Biographical / Historical
Frederic Ramsey Jr. (1915-1995), son of painter Charles Frederic Ramsey, was a jazz scholar and author who worked with a number of musicians in the South and the New York/New Jersey area, notably Lead Belly. After receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1953, Ramsey undertook a tour of the South in order to explore and document the African-American music environment. His goal was to record the speech and music of persons at least sixty years of age or older in an attempt to trace the evolution of the musical genre that would become jazz. Ramsey produced a number of recordings for the Folkways label in the 1950s-1960s.
[From Jeff: Frederic Ramsey Jr. (1915-1995) was a jazz critic, scholar, fieldworker and record producer. He was the author of a number of books on jazz, including Jazzmen (with Charles Edward Smith) and the Jazz Record Book. He became one of the main producers for Moses Asch at Asch, Disc, and Folkways Records of jazz and blues. Ramsey was one of the first to deploy an open reel tape recorder using it in New York City in 1949 to record Lead Belly in a set of sessions at his apartment, that were to be Lead Belly's last. What was noteworthy about this is that a reel to reel deck allowed one to record a longer recording than the previous 4 minutes on instantaneous discs. This allowed Led Belly to stretch out and do his extended rhymes and longer songs and to tell stories of his life. It was released by Folkways as a 2 LP 2-records each set. Each side was one track so more material could be fit in. The new LP format allowed for Folkways to create anthologies of music with multiple tracks per side. This allowed Ramsey the ability to create a 11-volume anthology of jazz in the early 1950s. It was the first of many anthologies for Folkways. He also received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1954-56 to go to Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to record vernacular African American music. This included field hollers, spirituals, and brass bands. It was Ramsey's desire to find the roots of jazz in early African-American music forms. He recorded hundreds of tapes they make up the bulk of Ramsey Tape Collection. A 10 LP set Music from the South was released from these trips. Also, there was a book Been Here and Gone with his magnificent photographs from the trip. Other notable recordings released by Folkways include an interview album of Baby Dodds, a box set of shape-note singing, and recordings of a, then, teenaged Michael Hurley. In 1975, with other grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Ford Foundation, he researched the life of Buddy Bolden. After the death of Frederic Ramsey Jr., folklorist Kip Lornell arranged the donation of Ramsey's tape and record collection to the Smithsonian.]