Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Captain Pearl R. Nye: Life on the Ohio and Erie Canal

Pearl R. Nye grew up on the Ohio and Erie Canal. He was born on the canal boat Reform near Chillicothe, Ohio, on February 5, 1872.After the canal closed, Nye followed several pursuits including carpentry, writing, and singing at local establishments around Akron, Ohio. However, he never lost his love of the "Big Ditch," and worked hard to preserve the history and culture of the canal. In the 1930s Nye contacted local historical organizations and libraries about preserving his materials and collaborated with an author to write a book about his life on the canal.Nye was "discovered" by John A. Lomax who had heard about him from an Akron newspaper reporter. In June 1937 Lomax recorded 33 of Nye's songs, with commentary for the Library of Congress. In November of that year, Alan and Elizabeth Lomax recorded 39 more songs. In September 1938 Ivan Walton recorded three additional songs. All the recordings were made in Akron, Ohio, and are included in this online presentation.
This excerpt from "Two Sailors: Sea Shanties and Canal Boat Ballads" contains commentary by John A. Lomax as well as portions of a 1937 field interview between Lomax and Pearl R. Nye that took place in Akron, Ohio. "Two Sailors: Sea Shanties and Canal Boat Ballads" is one of 10 radio programs making up "The Ballad Hunter" radio series.(play the audio)
In 1941, the Rockefeller Foundation provided a grant to establish the Radio Research Project in the Library of the Congress. Archibald MacLeish, then Librarian of Congress, defined the Radio Research Project as a means "to find through experiments and research radio forms by which pertinent parts of the American culture maintained in the Library of Congress may be made available to the American people." Among the special radio programs prepared under the supervision of Philip H. Cohen, the Project's chief, in collaboration with Alan Lomax, was John Lomax's "The Ballad Hunter." The broadcasts were distributed on transcription discs to radio stations for several years.(from Library of Congress))

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