Introduction to the Campus Folksong Club

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Introduction to the Campus Folksong Club (CFC) University of Illinois Campus Folksong Club Records LP Cover: Philo Glee & Mandolin Society (PG&MS)

The Campus Folksong Club was active on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus from the early 1960s through the early 1970s. During its height in the 1960s, the CFC had over 500 members-making it an astonishingly large student organization and an important force in bringing culture from Illinois and beyond to the Illinois campus. Folk music scholar Neil Rosenberg describes the Campus Folksong Club as "one of the most vigorous of the many university folksong clubs during the sixties" (Rosenberg 1993: 3).

 

The CFC's activities were groundbreaking in that UI students documented and collected field recordings of local musicians in Illinois, a task, which at the time, was generally conducted by professional folklorists. The CFC also helped "to overcome town/gown tension by encouraging local singers to treasure their wares" (Green 1993: 61). According to traditional musician Lyle Mayfield from Greenville, Illinois, "we learned that we weren't hillbillies, we were folk musicians" (Mayfield, conversation June 22, 2007). The CFC was also unique in its commitment to a variety of traditional music ranging from gospel and blues to old-time Appalachian and Ozark music, as well as ethnic music from outside the United States. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, Doc Watson, and the New Lost City Ramblers were among the best known musicians that the CFC brought to the UI campus.

LP Cover of Green Fields of Illinois (Courtesy of Vic Lukas)

 

In addition, to bi-weekly folk sings or hootenannies, and concerts, the CFC's other notable accomplishments include the production and release of three LPs. The first featured the Philo Glee and Mandolin Society trio, comprised of U of I art professor Doyle Moore and students Jim Hockenhull and Paul Adkins. The club's second album Green Fields of Illinois featured traditional musicians from central and southern Illinois, (Stelle Elam, Cecil and Jim Goodwin, Doris and Lyle Mayfield, and Cathy and Lloyd Reynolds). The club's third album The Hell-bound Train highlighted the work of cowboy singer and former rodeo circuit rider Glenn Ohrlin who was later named a National Heritage Fellow in 1985. The club also produced a monthly newsletter, Autoharp which has been digitized and made available through the Illinois Harvest digitization project. 

 

Archie Green, the club's faculty advisor, was a key force in the CFC's success and influence. A renowned labor scholar, union organizer, and folklorist, Green spent much of the 1960s as the librarian for the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at UIUC. In a brief memoir recalling his time as the club's advisor, Green mentions the joy that Illinois students expressed at having created a "'farout' club on a 'straight' campus"(Green 1993: 68). If there is one theme that unites all of the interviews for the CFC oral history project, it is the great impact that Archie Green had on the lives of those involved with the club. According to former student Jont Allen, "Archie had a big impact on a lot of people; he was a powerful guy. He didn't look powerful and he didn't act powerful, but mentally...he had credibility and he had a lot of punch." 

 

During his tenure at the University of Illinois, Green wrote his seminal article, "Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol" (1965), paving the way for scholarly study of country music as an important component of American culture. After leaving UI, Green went on to play a central role in successfully lobbying for the establishment of the American Folklife Center, which was created in 1976 within the Library of Congress. In the summer of 2007, at the age of 90, Archie Green was granted a Living Legend Award by the Library of Congress for his role in the creation of the Center. - Tracie Wilson, CLIR Fellow and folklorist

Archie Green, right, with Sen. Mark Hatfield at the 20 th anniversary celebration of the Amercian Folklife Center, September 18, 1996 (Photo courtsey of Larry Glatt)

 

Works Cited

Green, Archie "Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol." Journal of American Folklore, 78/309, July-September 1965: 204-228.

Green, Archie. 1993. The Campus Folksong Club: A Glimpse at the Past. In Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press: 61-72.

Rosenberg, Neil V. 1993. Introduction to Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press: 1-25.

Clippings of articles featuring the Campus Folksong Club