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Smithsonian Institution
The Mississippi: River of Song

River of Song: A Musical Journey Down the Mississippi

Table of Contents


1. The Powwow Lives On: Chippewa Nation
At the headwaters of the Mississippi, an Ojibwe drumming group performs at a powwow dance, wild rice is harvested, and a soloist sings quiet courting songs.

2. North Country Fiddles: The Skål Club Spelmanslag
In a snowbound log house, a group revives the musical tradition of their Scandinavian forebears, from fiddle tunes to comic ''Scandihoovian" vaudeville routines.

3. Rockin' the World: Babes in Toyland
Minneapolis has been a hotbed of alternative rock for two decades, but for sheer, abrasive energy, few groups can compare to the trio of young women whose punk onslaught has spawned admirers and imitators around the world

4. Folk Songs in the City: John Koerner
One of the most original performers of the 1960s folk scene continues to mine the American tradition for gems, then reshape them according to his own quirky sensibility.

5. Singing the Message: Sounds of Blackness
From their origins at a local college to the top of the gospel charts, the 30-member ensemble explores the breadth and continuity of the African-American experience.

6. Strangers in a Strange Land: Wang Chong Lor and Students
On flutes, Jew's harp and a traditional mouth organ, Laotian Hmong immigrants play melodies that tell lonesome, tonal stories.

7. The Old Dutchman Polka: Karl Hartwich
The "dutchman" style of polka is beer-drinking, good-time dance music, developed by German immigrants in rural Minnesota and Wisconsin.

8. Mexican Roots, American Branches: La Otra Mitad
In a barroom in Moline, Illinois, a Mexican band plays everything from turn-of-the-century corridos to modern Latino-rap fusions.

9. Davenport Jazz: Manny and Dude Lopez
Across the river from Moline, at the annual Bix Fest, a mariachi trumpeter has gone on to lead a popular jazz band along with his singing, drumming son.


1. Prairie Home Bohemian: Greg Brown
In Iowa City, a leading light of the folk revival sings his funky, homegrown acoustic music, mixing jazz and blues with a sound born in his Iowa youth.

2. Riverboats, Fiddles, and Banjos: John Hartford
The writer of "Gentle on My Mind" alternates his performing career with a side job as a Mississippi riverboat pilot, and is a fund of riverlore and history.

3. Good Old Family Music: Western Illinois Bluegrass Days
At a bluegrass festival in rural Illinois, old-time players play a country music Nashville has forgotten, while a popular Missouri bluegrass band tears up the main stage.

A Geographical Pause: St. Louis Blues

4. Poetry and the Drum: Eugene Redmond and Sylvester "Sunshine" Lee
In East St. Louis, two local artists are trying to infuse black youth with pride in their African heritage through a mix of drumming and evocative poetry.

5. Rhythm and Blues Man: Oliver Sain
The man many consider the heart of St. Louis r&b is still going strong, holding the scene together and making music that mixes the best of old and new.

6. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning: Fontella Bass
Fontella Bass was one of St. Louis's biggest r&b stars, but she has returned to her roots, singing the gospel music she learned from her mother and grandmother.

7. Loud Music in a Small Town: The Bottle Rockets
In Festus, Missouri, the Bottle Rockets play a hard-edged music that walks the line between honky-tonk country and alternative rock.

8. Old French New Year: The Ste. Genevieve Guignolée Singers
In the first town west of the Mississippi, the descendants of French settlers keep alive a medieval New Year's tradition.

9. That Old-Time Religion: The Boundless Love Quartet
Southern gospel is still going strong in the churches of western Kentucky, and in the tiny town of La Center a multi-generational quartet carries on the tradition.


1. We Wanna Boogie: Sonny Burgess
In an Arkansas roadhouse, one of the original Sun Records rockabillies recalls the birth of rock 'n' roll.

2. Beale Street Talking: Rufus Thomas
The dancer, singer, radio personality and all-around show business powerhouse of Memphis's black music world reminisces about the glory days of Beale Street.

3. Memphis Soul Stew: The Memphis Horns, with Ann Peebles
In a Memphis recording studio, the world's most-recorded horn section get together to talk about the golden age of southern soul music.

4. Down Home in Mississippi: Big Jack Johnson
In Clarksdale, one of the rawest and hottest bluesman in the Delta talks about his musical roots, then takes us out to a back-country juke joint.

5. A Blues King Comes Home: Little Milton
In Greenville, we see a more uptown approach to the blues as soul-bluesman Little Milton comes back to the street where he got his start.

6. United in Praise: The Mississippi Mass Choir
From a small church in Vicksburg, we travel to Jackson with a member of the most popular gospel choir in America.


1. North Louisiana Twang: Kenny Bill Stinson
In northern Louisiana, country and blues come together in a potent blend, and a quirky breed of songwriter is born.

2. The Singing Governor Turns Ninety-Eight: Jimmie Davis and Friends
The two-time governor of Louisiana celebrates his birthday with Merle Haggard and the stars of the Louisiana Hayride.

3. The Cajun Hank Williams: D. L. Menard
In the bayou country, the greatest songwriter in Cajun music hosts a party in his backyard and talks about his forty years as a local legend.

4. Zydeco Cowboy: Geno Delafose
At a dance hall in Opelousas, or at his horse ranch outside Eunice, Geno Delafose carries on the black French tradition with rollicking style.

5.The Streets of the French Quarter: David and Roselyn
David and Roselyn have been singing on the streets of New Orleans for over 20 years, lending their multi-instrumental skills to everything from jazz to disco songs.

6. The Soul Queen of New Orleans: Irma Thomas
In her own club, the greatest female soul singer in Louisiana runs through her classic hits and talks about the golden age of New Orleans r&b.

7. New Orleans Keyboard Wizard: Henry Butler
The finest pianist in a city known for its piano masters, Henry Butler gives his own slant on a musical history that runs from Jelly Roll Morton to the modern era.

8. Hip-Hop Brass Band Revolutionaries: Soul Rebels
The new generation of brass bands play everything from rap to reggae, but keep the New Orleans rhythms brilliantly intact.

9. Spaniards in the Swamps: Irvan & Allen Perez
Out on Delacroix Island, the Isleños have maintained an a cappella ballad tradition that harks back to the days when Louisiana was still a colony of Spain.

Lyrics Credits and River Song Field Production Staff
Authors' Biographies

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