News / Arts & Entertainment

    New Documentary Revives American Pioneer Music

    Dr. Dale Cockrell, director of MTSU's Center for Popular Music and co-coordinator of "Pa's Fiddle: American Music," poses for a photo before filming begins for the PBS special at the Loveless Barn. ( Photo: MTSU / Andy Heidt)
    Dr. Dale Cockrell, director of MTSU's Center for Popular Music and co-coordinator of "Pa's Fiddle: American Music," poses for a photo before filming begins for the PBS special at the Loveless Barn. ( Photo: MTSU / Andy Heidt)
    Mike Osborne
    NASHVILLE, Tennessee – One of the most authentic descriptions of pioneer life on the American frontier can be found in a series of children’s stories. Laura Ingalls Wilder's eight "Little House" books have sold over 60 million copies worldwide in more than 40 languages. Although works of fiction, the stories are semi-autobiographical, drawing heavily on Wilder’s own childhood in Kansas and South Dakota in the mid 1800s. While pioneer life has disappeared, the music Wilder grew up with is alive and well.


    The Little House on the Prairie television series is perhaps the best-known adaption of the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. The show aired for eight seasons beginning in 1974 and has since been translated into 18 languages.

    “Her work, her books, her stories are quintessentially American," explains actor Dean Butler, who played Laura Ingall’s husband, Almonzo Wilder on the series. Butler later produced a documentary about the author’s life and books.

    “They’re about discovery and struggle and triumph over adversity. They’re about family and about making your way in the world,” Butler says.

    This year, he produced a television special entitled “Pa’s Fiddle: The Music of America.” The show is part documentary, part recorded-live performance.

    "Pa’s Fiddle" is based on the 127 songs mentioned in the Little House stories, mostly fiddle tunes played by the family patriarch Charles “Pa” Ingalls like “Arkansas Traveler” or “Devil’s Dream.”

    Butler hadn’t thought about the books’ musical legacy until he attended a lecture on the subject by musicologist Dale Cockrell.

    “As he was weaving the narrative of these songs, and the way that they were embedded into the books, I just loved the way he told the stories,” Butler explains.

    That polished presentation was the result of a decade of scholarship. Cockrell, a professor at Vanderbilt University, had already published a 425-page reference book on the Little House songs, seven books of sheet music, and nearly 50 musical recordings on 3 CDs.

    Cockrell stumbled on the songs when he began reading the "Little House" books to his eight-year-old son. He realized that nowhere had he seen a fuller portrait of popular music from a crucial era.

    “Just about any form of popular music that would have been heard and enjoyed by audiences from the 1860s to the 1880s - the genre, the category at least - is included in the books,” he says.

    Cockrell says it’s a legacy he fears Americans are losing touch with.

    “Maybe being a historian I’m prejudiced," he admits, "but I think to understand who we are as musical beings now, we need to understand who we were as musical beings then.”

    One thing that songs like “Oft in the Stilly Night" and Wilder’s stories help 21st century audiences understand, Cockrell says, is that 19th century pioneer life was a dangerous, unrelenting struggle.

    “These aren’t superheroes. The dog dies. The children die. The houses burn down. The crops get destroyed. They’re often picking up and moving on because of defeat,” notes Cockrell.

    Defeat perhaps, but never despair. As Wilder herself wrote, “There's no great loss without some small gain.”

    You May Like

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    New in Music Alley

    Soul Lounge: Sweet Honey in the Rocki
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    February 10, 2016 1:48 PM
    For over 40 years Sweet Honey In The Rock has entertained audiences around the globe with their signature blend of Blues, African, Gospel and R&B. The Grammy award winning group stopped by The Soul Lounge to perform and share their story as well as how they plan to keep African American musical traditions alive.

    For over 40 years Sweet Honey In The Rock has entertained audiences around the globe with their signature blend of Blues, African, Gospel and R&B.   The Grammy award winning group stopped by The Soul Lounge to perform and share their story as well as how they plan to keep African American musical traditions alive.