Louisiana Folklore Society Board Member Dr. Joshua Caffery has been awarded the prestigious Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies by the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. Caffery is the first high school teacher and the first U.S. citizen to receive this honor.
The Alan Lomax Fellowship brings scholars from around the world to the Library of Congress to study the massive body of song and image collected by Alan and John Lomax. The Lomaxes were “field collectors,” traveling the country to record traditional folk music. During the 1930’s, the pair recorded musicians in southern Louisiana. “Alan Lomax believed that certain areas of the country had unique cultural resources that should be conserved for future generations,” explains Caffery. “I plan to help continue that vision.”
Caffery received notification of his appointment from James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress. Caffery plans to move his family to the Washington, DC area in September to begin his one-year appointment.
Caffery, a Franklin, Louisiana native, completed his Ph.D. in English from University of Louisiana Lafayette under the direction of Barry Ancelet. Caffery’s first book, Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings, a study of the songs collected by the Lomaxes in the Acadiana area, will be published by LSU Press in November 2013. Passionate about the traditional music of southern Louisiana, Caffery plans to continue his research during his fellowship in Washington.
“I’m tremendously excited and honored to receive this fellowship,” says Caffery. “For me, having the chance to study the recordings at the Library of Congress is like a Biblical scholar having access to the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Tracking down the origins of obscure folk songs can be painstaking work, and Caffery is thrilled to have access to the largest library in the world. “My favorite thing about this sort of research is the detective work that goes into unraveling song meanings, types, and origins,” says Caffery.
In addition to researching Louisiana song traditions, Caffery will be working on a number of associated projects. He hopes to produce an album of spirituals based on the 1934 recordings of two singers from Avery Island. Caffery also plans to finish a collection of original poetry inspired by Louisiana traditional song and to identify and develop resources within the Archive of American Folksong for possible use in Louisiana schools.