Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Frederic Ramsey audio recordings, 1945-1959

Collection ID:
Ramsey, Frederic, 1915-1995
Physical Description:
8.83 Cubic feet
This collection contains open reel recordings made by noted jazz scholar Frederic Ramsey during his tour of the American South in the 1950s.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The collection includes 400? Open reel audio tapes. They are from Ramsey's fieldwork and various projects, many for Folkways Records. The bulk of the recordings come from Ramsey's fieldwork in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana in 1954-56.

The tapes are organized and shelved by accession number.

Biographical / Historical
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.]

Jeff Place
Immediate Source of Acquisition
This collection was donated by Frederic Ramsey's daughter Alida Porter in 1996.
Processing Information
Prepared by Jeff Place and revised by Stephanie Smith.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access
Access by appointment only. Contact the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections at (202) 633-7322 for additional information.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright restrictions apply. Contact archives staff for information.
Preferred Citation
Frederic Ramsey audio recordings, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.

Related Materials
Frederic Ramsey's personal papers are available at Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies.
Ramsey's photograph collection (many from the same field projects) can be found in the collections of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Blues (Music) Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Music -- African-American Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African American musicians Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jazz musicians Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Southern States -- Music Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jazz -- Louisiana -- New Orleans Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jazz Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
600 Maryland Ave SW
Washington, D.C.