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A National Preserve of Documentary Films about American Roots Cultures
streamed with essays about the traditions and filmmaking. The site includes transcriptions, study and teaching guides, suggested readings, and links to related websites.  

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 One Big Union: Ralph Fasanella
 
Selected Films

African American Music and Culture

Their subjects range from blues and gospel, dance and crafts, visionary arts and preaching, story telling and drama, to fife-and-drum bands and worksongs. These arts come from the heart of African American history. They are arts of protest, survival, and affirmation.

African American Music and Culture

Their subjects range from blues and gospel, dance and crafts, visionary arts and preaching, story telling and drama, to fife-and-drum bands and worksongs. These arts come from the heart of African American history. They are arts of protest, survival, and affirmation.

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Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison
Pete and Toshi Seeger, their son Daniel, and folklorist Bruce Jackson visited a Texas prison in Huntsville in March of 1966 and produced this rare document of of work songs by inmates of the Ellis Unit.
Music, Work, African American Culture / South / 1966
29 minutes | Read More | Preview

Amazing Grace

Across time, oceans and cultures, "Amazing Grace" has endured as one of the most popular pieces of music in the English language. Its universal appeal inspired the acclaimed journalist Bill Moyers to tell the story of this song through the people who have sung it.

The complete film is available on high quality DVD from Amazon.

Music, Religion, African American Culture / Any / 1990
01 hour, 10 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Angel That Stands By Me: Minnie Evans' Paintings
A portrait of the African-American visionary artist Minnie Evans from Wilmington, N.C., by Academy Award winning filmmakers Irving Saraf and Allie Light.
Religion, Women, Arts, Visionary and Outsider, Aging, African American Culture / South / 1983
29 minutes | Read More | Preview

Battle of the Guitars
This is one of three short films in the Living Texas Blues series. Battle of the Guitars shows the influence of Aaron "T-Bone" Walker through the performance of Pete Mayes and Joe Hughes at the Doll House Club in Houston.
Music, African American Culture / South / 1985
16 minutes | Read More | Preview

Black Delta Religion
This film was made from b/w Super 8mm footage that William Ferris gathered in rural Mississippi in 1968. The film includes footage from rural church services and a full immersion baptism.
Religion, African American Culture / South / 1973
14 minutes | Read More | Preview

Black on White, White and Black
An intimate and humorous look at the life and career of the legendary blues pianist Alex Moore, a native of Dallas, was the first African American Texan to receive a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. The film shows his mastery of the piano at a tribute held in his honor at the famous Majestic Theater - his last public performance.
Music, African American Culture / West / 1990
26 minutes | Read More | Preview

Blues Houseparty: Music, Dance and Stories by Masters of the Piedmont Blues
John Jackson, John Dee Holeman, Friz Holloway and others perform and reminisce about old-time houseparties in North Carolina and Virginia
Music, Rural Life, African American Culture / South / 1989
57 minutes | Read More | Preview

Blues Like Showers of Rain
John Jeremy’s introduction to the world of Blues is lovingly conceived and powerfully constructed from photographs and field recordings made by Paul Oliver on a journey through the South in 1960.
Music, African American Culture / South / 1970
31 minutes | Read More | Preview

Born for Hard Luck: Peg Leg Sam Jackson
A film portrait of the last Black medicine-show performer, Arthur "Peg Leg Sam" Jackson, with harmonica songs, tales of hoboing, buckdances, and a live medicine-show performance.
Healing & Medicine, Music, Narrative & Verbal Arts, Aging, African American Culture / South / 1976
29 minutes | Read More | Preview

Carolina Hash

CAROLINA HASH starts with establishing as fact the myth that hash-popularity ends at the South Carolina borders. We learn that right across the state line in North Carolina, barbecue customers and restauranteurs "....don’t even know what hash is." The Brunswick stew states of North Carolina and Georgia which border South Carolina for the most part don’t know about it. But the tradition runs deep in all of South Carolina, and most native South Carolinians not only know about it - they can tell you where to go "....to get the best hash in South Carolina!" and the name of the hash-master.

Foodways, Regional, African American Culture / South / 2008
56 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Cradle is Rocking
George "Kid Shiek" Colar and the Olympia Brass Band are featured in this rare film about New Orleans Jazz, directed by Frank DeCola.
Music, Religion, African American Culture / South / 1968
12 minutes | Read More

Dry Wood
A glimpse into the life, food, and Mardi Gras celebrations of black Creoles in French Louisiana, featuring the stories and music of "Bois Sec" Ardoin and Canray Fontenot. Dry Wood is one of a number of Les Blank's critically acclaimed films on Lousiana life and culture. Hot Pepper, a film on zydeco great Clifton Chenier, is a companion to Dry Wood.
Foodways, Music, African American Culture / South / 1973
37 minutes | Read More | Preview

Everything Change Up Now

This documentary explores what has happened to lifestyles of South Carolina sea slanders since slavery, through interviews with Gullah basket weavers, net makers, fishermen, educators, farmers, and "witch doctors" in contrast with antebellum, tourist oriented Charleston and fast paced commercial development

Customs, Agriculture, Rural Life, African American Culture, Social Justice/Protest / South / 0000
40 minutes | Read More

Family Across the Sea

Family Across the Sea shows how scholars have uncovered the remarkable connections between the Gullah people of South Carolina and the people of Sierra Leone.

Ethnic & Immigrant Cultures, Foodways, Festivals/Customs, African American Culture / South / 1990
57 minutes | Read More | Preview

Fannie Bell Chapman: Gospel Singer
Film of the singer/faith healer and folk artist Fannie Bell Chapman from Centreville, Mississippi. Footage includes Chapman and her family singing and praying during church services and at home, a healing service at the Chapman home, and Chapman "speaking in tongues" after healing.
Healing & Medicine, Religion, Women, African American Culture / South / 1975
42 minutes | Read More | Preview

Free Show Tonight
Presents a nostalgic tribute to the American medicine shows of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Shows a re-creation of a typical medicine show by veteran performers, as well as archival stills and film footage.
Customs, Drama, Healing & Medicine, Music, Narrative & Verbal Arts, Regional, African American Culture / South / 1983
58 minutes | Read More | Preview

Gandy Dancers
Musical traditions and recollections of eight retired African-American railroad track laborers whose occupational folk songs were once heard on railroads that crisscross the South.
Music, Work, African American Culture / South / 1994
30 minutes | Read More | Preview

Gandy Dancers 1973
This remarkable film features field recordings of work chants of Gandy Dancers including aligning songs and chants to knock out slack in the rail. 
Music, Work, African American Culture / Appalachia / 1973
14 minutes | Read More

Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen
A 1975 account of the blues experience through the recollections and performances of B.B. King, James "Son" Thomas, Shelby "Poppa Jazz" Brown, James "Blood" Shelby, Cleveland "Broom Man" Jones, and inmates from Parchman prison.
Music, African American Culture / South / 1975
21 minutes | Read More | Preview

Gravel Springs Fife and Drum
Othar Turner, a fife-maker and musician, owns his farm in the Gravel Springs community in northwest Mississippi. The rhythmical music he and his friends play is called "fife and drum." A 1971 film by Bill Ferris, Judy Peiser, and David Evans from the Center for Southern Folklore.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Customs, Music, African American Culture / South / 1972
10 minutes | Read More | Preview

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Ethel Caffie-Austin, daughter of the coalfields, is West Virginia's "First Lady of Gospel Music." This program features Ethel performing a range of spirituals, hymns and contemporary gospel numbers that represent the rich cultural heritage of African American Song and worship.

Music, Religion, Women, African American Culture, Social Justice/Protest / Appalachia / 1999
28 minutes | Read More | Preview

Home Across the Water
A film about the efforts of Sea Islanders in South Carolina and Georgia to preserve their cultural identity and cope with the development of the islands as exclusive resorts.
African American Culture, Social Justice/Protest / South / 1992
27 minutes | Read More | Preview

Home of the Double Headed Eagle
The home of the Double-Headed Eagle is a kaleidoscopic work of visionary architecture created by the Reverend H. D. Dennis and his wife, Margaret Dennis. A 2006 film made by folklore graduate student Ali Colleen Neff and filmmaker Brian Graves.
Arts, Visionary and Outsider, Aging, African American Culture / South / 2006
15 minutes | Read More | Preview

I Ain't Lying: Folktales from Mississippi
16mm color documentary based on fieldwork William Ferris conducted with African American storytellers and bluesmen in the communities of Leland and Rose Hill, Mississippi. The stories include include folk and religious tales, jokes, toast telling sessions, and characters from African American oral tradition.
Music, Narrative & Verbal Arts, Work, African American Culture / South / 1975
22 minutes | Read More | Preview

In the Rapture
A religious drama staged by members of the Second Baptist Church in Bloomington, Indiana.
Drama, Music, Religion, African American Culture / Midwest / 1976
59 minutes | Read More | Preview

It's A Mean Old World

By the time "It's A Mean Old World" was filmed, Reverend Pearly Brown had been struggling to survive singing gospel music for nearly 40 years. While the rough sound of his bottleneck playing has the feel of a life spent scuffling on the street, the poignancy of his voice is a better measure of the gentle spirit and inner strength of the man.

Music, Religion, Aging, African American Culture / South / 1977
29 minutes | Read More

J. B. Murray: Writing in Unknown Tongues: Writing in Unknown Tongues: Reading through the Water
J. B. Murray (1908-1988) was a farmer who lived in rural Glascock County, Georgia, near the community of Mitchel. When he was approximately seventy years of age, believing he had experienced a vision from God, he began writing a non discursive script on adding machine tape, wall board, and stationery. He described it as "the language of the Holy Spirit, direct from God" and interpreted it using a bottle of water as a focusing device.
Arts, Visionary and Outsider, African American Culture / South / 1986
09 minutes | Read More

Jazz Parades: Feet Don't Fail Me Now
Alan Lomax's overview of the Jazz scene in New Orleans with interviews and performances by Majestic Band, the Preservation Hall Band (Willie Humphrey, James "Sing" Miller, Emanuel Sayles, Alonzo Stewart, Kid Thomas Valentine and Chester Zardis) and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Greg Davis, Charles Joseph, Kirk Joseph, Roger Lewis, Jenell Marshall and Ephrem Townes) at the Glass House and participating in a funeral parade.
Dance, Music, Costume/Dress, Festivals/Customs, Play, Urban Life, African American Culture / South / 1990
58 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Language You Cry In

The Language You Cry In tells an amazing scholarly detective story reaching across hundreds of years and thousands of miles, from 18th century Sierra Leone to the Gullah people of present-day Georgia. It shows how African Americans have retained powerful links to their African past despite the horrors of the Middle Passage and the long years of slavery and segregation. The film dramatically demonstrates the contribution of contemporary scholarship to restoring what narrator Vertamae Grosvenor calls the “non-history” imposed on African Americans: “This is a story of memory, how the memory of a family was pieced together through a song with the powers to connect those who sing it with their roots, their silent history.”

Ethnic & Immigrant Cultures, Healing & Medicine, Music, Family, Festivals/Customs, African American Culture / South / 1998
52 minutes | Read More | Preview

Learned it in Back Days and Kept It: A Portrait of Lucreaty
Portrait of Lucreaty Clark (1903 - 1986), an African American oak basket maker from rural Florida. Clark embraced a wide repertoire of traditional African American songs, games and folk knowledge essential to rural life. She was a remarkable representative of an era that seems very far away today.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Play, Rural Life, Aging, African American Culture / South / 1981
28 minutes | Read More | Preview

Let the World Listen Right
Hip-hop and Blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Top Notch and Da Fam as well as performances by blues artist Terry "Big T" Williams and gospel singer Martha Raybon.
Music, Regional, African American Culture / South / 2006
29 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Life and Times of Joe Thompson

The story of the last African American fiddle player in North Carolina whose unique style of music has been passed down in his family for over three hundred years.

Music, Aging, African American Culture / South / 2004
27 minutes | Read More

Made in Mississippi: Black Folk Art and Crafts
A 1975 Bill Ferris film that features artists from a number of different craft traditions discussing and demonstrating their work, including quilting, sculpting, house building, and basketmaking. Artists in the film include James "Son" Thomas, Shelby "Poppa Jazz" Brown, Richard Foster, Othar Turner, Louise Williams, Esther Criss, Leon Clark, Amanda Gordon, Mary Gordon, Lester Willis.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, African American Culture / South / 1975
18 minutes | Read More | Preview

Mississippi Delta Blues

From 1968 to 1970, Bill Ferris travelled from farms, to jooks to homes collecting music he felt best expressed the richness of the Mississippi Delta.

Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Music, African American Culture / South / 1974
18 minutes | Read More

The Music District
The Music District is a one-hour documentary profiling four African American traditional music groups practicing and performing for fans and congregants in the neighborhood churches and nightclubs of Washington, D.C. The film features the Orioles (r&b quartet); Junk Yard Band (go-go); The Kings of Harmony (United House of Prayer shout band); and The Four Echoes (jubilee quartet). A film by Susan Levitas from California Newsreel.
Drama, Music, Religion, Urban Life, African American Culture / Middle Atlantic / 1996
56 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Performed Word
The Performed Word is African American folklorist Gerald L. Davis’ guided tour of African American expressive culture. Although he claimed to be “unchurched,” Davis explores with great depth and passion the African American sermon, expanding it into an exploration of the aesthetics of African American culture.
Music, Religion, African American Culture / Middle Atlantic / 1982
58 minutes | Read More | Preview

Pizza Pizza Daddy-O
PIZZA PIZZA DADDY-O (1967) looks at continuity and change in girl's playground games at a Los Angeles school.
Narrative & Verbal Arts, Children, Play, African American Culture / West / 1968
18 minutes | Read More | Preview

Plenty of Good Women Dancers

“Plenty of Good Women Dancers” features exceptional Philadelphia African American women tap dancers whose active careers spanned the 1920s-1950s.

Dance, Women, Urban Life, African American Culture / Northeast / 2004
53 minutes | Read More | Preview

The Rapture Family
Bill Wiggins film about a family’s dedication to producing the religious drama “In the Rapture”; accompanies his film of that drama
Drama, Music, Religion, African American Culture / Midwest / 1976
59 minutes | Read More | Preview

Sermons in Wood

An interview with Elijah Pierce in his barbershop on Long Street in Columbus. He talks about his work and his life and shows how his carvings express his experiences and beliefs.

Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Narrative & Verbal Arts, Religion, Aging, African American Culture / Midwest / 1980
27 minutes | Read More | Preview

Singing Fishermen of Ghana
Pete and Toshi Seeger documented work songs of a fishing community in Ghana, the West-African roots of the work-song tradition shown in the films "Afro American Worksongs in a Texas Prison" and "Gandy Dancers".
Music, Work / World / 1964
13 minutes | Read More | Preview

A Singing Stream: A Black Family Chronicle
The story of a gifted African American family from the rural South. With interviews and stories, and scenes from daily life, reunions, gospel concerts, and church services, the film traces the history of the Landis family of Granville County, North Carolina, over the lifetime of its oldest surviving member, 86-year-old Mrs. Bertha M. Landis.
Music, Religion, Women, Family, Aging, African American Culture, Social Justice/Protest / South / 1986
57 minutes | Read More | Preview

Sonny Ford, Delta Artist
B/w 16mm documentary film based on fieldwork Ferris conducted with Leland, Mississippi, bluesman and folk artist James "Son" Thomas. Included is footage of Thomas performing at juke houses, his wife preparing dinner, and Thomas making skulls out of clay.
Music, Family, Rural Life, African American Culture / South / 1969
41 minutes | Read More | Preview

Sonny Terry: Shoutin' the Blues: Shoutin' the Blues
Shot in 1969, SHOUTIN' THE BLUES is a one shot, one story and one song short film of harmonica great, Sonny Terry. Seated in a motel room on Broadway in Oakland, California where he was filmed while on tour with Brownie McGhee, Sonny, with one small harmonica in his hand, creates a complex and soulful blues solo out of his whooping and hollering, after telling us the story behind the creation of that famous solo.
Music, Narrative & Verbal Arts, African American Culture / South / 1969
05 minutes | Read More

Steppin'
Introduces viewers to the step show, an exciting dance style popular today among black fraternities and sororities. In addition to many rousing, crowd-pleasing performances, the program examines the cultural roots of steppin' in African dancing, military marching and hip-hop music, and discusses its contemporary social significance on college campuses.
Dance, African American Culture / Midwest / 1992
55 minutes | Read More | Preview

Style Wars
New York's legendary Kings of Graffiti own a special place in the hip hop pantheon. Style Wars is regarded by many as the definitive document of the emerging hip hop culture, an emblem of the original, embracing spirit that burst forth to the world from underground tunnels, uptown streets, clubs and playgrounds.
Arts & Crafts, Traditional, Dance, Music, Children, Play, Urban Life, African American Culture / Northeast / 1983
01 hour, 09 minutes | Read More | Preview

This Cat Can Play Anything
A portrayal of the life and musical career of New Orleans banjo and guitar jazzman Emanuel 'Manny' Sayles, a man whose musical career has in many ways followed the development of American jazz itself. Also features Papa John Creach, Edmund Washington, and the Kid Thomas Band.
Music, Regional, Aging, African American Culture / South / 1977
29 minutes | Read More

Til the Butcher Cuts Him Down: New Orleans Jazzman Punch Miller
Philip Spalding's study of the history and men who played New Orleans Jazz through the eyes of one of its greatest trumpet players: Punch Miller (died 1971). Kid Punch was renowned in New Orleans and played with all the greats from that city --King Oliver, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong. This film is about his life and the changes that New Orleans music went through during his lifetime.
Music, Aging, African American Culture / South / 1971
53 minutes | Read More

Toot Blues
Wall to wall blues from unheralded artists. The film gives a glimpse of what is being lost and Tim Duffy's heroic efforts to document the passing.
Music, African American Culture / South / 2009
01 hour, 14 minutes | Read More | Preview

Two Black Churches

TWO BLACK CHURCHES" is based on fieldwork Bill Ferris conducted at a church in Vicksburg, Mississippi and at a church in New Haven, Conn. Footage includes a full immersion baptism, congregation members and preachers at both churches discussing their call to the faith, and scenes from worship services at both churches. The film contrasts the two approaches to worship at each church.

Music, Religion, African American Culture / South / 1975
19 minutes | Read More

The Urban Gospel Ministry of Robert and Lily Butler
Ms. Butler and her son, the Reverend Rober Butler, play at folk festivals and churches throughout New York City
Religion, Urban Life, African American Culture / Middle Atlantic / 1998
40 minutes | Read More | Preview

We Are Arabbers

We Are Arabbers follows the horse-and-wagon produce vendors along the streets of Baltimore, Maryland as they struggle to make a living and maintain their unique culture.

Customs, Foodways, Work, African American Culture / Middle Atlantic / 2004
01 hour, 21 minutes | Read More | Preview

We Shall Not Be Moved: A history of the Tillery resettlement community

During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was supposed to give sharecroppers a chance at land ownership. But for Black farmers in Tillery, North Carolina, government intervention only added to their long struggle for economic and social justice.

African American Culture, Social Justice/Protest / South / 2007
46 minutes | Read More

Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana
Nick Spitzer film on African American dance-hall music in French-speaking southwest Louisiana, with Dolon Carriere, Armand Ardoin, and Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin.
Customs, Music, Festivals/Customs, Rural Life, African American Culture / South / 1986
55 minutes | Read More | Preview

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