Highlights from the Ethnomusicology Archive: the D.K. Wilgus collection

D.K. Wilgus and Wayland D. Hand established Folklore studies at UCLA, and together founded the Folklore and Mythology Program in 1965.  Wilgus was the Program’s first chair and served in that position for 17 years.  During his tenure at UCLA, Wilgus built an archive of folksong and folk music of over 8,000 commercial recordings and 3,000 field recordings. These recordings are now part of the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.


Blues guitarist Son House playing as D. K. Wilgus records music at 3rd annual UCLA Folk Festival, 1965

For those unfamiliar with Donald Knight Wilgus, he was born in West Mansfield, Ohio on December 1, 1918.  He earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. (1954) from Ohio State University.  In 1950, Wilgus left Ohio State University for Western Kentucky State College (now University) where he became Associate Professor (1950–1961), and then full Professor (1961–1963) of English.  He founded the Kentucky Folklore Record in 1955 and served as its editor through 1961.  Wilgus left Western Kentucky University in 1963 for UCLA, where he was professor of English and Music until his death in 1989.  Wilgus held numerous offices in national and state folklore societies:  Secretary-Treasurer of the Kentucky Folklore Society; Editor of Western Folklore for the California Folklore Society; President of the California Folklore Society; Vice-President and President of the American Folklore Society.

Wilgus was a folksong and ballad scholar, indefatigable fieldworker, and renowned authority on Anglo-American folksong, “race” records, and “hillbilly” music.  He was a pioneer in the teaching of Anglo-American folksong as a rigorous academic subject, in identifying the blues ballad as a legitimate form of narrative song, and in developing the “narrative theme” approach to ballad classification.  At the time of his death, Wilgus’ scholarly biography consisted of more than 250 items, including three books and innumerable essays on folk music. 

During his tenure at UCLA, he demonstrated his commitment to both the academic study and the performance of folk music.  Wilgus organized and directed six folk festivals at UCLA, in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1975, 1976 and 1979. 

Folk music luminaries from around the country gave both workshops and concerts at the folk festivals...  The Dillards, The New Lost City Ramblers, A.L. Lloyd, Roger Abrahams, Rita Weill, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, Sam Hinton, Kenny Whitson, Wellman Braud, Little Sadie, Tracy Schwartz, Tom Linke, Armadillo, Corn Bred (Wild Hickory Wuta), Robin Williamson’s Far Cry Ceilidh Band, Ed Lowe, Greg Schaub, Tom Sauber, Pete Feldmann, Jeff Chernis, Don Davis, Rae Davis, Philip Sonnichsen, Mariachi Velatan, Vielita Guiterro, John Jackson, Lily May Ledford, Mike Seeger, Warren Argo, Cornbred, Rose Maddox, Charles Seeman, Nevada Slim, Ken Griffis, Fred Hoeptner, Glenn Ohrlin, Rodney Balfa, Dewey Balfa, Mark Savoy, Alle Young, Patty Hall, Lily May Ledford, Sally O’Connor, David Evans, John Jackson, Napoleon Strickland, Bernice Turner, Othar Turner, Peter Emberly, James Porter, Robin Williamson, Aly Bain, Jack Link, Bob Naess, Paul Wells, Norm Cohen, Fred Hoeptner, Eugene Earle, Patty Hall, Hugh Cherry,  Katie Lee, Red River Dave McEnery, Mike Hall, Jimmy Driftwood, Beverly Robinson, Bessie Jones, Doug Quimby, Frankie Quimby, Michael Moore, Dianne Dewgaw, Blind Joe Hill, Robert Lowery, Bernie Pearl, Tommy Jarrell, Blanton Owen, Al Ross, Earl Bolick, Doc Hopkins, Glenn Ohrlin, Ray Park, Bill Bolick, Vern Williams, Dave Fredrickson, Gene Earle, Sandy and Caroline Paton, Ruth Rubin, Ray Park, Bookmiller Shannon, Hedy West, Herb Pedersen, Mayne Smith, Al Ross, Vern and Ray and the Carroll County Country Boys, Fred Hoeptner, Guy Carawan, Ed Cray, The Moving Star Hall Singers, Booker White, Elizabeth Cotton, Gary Davis, The Blue Sky Boys, Bill and Earl Bolick, Son House, Ollie Gilbert, Vern and Ray and their Carroll County Country Boys, Hedy West, Bess Hawes, Guy Carawan, The Triumphs, Tommy Jarrell, Blanton Owen, Chambers Brothers, Tut Taylor, Westwind, Booker White, Barbara Dane, McGee, Courville & Savoy, Martin, Bogan & Armstrong, Robin Williamson, Lily May Ledford, Violetta Quintero, Daryl Boone, Archie Green, Bill Wolf, John Jackson, Pete Seeger, Dallas Turner, Sandy Ives, Nevada Slim, Balfa Brothers, Kentucky Colonels, Almeda Riddle and many, many, more!

For a wonderful remembrance by Ry Cooder of Doc Watson and the first UCLA Folk Festival in 1963, read "To Hear Doc Watson, You Really Had to See Him" in the New York Times (May 30, 2012).

Doc Watson Performs 'Deep River Blue' circa 1960's

In addition to the folk festivals, the Wilgus collection contains Wilgus' fieldwork, including his Archive of California and Western Folklore and his Western Kentucky Folklore Archive.  There are also recordings of and by other scholars and performers, including David Evans, John Fahey and Mance Lipscomb.

Mance Lipscomb - Jack of Spades

Thanks to generous grants from the Grammy Foundation, the Archive was able to digitize the Wilgus field recordings.  Click here to listen to recordings from the D. K. Wilgus collection on the UCLA Digital Library.  Note that we have digitized far more recordings than are currently available via the UCLA Digital Library, so if you are interested in listening to more of the collection, please come to the Archive.  The finding aid is also available in the Archive. 

John Fahey - Red Pony 1969


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