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date: 26 February 2020

Cowell, Sidney (William Hawkings) Robertsonlocked

  • Alan Jabbour


(b San Francisco, CA, June 2, 1903, d Shady, NY, Feb 23, 1995). American music documentarian. After college graduation, she taught music in Palo Alto and studied music theory with Ernest Bloch. Following her divorce from Kenneth Robertson in 1933, she moved to New York, studied with the composer henry Cowell, and worked at Henry Street Settlement. After joining the New Deal in 1936, she moved to Washington, DC, as Charles Seeger’s music assistant in the Resettlement Administration. A trip to North Carolina in 1936 inaugurated her documentary career. Soon she was documenting folk music in many states for the Resettlement Administration. By 1937 her focus had shifted from the South to the Great Lakes states and included the region’s varied ethnic music traditions. From 1938 to 1940 she headed the WPA-sponsored California Folk Music Project, documenting the state’s English-language, Spanish-language, and recent immigrant traditions. In 1941 she moved back to New York and married Cowell. She returned to documentary work in the 1950s. Tape replaced disc recordings, and the locale shifted to Nova Scotia, Ireland, and the folk and classical traditions of South and East Asia. Several Folkways albums highlight her fieldwork of the 1950s. She and her husband wrote ...

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