
- Annie Lee
- Why Didn't Somebody Tell Me
- Please Bossman Tell Me
- Cap'n Hide Me
- Delia
- White Folks Ain't Jesus (How long)
- I went On Down To Okalonda
- Trouble In Mind
- Cap'n Cap'n
- Green Street Car


Various unknown Artists:
Nobody Knows My Name
Blues from South Carolina and Georgia
Heritage HT 304, 1984, released on Document DOCD 5599, 1998

- Boogie Lovin' #
- 30 Days In Jail #
- Ding Dong Ring #
- Pick & Shovel Cap'n #
- 6 Months Ain't No Sentence #
- Hard Times Hard Times #
- Trouble Ain't Nothin But A Good Man Feelin Bad #
- Down In The Chain Gang #

- Prison Bound Blues #
- Georgia Chain Gang #
- Gonna Leave From Georgia #
- Black Woman #
- Shootin' Craps & Gamblin' #
- Nobody Knows My Name #
- I Been Pickin' & Shovellin' #

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 09:48 AM

Banjo picker, and onetime member of the folkpop group the Journeymen, Dick Weissman introduced me to Lawrence Gellert (1896-1979), whom Dick regards as fundamental and unjustly deprived of a position in the first rank of song collectors. Gellert's collection of some 500 songs (200 of them protest songs) from American southern blacks beginning in 1924 is a landmark ... and almost totally unavailable.

Dick devotes several pages to Gellert in his book "Which Side Are You On" (Continuum), which I draw on here. He quotes (p 27) Nolan Porterfield's biography of John Lomax that Gellert was angered at John Lomax as having a "slaveholder mentality" in his treatment of Leadbelly, and charged Lomax "failed to get to the heart of contemporary Negro folk lore."

IMHO there's a real case to be made for this view. But Lomax ruled the folksong collecting world at the time, and what with this, his Marxism, his unfashionable insistence on the sheer power of black resistance, his insistence on using the N word where it occurred in folksong, and much else, Gellert ticked off a good few people and earned obscurity as a result. Too bad, for his collecting turned up a whole world of black folksong not tapped by anyone else. Gellert's thesis was that the heart of black protest singing had been overlooked or shunted aside. He came up with some gems.

Long before I'd ever heard of him I'd heard some of the unusually powerful songs he'd collected. They were part of the songlist on Josh White's little-known album "Chain Gang Songs," originally issued on 78 rpm in 1940, pressed on LP in 1958, and still available on CD, domestically on Collectibles label, or as a cheapie import. It had, if I remember correctly, either 6 or 8 songs, including:

Going Home Boys (Crying Won't Make Me Stay)\
Nine Foot Shovel
Crying Who? Crying You

They were performed by White and three or four other singers in a pocket-choral style that made this one of the stranger releases I ever heard, but it's one you don't soon forget.

That album produced controversy. White's story was that he'd learned most of the songs while touring America with Blind Man Arnold, but Gellert charged that the album featured songs from his collection, some of them partly rewritten. According to Weissman's book Gellert sued White, demanding songwriting and music publishing credits. Columbia Records eventually granted him coauthorship, but Gellert was lost in the turmoil.

Three LP records have been released from his collection, but they're now out of print, and his books are fabulously rare, so his valuable collecting remains mostly out of reach.

Here's one loud vote for a reprint of both Gellert's books, "Me and My Captain" (1936) and "Negro Songs of Protest" (1939). They should be available to folklorists, and everyone, black and white alike, as basic sources.


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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 09 Aug 09 - 05:11 AM

The Rounder Lp, Negro Songs of Protest Vol 1, which Stefan Wirz lists in his discography, has a brief biography of Gellert. You can read it by clicking on the thumbnails at the bottom of the entry for that record.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Peace
Date: 08 Aug 09 - 07:17 PM

There are lyrics too if one enlarges the yellowed-pages of the book at on the page. If my eyes were better I'd be able to make 'em out.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Peace
Date: 08 Aug 09 - 07:09 PM

Note that in the Wirz discography, lyrics appear in some of the 'pages' off to the right-hand side. Click 'em and they 'blow up'.

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Subject: RE: Negro Songs of Protest: Lawrence Gellert
From: Joe Offer
Date: 08 Aug 09 - 04:53 PM

Here's a brief biography of Gellert from The University of North Carolina:
    Very little information on Lawrence Gellert is available. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 14 September 1898, came to the United States when he was seven, and grew up in New York City. For health reasons, he moved to Tryon, N.C., probably in the late 1920s or early 1930s.
    From 1933 to 1937, Gellert traveled through North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, collecting folksongs of black Americans. He compiled and published two anthologies of these songs in the 1950s, including "Negro Songs of Protest," which was re-released on Rounder Records in the late 1980s.
    Gellert, along with his brother Hugo, was a frequent contributor to the magazine Masses (later New Masses) from 1930 to 1947, writing mainly about traditional black American music.
    Lawrence Gellert died in 1979.

Stefan Wirz has a discography of Gellert's published field recordings here (click).

Oh, and there was an interesting article in Time Magazine:

    Monday, Jun. 15, 1936
    Music: Songs of Protest

    With an old-fashioned phonograph strapped on his back, a sawed-off megaphone and a bundle of blank aluminum records, a lean, scraggly-haired New Yorker has been touring the South for the past nine years, collecting Negro songs that few white men have ever heard. Like his older brother Artist Hugo Gellert, Collector Lawrence Gellert is an ardent Left Winger. He scorns the idea that most Negroes when left to themselves will either sing spirituals or dance to the blues. The songs that fascinated Lawrence Gellert were those symbolic of Negro class consciousness, unrest and despair. From more than 300 that he has collected he published 24 last week as Negro Songs of Protest.*
    For the cover of his brother's first songbook Artist Gellert drew a barrel-chested, barefooted black convict wearing a ball & chain and resting on his pickax while he wiped the sweat from his face. Of the songs, some are mournful, some grim, some comic. But each one has its grievance. In I Went to Atlanta it is:
      White folks eat de apple, Nigger wait fo' co' [core] In Sistren an' Brethren, the rebellious singer commands: Stop foolin' wid pray, When black face is lifted, Lord turnin' 'way.
    Collector Gellert says he heard Preacher's Belly in a small Alabama church one Sunday morning before the service began:
    • Religion is somethin' fo' de soul But preacher's belly done git it all. . . .
    • Lawd make preacher big an' fat, Sleek an' shiny lak a beaver hat. . . .
    • He eat yo' dinner an' take yo' lamb Gwine give you pay in de promise' lan'. . . .
    • De Lawd make you po' an' lean De sorries' sight ah eber seen. . . .
    It was purely by chance that Lawrence Gellert became seriously interested in Negro songs and problems. He had been a newspaper reporter, a secretary in Manhattan to the late Undertaker Frank E. Campbell, then a chorus boy in a Marilyn Miller production and a bush in The Miracle, a role which left him time to help with the publicity, sell programs in the lobby. The Miracle was in San Francisco when Gellert fell ill, left the company, went to Asheville, N. C. to convalesce. One of his first sights there was the corpse of a Negro two days dead dangling from a barn rafter in full view of passersby. On an income provided by his father, a Hungarian who for years conducted a prosperous Manhattan importing & exporting business, Gellert began his social and musical investigations. For long trips he used a ramshackle old Jewett in which he kept a cot. More often he hiked through the backlands, stopping at sundown at some shack where he would ask the Negro owner if he could spend the night. Thus he won the confidence of Negroes, attended their baptisms, weddings, funerals, heard them sing songs they ordinarily would rather the white folk did not hear.

The book was published by the American Music League and cost $1. Now it's worth $200.

As far as I can tell, only one Mudcatter has posted a song from a Gellert songbook - RangerRoger posted Goin' Home, Boys.


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