Lee Murdock Brings Michigan Folk Music to Traverse City’s Dennos Museum

Singer/Songwriter Lee Murdock brings Michigan folk music to Traverse City’s Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College, in association with the 75thAnniversary of folk music collector Alan Lomax’s journey through Michigan.

A special guest for this event will be Todd Harvey, curator of the American Folklife Center Lomax Collection, whose eBook, “Michigan-i-o” about Alan Lomax and the 1938 Library of Congress Folk-Song Expedition, will have just been published by Dust-to-Digital.

In 1938, a young folk music collector named Alan Lomax—destined to become one of the legendary folklorists of the 20th century—came from Washington, DC to record Michigan’s richly varied folk music traditions for the Archive of American Folk-Song at the Library of Congress. Michigan in the 1930s was experiencing a golden age of folksong collecting, as local folklorists mined the trove of ballads remembered by aging lumbermen and Great Lakes schooner men. In addition to the ballads of these north woods singers, Lomax recorded a vibrant mix of ethnic music from Detroit to the western Upper Peninsula.

The Michigan State University Museum has produced a traveling exhibit and a companion multimedia concert that arrives at the Dennos November 1 as part of a state-wide tour in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Lomax’s Michigan journey. The multimedia performance, supported by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, combines live music with historic images, color movie footage, and recorded sound from the Great Depression.  Some of these materials haven’t been heard or seen by the general public for more than seven decades. Opening November 1, the traveling exhibition Michigan Folksong Legacy:  Grand Discoveries from the Great Depression, brings Alan Lomax’s 1938 field trip to life through words, song lyrics, photographs, and sound recordings. Ten interpretive banners explore themes such as Alan Lomax and Michigan folksong collecting in the 1930s; the geography of Lomax’s travels; the musical culture of lumberjacks, miners, and schooner men (Great Lakes sailors); Michigan’s ethnic diversity and its reflection in Lomax’s field recordings; and the importance of the Lomax Michigan legacy today. Each panel contains a QR code that links to related sound recordings from the Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. The exhibit will remain at the Dennos through January 3, 2014.

The featured performer, singer Lee Murdock of Kaneville, Illinois, brings to life songs collected by Lomax and others, delighting audiences with a Michigan folksong legacy that evokes the rugged days of lumberjacks and wooden sailing schooners. He has uncovered a boundless body of music and stories in the Great Lakes.

There is an amazing timelessness in this music. Great Lakes songs are made of hard work, hard living, ships that go down and ships that come in. Lee’s repertoire combines historical research and contemporary insights enabling him to make folk music for the modern era that is a documentary and also an anthem to the people, who live, work, learn and play along the shores of the Great Lakes today.

Lee has drawn heavily from archives of authentic sailing songs collected in Michigan by folklorists Alan Lomax and University of Michigan professor Ivan Walton. It was Walton who introduced Lomax to the Great Lakes ballad singers of Beaver Island before Lomax continued north across the straights to the Copper Country.

Lee is interested “in trying to find the life in these songs; in making music that’s exciting to people today.” Audiences have readily embraced these new, “old” songs and asked for more.  Murdoch’s musical arrangements are enjoyed by audiences with contemporary musical tastes, even if they have not listened to much folk music in the past. With this musical style, Lee hopes to introduce folk music to new audiences, as well as entertaining the serious fans of maritime and traditional music.

Lee Murdock began his performing career in the Chicago area in the mid 1970’s, expanding his repertoire of blues and popular music as his interest in folk music and the maritime tradition grew.

It was a one-week residency with the Philadelphia Folksong Society which first linked Lee’s musical identity with the Great Lakes. After a week of in-school performances which they sponsored, Lee took their enthusiastic response to heart, and has been taking his Great Lakes music programs to school children and adult and family concerts ever since. Educational programs continue to be one important aspect of the 150 shows Lee presents every year in the U.S. and Canada.

Murdock will offer a performance for schools on Friday, November 1, 2013 at 10 AM in the Milliken Auditorium of the Dennos Museum Center. Teachers may call Jason Dake at 231-995-1029 or e-mail [email protected] for information or to reserve tickets for the school performances.

Get more Northern Michigan events at the MyNorth Events Calendar.

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