UW Press




FaceBook Twitter Tumblr GoodReads UW Press Newsletter

UW Press Blog







UW Madison

American Association of University Presses




Folksongs of Another America
Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937–1946
James P. Leary
Finalist, History, Midwest Book Awards

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest
Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary, Series Editors


Folksongs of Another America is a groundbreaking work, covering musical and cultural ground woefully overlooked by American music scholars.
—Kip Lornell, author of Exploring American Folk Music


America’s Upper Midwest is a distinctive region where many indigenous and immigrant peoples have maintained, merged, and modified their folk song traditions for more than two centuries. In the 1930s and 1940s, Sidney Robertson, Alan Lomax, and Helene Stratman-Thomas—with support from the Library of Congress and armed with bulky microphones, blank disks, spare needles, and cumbersome disk-cutting machines—recorded roughly 2,000 songs and tunes throughout Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Spanning dance tunes, ballads, lyric songs, hymns, laments, versified taunts, political anthems, street cries, and recitations, these field recordings—made by people born before or shortly after 1900—were captured at a transformative moment when America was in the throes of the Great Depression, World War II was erupting, and market-driven mass entertainment media were expanding rapidly. Yet, except for a handful of Anglo-American performances, these remarkable field recordings in more than twenty-five languages have remained largely unknown, along with the lives of their mostly immigrant, indigenous, rural, and working-class performers.

Since the 1970s, folklorist James P. Leary has worked steadily to bring the folk music of the Upper Midwest to a larger public. Folksongs of Another America presents 187 representative performances by more than 200 singers and musicians, carefully restored in digital form from deteriorating original formats. The accompanying book provides an introduction, full texts of all lyrics in the original languages and in English translation, extensive notes about each song and tune, biographical sketches and photographs of many of the performers, and details about Robertson, Lomax, and Stratman-Thomas and their fieldwork efforts as song collectors. These restored performances reveal with clarity and power a nearly lost sonic portrait of another America.

  • Songs in more than 25 languages, with full original lyrics and English translations
  • More than 200 performers, with biographical notes and many photographs


Boxed Set Includes

  • Illustrated book Folksongs of Another America 300 pp. (est.), 94 black and white photographs and illustrations
  • CD 1 Pigtown Fling: The Sidney Robertson Recordings Recordings of lumberjack, Finnish, Scots Gaelic, and Serbian performers captured by fieldworker Sidney Robertson in Wisconsin and Minnesota in 1937.
  • CD 2 The River in the Pines: The Wisconsin Lumberjacks Recordings Performances of the acclaimed Wisconsin Lumberjacks band of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, recorded by both Sidney Robertson and Alan Lomax during National Folk Festivals in Chicago and Washington, D.C., in 1937 and 1938.
  • CD 3 Harps and Accordions: The Alan Lomax Recordings Alan Lomax’s 1938 Michigan field recordings of lumberjack, Finnish, French Canadian, German, Irish, Lithuanian, Ojibwe, Polish, and Swedish performers.
  • CD 4 When the Dance Is Over: Helene Stratman-Thomas Recordings, Part 1
  • CD 5 My Father Was a Dutchman: Helene Stratman-Thomas Recordings, Part 2 Recordings made throughout Wisconsin in 1940, 1941, and 1946, not only of Finns, French Canadians, Germans, Irish, Lithuanians, Ojibwe, Poles, Scots, Serbs, and Swedes, but also African American, Austrian, Belgian, Cornish, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Ho-Chunk, Icelandic, Italian, Luxemburger, Norwegian, Oneida, Swiss, and Welsh performers.
  • DVD Alan Lomax Goes North This new documentary film combines digitally restored silent color film footage, related field recordings, voice-over readings from Lomax’s correspondence and field notes, and onscreen text to create an audiovisual narrative featuring the performers and scenes that captivated Alan Lomax during his 1938 Upper Midwestern foray.


Author. Photo credit, Name

James P. Leary is the Birgit Baldwin Professor of Scandinavian Studies, a professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies, and a cofounder of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

His documentary recordings and films include:

His books include: He is coeditor of the Journal of American Folklore.

James P. Leary talk:



“Monumental. Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals and for general readers.”

“So comprehensively detailed and thoroughly vetted that it would be hard to see where one would have a complaint about this magnificent volume. . . . It should serve as a standard text for understanding folklore in this region and a proud example of how best to package the surviving output of field trips. It outstrips most of its predecessors by virtue of its offering text, sound, images and moving images; Folksongs of Another America is a model of its kind.”
ARSC Journal, Association for Recorded Sound Collections

“Most celebrated field recordings of American folk music are documents of the rural South, but this absorbing collection makes the case for a different milieu entirely. . . . A mind-boggling swath of material.”
New York Times

“Who knew that the songs of Wisconsin lumberjacks were as . . . singular as the stuff being made in Appalachia or the Mississippi delta? . . . This collection offers many such recordings and more. Compiled by [folklorist] James P. Leary, it features rural music from first-generation immigrants and communities—African American, German, Finnish, Icelandic, Scots Gaelic, Serbian and Swedish and more—exploring their new homes while refusing to abandon their musical roots.”
Los Angeles Times

“A treasure. . . . Leary’s deep knowledge of the subject matter is demonstrated by thought-provoking facts placing the dance tunes, ballads, lyrics songs, hymns, political anthems, and more in historical context.”
Library Journal

“A priceless compendium, a fascinating work for anyone interested in the deeper streams of Americana, American ethnic culture and the history of the Upper Midwest.”
Milwaukee Shepherd Express

“Attains the highest standards of folklore studies. . . . A landmark presentation of traditional music of the Upper Midwest.”
Journal of Folklore Research

“The cultural gifts of immigrants are amply demonstrated by the CD box set Folksongs of Another America. . . . This is an exceptional achievement that demonstrates for the first time the full worth and cultural wealth of the Upper Midwest for music listeners.”
Deutschlandradio Kultur

“There’s a continual unveiling: each disc moves across continents, as with the Sidney Robertson recordings, which leap from French Canadian songs to Finnish melodies. But the crux is the Helene Stratman-Thomas recordings that make up the final two discs, where moving, disarmed performances like Martha Steinbach’s ‘An einem Fluss daraus anSchuss’ rub against gorgeous Dutch melodies, dirty lumberjack songs, and wild Welsh melancholy.”



Additional Resources

Audio interview with Jim Leary about Folksongs of Another America on Wisconsin Public Radio, with music clips

Article: “My Journey to Folksongs of Another America,” by Jim Leary, on the Wisconsin Academy site

Video of talk by Jim Leary about Folksongs of Another America at the Library of Congress, American Folklife Center

Text interview with Jim Leary on the Upper Midwest Old-Time Blog

Video of Leary’s Wisconsin Academy Fellow talk:


Publicity and Press Kit Resources

Click here for current & upcoming UW Press events

Download high resolution cover, color

Download high resolution cover, b/w

Download high resolution author photo, color

Download high resolution author photo, b/w

All images are at least 2.25 inches at 300 dpi wide; current title covers are a minimum of 1500 px wide/6 inches wide at 300 dpi. Please contact us if you need a custom size.


Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at publicity@wwwtest.uwpress.wisc.edu or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)


July 2015
LC: 2014016783 ML 

Boxed set:
5 CDs, 1 DVD, hardcover book
94 b/w illus.

Audio icon
Boxed Set $60.00 t
ISBN 978-0-299-30150-7
Shopping cart

Review Cart



Copublished with Dust-to-Digital, in collaboration with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and the Association for Cultural Equity /Alan Lomax Archive

Funding for this project was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Brittingham Trust, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Graduate School with funding from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Scandinavian Studies’ Birgit Baldwin professorship, and the Finlandia Foundation