MUSIC AT THE WHITE HOUSE: A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

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MUSIC AT THE WHITE HOUSE: A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

Postby dbennett » Wed Nov 15, 2017 9:53 pm

Recently I saw a reference to a book by Elise K. Kirk titled, MUSIC AT THE WHITE HOUSE: A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN SPIRIT, and I bought a copy on eBay to find if it had any references to dulcimers. I’m only up to President Truman but I have found one interesting passage about folk music that mentions dulcimers.

On pages 240-241 in the chapter on Franklin D. Roosevelt is this:

“To FDR the music that spoke most directly to the people, however, was the folk music—” the voices of miners, farmers, lumberjacks, workers of all kinds, their wives and children… a tide of music rich and strange but vital and undeniably American,” as the distinctive program notes for the June 8, 1939, white House concert read. President Roosevelt recognized that in this music was a “national fabric of beauty and strength,” and he encouraged the country to “keep the original fibres so intact that the fitness of each will show in the completed handiwork.” America was just beginning to recognize this heritage, and scholars with a special interest in folk music, such as John and Alan Lomax and Charles Seeger, contributed positively to its preservation.

“Eleanor Roosevelt enjoyed the American traditional dances, especially the Virginia reel, which she danced at the White House newspapermen’s parties. The president often served as caller. Most of the folk singers and players were brought to the White House through Mrs. Roosevelt’s avid encouragement. Their simple art was somewhat too undignified for genteel Henry Junge, who told Edith Helm that “a little of Kentucky ballads, like a bottle of fine Kentucky Whiskey, goes a long way with me.” However, he always accommodated the first lady by auditioning the performers if necessary and making arrangements.

“When Kentucky balladist Iva Roberts asked to play at the mansion. Mrs. Roosevelt responded, “Perfectly splendid!” and expressed a warm interest in the singer’s creative revival of American balladry. “She accompanies herself on a quaint old instrument, called I think, a dulcimer, which she places on her knees like a lap dog,” wrote Junge. “However, it does not bark nor bite and when the strings are gently agitated by the fingers of the singer, a rather plaintive, but not unpleasant sound is emitted.” John Jacob Niles also played the dulcimer. “It can be played at the supper table if you like,” he wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt, who invited him for dinner at the White House on April 15, 1934.”

On page 397 in the notes for that same chapter note 40 read in part, “A dulcimer, a gift from Niles to FDR, is at the Museum at Hyde Park.”
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Re: MUSIC AT THE WHITE HOUSE: A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN SPIR

Postby kwl » Thu Nov 16, 2017 12:08 am

If I recall correctly, the dulcimer is in the Roosevelt home in Hyde Park, NY in the living room. But I am not certain of this. Also, there is a story about James Edward Thomas sending Eleanor Roosevelt a dulcimer, but as far as I know there is no confirmation of this.

Ken
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Re: MUSIC AT THE WHITE HOUSE: A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN SPIR

Postby dbennett » Thu Nov 16, 2017 9:22 am

Ken,

As you know James Edward Thomas died in 1933 and FDR's first term started in 1933 so I guess it is possible he sent Eleanor a dulcimer but I've not heard that (or he could have sent one to her for some other reason). What I do know is:

"In 1934 Una Ritchie and a group from the Hindman Settlement School traveled to Washington to perform traditional songs and ballads at a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) conference. While in Washington the group visited the White House, and met Mrs. Roosevelt. Upon their return the group sent the Hindman made dulcimer that had been played by Una at the performance to the First Lady as a gift."

For more on that see http://www.everythingdulcimer.com/discuss/viewtopic.php?f=48&t=33288.

What I don't know is who made the dulcimer the Hindman group used and later gave to Mrs. Roosevelt. I suppose there is a chance it might have been a Thomas dulcimer.
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Image is from Ralph Lee Smith's article at https://issuu.com/dulcimerplayersnewsinc/docs/120823184059-138c5da85dcd48cca7d15b11b864811a/33
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Re: MUSIC AT THE WHITE HOUSE: A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN SPIR

Postby kwl » Thu Nov 16, 2017 9:52 pm

Thanks, David. I remember that discussion here. I also have talked with Ralph about this. So far, I guess we can chalk it up to one of those dulcimer mysteries.

Ken
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