Cosmopolitan Folk: The Cultural Politics of the North American Folk Music Revival in Washington, D.C. Open Access
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This dissertation looks at the popular American folksong revival in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region during the Cold War and Civil Rights era. Examination of folk revival scholarship, local media reports and cultural geography, and the collected interviews and oral histories of Washington area participants, reveals the folk and blues revival was a mass mediated phenomenon with contentious factions. The D.C. revival shows how restorative cultural projects and issues of authenticity are central to modernity, and how the function of folksong transformed from the populist, labor oriented Old Left to the personalized politics of the New Left. This study also significantly disrupts often romantic scholarship and political narratives about the folk revival and redirects the intellectual attention on New York, Chicago, and San Francisco towards the nation's capital as an overlooked site of cultural production. Washington's "folk world" of music clubs, coffeehouses, record collectors, disc jockeys, performers, folklorists, and folk music aficionados drove folk music studies towards context and cultural democracy, but the local insistence on apolitical, traditional, and rural forms of folksong as the most genuine reinscribed racial and class hierarchies even as they enhanced Washington's status. Washington, D.C., shifted the loose folk revival "movement" into permanent cultural institutions and organizations, and the city gained a cosmopolitan reputation for authentic folk music that intermingled with its regional culture and identity as the nation's capital and site of public protest.