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Guest of Honor

Alan Jabbour

Alan Jabbour grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. He graduated from the University of Miami in 1963 and received his M.A. (1966) and Ph.D. (1968) from Duke University. A violinist from age seven, he was a member of the Jacksonville Symphony, the Brevard Music Festival Orchestra, the Miami Symphony, and the University of Miami String Quartet. While a graduate student at Duke, he became interested in folk music and folklore and in 1965-68 made extensive trips in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia to record instrumental folk music, folksongs, and folklore on tape. This collection, particularly rich in traditional fiddle tunes from the Upper South, is now in the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress.

American Fiddle Tunes

The documentation trips turned into apprenticeships, and Alan began playing the fiddle under the influence of new masters. In particular, he learned the style and repertory of Henry Reed, a master fiddler who lived along the New River in Glen Lyn, Virginia, and was then in his eighties.

As Alan began to learn the regional fiddling style and repertory of the Upper South, he joined three other young musicians --Tommy Thompson on five-string banjo, Bertram Levy on mandolin, and Bobbie Thompson on guitar -- to form a band devoted to playing these oldtime tunes. They called themselves the "Hollow Rock String Band" after a rural community outside of Durham where the Thompsons lived and the band gathered for regular jam sessions and music parties. "Hollow Rock" was at the core of an oldtime music scene that blossomed in Durham and Chapel Hill in the later 1960s. In 1968, the year that Henry Reed passed away, the band released a long-playing record called "The Hollow Rock String Band: Traditional Dance Tunes" (Kanawha 311). That album, which became a document of the oldtime music revival in the 1960s and 1970s, has recently been reissued as a compact disc (County Records CO-CD-2715). In 1968-69, Alan Jabbour became an assistant professor of English and folklore at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he taught graduate and undergraduate courses in the ballad, British and American folksong, and folklore and literature.
In September 1969 he was appointed head of the Archive of Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture) at the Library of Congress. There he supervised the development of the nation's largest archival collection for folk music and folklore. He edited a long-playing record drawn from earlier recordings in the Archive, which was published in 1971 as American Fiddle
Tunes (now available on CD as Rounder Records 18964-1518-2).With Carl Fleischhauer, he undertook a three-year project to research, record, and photograph the history and traditions of a single Appalachian family. This was published in 1973 by the Library of Congress in a two-record album entitled The Hammons Family: A Study of a West Virginia Family's Traditions.

A companion album appeared that year on the Rounder label, entitled Shaking Down the Acorns. Both these publications were released in a double-CD edition in 1998, entitled The
Hammons Family : The Traditions of a West Virginia Family and Their Friends (Rounder 1504/05). As part of the Library's Bicentennial effort, he initiated an anthology of fifteen long-playing records containing examples of folk music traditions in the United States. During this period he performed less often as a musician, but an LP entitled The Hollow Rock String Band (Rounder Records 0024) includes him on the fiddle, Tommy Thompson on the banjo and guitar, and Jim Watson on the guitar, mandolin, and autoharp.In April 1974, Alan moved to the National Endowment for the Arts to become founding director of that agency's grant-giving program in folk arts. Under his direction the Folk Arts Program grew rapidly as a source of funding for the varieties of folk cultural expression in the United States, and it continued to grow after his departure in 1976.

In August 1976, Alan became the founding director of the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress , continuing in that position for 23 years until he stepped down as director in mid-1999. Established by the American Folklife Preservation Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-201), the Center is directed to "preserve and present American folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, live presentation, exhibition, publication, dissemination, training, and other activities involving the many folk traditions of the United States. The Center's Archive of Folk Culture, formerly known as the Archive of Folk Song, is the principal repository for field documentation of American folklore and folklife and contains important holdings from all the major regions of the world. In the 1980s, while focusing on his duties as an administrator, he occasionally turned his attentions to editing folk music documentary albums and playing music at occasional public events and gatherings.

With John A. Cuthbert, Alan edited another LP publication related to the Hammons Family, "The Edden Hammons Collection," published by West Virginia University Press in 1984. In the early '80s, an LP titled "Sandy's Fancy" (Flying Fish FF-260) featured Alan on fiddle, Tommy Thompson on banjo, and Sandy Bradley on guitar and piano. Alan retired from federal service at the end of 1999. In celebration of his retirement, he has resumed playing the fiddle more actively and is undertaking frequent appearances and engagements as a musician and fiddle teacher. He served as guest curator of "Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection ," an online presentation of the Library of Congress , published in 2000. The collection makes available online the entire field collection of recordings and manuscripts created during his visits with Henry Reed in 1966-67. In 2002 he released a new CD of his own fiddling, joined by Bertram Levy and James Reed, called "A Henry Reed Reunion," and in 2005 he released another fiddling CD, "Southern Summits," with Ken Perlman on banjo. In 2004-05 he did research in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains on the cultural tradition of cemetery decoration, authoring a report to be published as part of an Environmental Impact Statement. He has published widely over the years on subjects related to folklore and folklife, including many publications on American instrumental folk music, and he is a frequent lecturer on topics related to folklore and folklife, folk music, and cultural policy.

Alan's involvement as a fiddler and collector place him at the center of American folklore, alongside other great collectors such as Carl Sandburg and Alan Lomax.



Visit Alan's Website for listing of recordings available

Other Recordings

Family Story told by Alan Jabbour on

Recordings of 13 fiddle tunes by me both up to tempo and at a very slow pace:


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