"the only widely published author on the Florida payroll."
February 25, 2014 12:58 PM   Subscribe

The following represents a sample of Zora Neale Hurston music from the Folklife Collection.
Above is a compilation of all of the known Zora Neale Hurston sound recordings* created while she worked for the WPA in the 1930s. Today, the original recordings are housed at the Library of Congress. Hurston made recordings for the WPA in 1935 and again in 1939.
posted by the man of twists and turns (10 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
It's difficult to tell from the descriptions: is that Hurston singing? Or are these field recordings of other musicians?
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:40 PM on February 25, 2014

As she was a folklorist and anthropologist, the latter seems likely.
posted by ursus_comiter at 2:26 PM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh. Wow. Thank you.

It sounds as if some of them (haven't listened to all) are ZNH introducing a song and singing it too.
posted by glasseyes at 2:48 PM on February 25, 2014

Florida Folklife, from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942
Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections is a multiformat ethnographic field collection documenting African-American, Arabic, Bahamian, British-American, Cuban, Greek, Italian, Minorcan, Seminole, and Slavic cultures throughout Florida. Recorded by Robert Cook, Herbert Halpert, Zora Neale Hurston, Stetson Kennedy, Alton Morris, and others in conjunction with the Florida Federal Writers' Project, the Florida Music Project, and the Joint Committee on Folk Arts of the Work Projects Administration, it features folksongs and folktales in many languages, including blues and work songs from menhaden fishing boats, railroad gangs, and turpentine camps; children's songs, dance music, and religious music of many cultures; and interviews, also known as "life histories."
The Federal Writer's Project
A Reference Guide to Florida Folklore: Zora's Contributions
NYPL: Zora Neale Hurston and the Depression-Era Federal Writers' Project
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:44 PM on February 25, 2014

If you're at all interested in Zora Neale Hurston (and why wouldn't you be? She was amazing!) you should check local libraries or local Amazons for Speak, So You Can Speak Again, written by her niece. It is incredibly cool, basically a pop-up book of her life, with letters and cards in envelopes and an audio CD included. I can't say enough about how much I love that book.
posted by asperity at 4:08 PM on February 25, 2014

Thanks so much for this -- I try to bring her alive for my students, but this? is gold!
posted by allthinky at 4:38 PM on February 25, 2014

Zora Neale Hurston did sing. She collected music, but one of the things she found helpful was to start off a session of music collecting by demonstrating singing a song or two of her own, to encourage others and get them started. So these recordings really are her, not others.

I came across a bunch of these while doing research for a sound experience in an exhibition a couple years ago. The Florida WPA archive is really interesting, and not just for Zora.
posted by Miko at 6:54 PM on February 25, 2014

Here's a nice recording of her singing in Haiti.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 7:23 PM on February 25, 2014

Is this a windows proprietary format? My unix computer barfs and won't play them.
posted by bukvich at 9:31 PM on February 25, 2014

I think it's Hurston singing as well. She briefly taught at my high school in the 50s (so on the payroll as an English teacher, too), and there are some recordings of her from that time with a very similar, though creakier voice. Thanks for this post, though; I hadn't heard these before.

Is this a windows proprietary format? My unix computer barfs and won't play them.

My windows computer couldn't use the little player on the page, but clicking on the Download links worked. They're just mp3s.
posted by bluefly at 3:23 AM on February 26, 2014

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