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Music has always played an integral role in the lives of American working men and women. Songs were a source of inspiration and comfort. Join us for “Music of the Mines, Railroads and Mills of the Birmingham District” presented by Karen Utz at the ArchiTreats: Food For Thought program on Thursday, October 16th , at 12:05 PM in the Alabama Department of Archives and history’s Milo B. Howard, Jr. Auditorium.
Participants at the 1988 Gandy Dancer Reunion (left-right): Abraham Parker, Arthur James, Cornelius Wright, Willie Henderson, John Mealing, Henry Caffey, and John Cole. Photo: Maggie Holtzberg; courtesy of Alabama State Council on the Arts and Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.
Railroad workers, miners, and mill hands who arrived in Birmingham in the late nineteenth century from the Black Belt cotton areas and Appalachian hill towns, began to use traditional songs and spirituals to uplift their burdens and ease the monotony of work. In the late 1990s, a group of music scholars and folklorists, realizing the importance of preserving the songs and artistic ways of labor music, produced a small but significant work entitled Spirit of Steel: Music of the Mines, Railroads, and Mills of the Birmingham District. Drawing from the work of these scholars, Utz will not only address the songs of the gandy dancers (rail workers) and coal miners, but provide insight into the personal histories and personal recollections of the individuals behind the music. Labor songs were more than just a means to pass the time; they were as one music historian noted, a “tool of work.”
Karen Utz has been curator at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark since 2001. She has a B.A. in Sociology and History, a minor in Marketing, and a M.A. in American History. Utz is also a part-time history professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she teaches courses on southern industry and the 1960s. She is a member of the Alabama Humanities Foundation’s Speaker’s Bureau, the Society for the History of Technology, and was a presenter at the 2003 Alabama Studies Symposium.
The noontime (12:05 PM) program is one in a series of monthly third-Thursday free lectures at the Alabama Archives, 624 Washington Avenue, Montgomery. Bring a sack lunch; coffee and tea will be provided by the Friends of the Alabama Archives.
For more information call (334) 242-4363, ext. 235.
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Updated: October 7, 2003
Alabama Department of Archives & History
624 Washington Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130-0100
Phone: (334) 242-4435