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Song Catcher: Life Story
Preparing Herself for History


Frances Densmore - (SI)



Densmore's approach to field work.



Nina Archabal gives a Minnesota historian's perspective on Densmore's life and work.



AT AGE 75, Frances Densmore's significant field work was largely behind her. She spent much of the next 15 years to seeing that the 2,500 delicate wax recordings got safely preserved in the Library of Congress. The library hired her-with money from a private donor-to catalog the vast collection.

The Densmore cylinder collection is there today. Experts on traditional American Indian music regard it as an American national treasure.


LISTEN (RealAudio 2.0 14.4 kbps)
Examples from the Densmore cylinder collection:

Moccasin Game Song
Cylinder recording: Meckawigabau performing.
SOURCE: Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture cylinder # 10,551:B3

Why Should I be Jealous
Cylinder recording: Mrs. Mee performing.
SOURCE: Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture cylinder #10,523:A1

Friendly Song
Cylinder recording: Wabezic performing.
SOURCE: Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture cylinder # 10,528:A4

Southern Dance Song
Cylinder recording: E'niwub'e performing.
SOURCE: Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture cylinder #10,550:A2


Densmore spent her last few years retyping boxes of field notes, articles and speeches. She was preparing herself for the historical record. In doing so, she likely destroyed whatever traces there may have been of the interior Frances Densmore. Her will specifically ordered that all letters, notebooks and manuscripts stored in her desk be burned. She had already distributed the "professional" Densmore papers to various archives.18




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