On today’s show we remember my dear friend, Down Home Radio co-founder Henrietta Yurchenco, who passed away on Dec. 10th, 2007 at the age of 91. Henrietta was a pioneering ethnomusicologist who starting in 1944, hauled hundreds of pounds of recording equipment on mules through the rugged Sierra mountains and lowland deserts of Mexico to make the very first recordings of indigenous music from that country. She was also a pioneer in the field of folk music radio, hosting shows on WNYC starting in 1940 and later WBAI and WNYC again through the 1960’s. She gave Pete Seeger his debut on radio, often had Woody Guthrie on her programs and served as Leadbelly’s producer for his radio program. Later, in the 1960’s she had Bob Dylan and many other performers and scholars of that era on her show. Henrietta was Professor Emerita at the City College of New York, where she taught ethnomusicology for many years.
I met her when she was 89 and we had a great time doing this show together and generally hanging out in the last 2 years of her life. She was a tremendously accomplished person who over a very long career left an amazing musical and historical legacy, some of which has been preserved for us to hear. For a short history of her career read my essay, her obituary from the New York Times, her excellent autobiography, or visit her website.
Every year on the anniversary of her passing I will be bringing out some amazing treasure from her archives for us all to hear as we remember this remarkable woman. Due to this years fund drive this show is a bit late, but I’m happy to bring it out now.
Today’s show is an episode of Henrietta’s 1960’s radio show, “Adventures in Folk Music” for WNYC here in New York. It features Henrietta interviewing a wonderful singer from the Georgia Sea Islands, Mable Hillary (1929-76) who was very involved in the Civil Rights and Peace movements and eventually moved to New York City where she taught in the public school system. Hillary was an amazing singer and performer of blues and unaccompanied songs, as well as traditional game songs and their dances. She performed in the Georgia Sea Island Singers along with Bessie Jones and others. As a side note, I find the contrast of Hillary’s voice and the guitar work of her accompanist to be interesting, beautiful and in several instances quite unique.
[L] Henrietta in Mexico, 1940’s. [R] Henrietta Yurchenco (right) and an unidentified woman, near Zion Methodist Church, St. John’s Island, South Carolina. March 1970.
(Henrietta Yurchenco Collection. Photo by David Lewiston)
HEAR! more from Mable Hillary and others at a 1965 concert in Central Park courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity.