Woody Guthrie

American History in Ballad & Song, Vol. 2

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The first volume of Folkways Records' "All-School Enrichment Program," American History in Ballad & Song was a three-LP set aimed at junior high school students, offering a musical accompaniment to a study of American history. Here in the second volume, Albert Barouh and Theodore O. Cron, the preparers of the records, offer a similar accompaniment to senior high school social studies classes. But where the earlier volume consisted entirely of musical selections, this one is a combination of songs and archival recordings of politicians and other historical figures. That's appropriate, since, American history having been addressed in chronological fashion on the first volume, this one addresses thematic and issue-oriented material, particularly over the last 50 years. (The earliest recordings seem to come from the 1910s, the latest, such as an excerpt from President Kennedy's inaugural speech, are nearly contemporary.) While the first volume seemed to take a largely objective view of American history, except for a lengthy detour into the struggle to organize unions in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, this second volume is more overtly partisan. It's not surprising that Folkways, the home of such left-wing folksingers as Pete Seeger (who sings seven songs here) and Woody Guthrie (five) would take such a stance. But those who do not share a generally left-of-center outlook are likely to be increasingly uncomfortable as the discs go on, delving into immigration, racial tolerance, opposition to big business, support for unions, desegregation, and opposition to the post-World War II campaign against Communism and to nuclear proliferation. Occasionally, in the spoken word segments, more conservative voices are heard, among them Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas (speaking against racial integration), Charles A. Lindbergh (speaking against U.S. involvement in World War II), and Robert A. Taft (speaking against the Marshall Plan), but their views are certainly not endorsed. More typically, a comment by President Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, or Franklin D. Roosevelt is followed by a song that seems to reinforce the progressive or liberal point being made in the earlier remark. (Not much of the music can be characterized as conservative, although the campaign song "If He's Good Enough for Lindy" does endorse Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hoover, and "Little Joe the Rustler" is less than kind to Joseph Stalin.) The preparers of the album encourage teachers to skim the material and choose tracks to illustrate and reinforce points they want to make in their classes, and this is valuable advice. Few will be likely to want to use everything, and many will find at least some of the material a bit too controversial, even in 1962.

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