This introductory chapter first describes the artists featured in this volume. These twelve musicians, singers, and groups recorded between 1934 and 1942—seven black and five white—provide a baker's dozen of folksongs and traditional tunes. Apart from their surpassing artistic gifts, these individuals illuminate an America rich with local creativity. They resided in such places as Salyersville, Kentucky; Byhalia, Mississippi; and Salem, Virginia. They also confined their music making largely to their own communities. Sometimes they sang on playgrounds, sometimes while chopping cotton, and sometimes from behind bars. The remainder of the chapter discusses sociologist and a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Charles S. Johnson; the origins of the present volume; and the author's recollections of the wonderful, frustrating, frightening, and transporting moments with the songs and singers that comprised the present volume.
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