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The Beautiful Music All Around UsField Recordings and the American Experience$
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Stephen Wade

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780252036880

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252036880.001.0001

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Ora Dell Graham

Ora Dell Graham

A Little Black Girl from Mississippi

(p.75) 3 Ora Dell Graham
The Beautiful Music All Around Us

Stephen Wade

University of Illinois Press

This chapter describes the recordings of Ora Dell Graham. In the fall of 1940, the year she turned twelve, Ora Dell stood before her classmates in her school auditorium. As John A. Lomax operated a disc recorder, she performed a handful of songs that she animated with dance steps, hand clapping, and vocal effects. Three of these numbers, along with the earliest published recordings of Muddy Waters, subsequently appeared on an album of African American blues and game songs issued by the Library of Congress. This news came as a surprise to her nephew, Sonny Milton. He then asked why anyone would care about a little black girl from Mississippi. The reason is that in November 1940, just three weeks after Ora Dell made her recordings, Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish summarized the Library's acquisition policy in the “Canons of Selection,”: “The Library of Congress should possess all books and other materials ... which express and record the life and achievements of the people of the United States.” The Library's canon embraced the entire nation, welcoming not only the papers of a president but the poetry of a schoolyard child. The recordings she made gave tangible evidence of this policy of inclusion.

Keywords:   Ora Dell Graham, Library of Congress recordings, African American blues, game songs, Muddy Waters

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