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Benjamin A. Botkin head and shoulders portrait
Folklorist Benjamin A. Botkin, 1926. Photo courtesy of the Botkin family.

Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series

Through the Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lecture Series, the American Folklife Center (AFC) presents distinguished experts speaking about their research and current issues and best practices in folklore, folklife, ethnomusicology, and related fields. Lectures are recorded for the AFC archive and posted on the Library's website. (See below for list of speakers and topics.) The series honors Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975), a pioneering folklorist who headed the Library's Archive of American Folksong from 1942-1945.

2019 Botkin Lectures


Portrait of two women and one man. See caption.
Left to right: Susan Galbraith, Tom Jones II, and Roz White

Black Pearl Sings!

February 13, 2019
12:00 noon to 1:30
Pickford Theatre, 3rd Floor James Madison Building

A theatrical reading of the play Black Pearl Sings! followed by a discussion with director Tom Jones II and actors Roz White and Susan Galbraith from the Alliance for New Music Theater, facilitated by N. J. Mitchell. The discussion will focus on the ways in which the Library’s extensive primary source collections inform creative artistic practice.

Written in 2006 by Frank Higgins, the play was inspired by the relationship between John Lomax and Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter. Black Pearl Sings! is set in Depression-era Texas and imagines a meeting between a white musicologist from the Library of Congress and a jailed African American woman with a soulful voice and steely spirit. This is an evocative story of how they must work together to fulfill the goals of both these women. Theirs is a journey of race and reconciliation, religion and tenacity, a search for the origins of indigenous folk music, preservation of the musical heritage of a people, and ultimately one of healing and understanding.

Thomas W. Jones II (Director / Writer/ Actor) has directed, written, and performed in more than 200 plays worldwide. In 1978, Tom founded Jomandi Productions, where, as Co-Artistic Director and Producing Director, Tom led Jomandi to become the third largest African-American theatre company in the United States. His work as writer, director, and actor has been acclaimed nationally and internationally. His work has won 15 Washington DC Helen Hayes Awards. He also teaches at the high school and college level.

Susan Galbraith is a director, writer, and actor at Alliance for New Music-Theatre, Washington, DC. She is a playwright, poet, librettist, director and performer.  Trained as both an actress and dancer in styles that include both western and far eastern performance, she has directed and also performed in repertory theatre, new plays, and experimental cross-over forms of dance-theatre. She holds a BFA in Drama and English from Tufts University.

NJ Mitchell serves DC theater community as artistic director, board of director, community talkback coordinator, public programming committee member, drama teacher, facilitator, and panelist. Facilitating theater audience post show discussions, speaking on and participating as panelist on faith, race relations, gun violence, gender and identity topics. NJ is the granddaughter of a pastor, born to a gospel recording artist and professional sports family.

Roz White is a vocalist, actress, motivational speaker, and teaching artist. She starred in and received stellar reviews for her self-penned cabaret Pearl Bailey... by Request. A Washington, DC native, Roz graduated from Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and Howard University’s College of Fine Arts. As a recording artist Roz has recorded and toured with many artists including gospel music legend Yolanda Adams. Recent theatrical credits include: "Black Pearl" in Black Pearl Sings and "Lady" in Ladies Swing The Blues, written and directed by Thomas W. Jones II.

Presented in Celebration of African American History Month.
Co-sponsored with the Daniel A. P. Murray Association

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]


Jon Kay
Jon Kay

Traditional Arts and Resilience in Later Life, Jon Kay, Director, Traditional Arts Indiana and Clinical Associate Professor, Folklore and Ethnomusicology

February 21, 2019
12:00 noon  to 1:00
Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building

Elders who practice folk and traditional arts are often celebrated for their work supporting community life and the continuation of important cultural traditions, but rarely do we explore how these practices support elders as they age. Based on more than twenty years of researching folk arts and aging, folklorist Jon Kay explores the ways that traditional arts help older adults find resilience in later life. This presentation centers on how everyday expressive practices help elders combat feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom that beset so many older adults in the United States.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]


Langston Wilkins
Langston Wilkins

Street Folk: Hip Hop, Car Culture, and Black Life in Houston, Texas, Langston Collin Wilkins, Director, Center for Washington Cultural Traditions

April 24, 2019
12:00 noon  to 1:00
Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building

"Screw" is Houston, Texas' distinctly local form of hip hop music that emerged within the city’s African American community almost thirty years ago. It is inextricably tied to "Slab," a vernacular car culture in which mostly young African American men spend countless hours and much money transforming outmoded American sedans into spectacular automotive art pieces. In his talk, folklorist and ethnomusicologist Wilkins will discuss how "screw" and "slab" combine form a unique local tradition that has affirmed and empowered working class Black Houstonians across several generations.

Langston Collin Wilkins is a traditional Arts Specialist at the Tennessee Arts Commission. He earned his PhD in ethnomusicology from Indiana University. In addition, he served as a fellow for the Folklife and Traditional Arts Program of the Houston Arts Alliance and the Houston Museum of African American Culture where he conducted field work and produced public programs that centered on the traditional arts of Houston’s African Diasporic communities.

Request ADA accommodations five days in advance at 202-707-6362 or [email protected]

Botkin Lecture Series Past Events Archive

Includes descriptions of each lecture, photos, and informational essays from the event flyers. Links to webcasts of lectures are included as available.

2018 Lecture Series

2017 Lecture Series

2016 Lecture Series

2015 Lecture Series

2014 Lecture Series

2013 Lecture Series

2012 Lecture Series

2011 Lecture Series

2010 Lecture Series

2009 Lecture Series

2008 Lecture Series

2007 Lecture Series

2006 Lecture Series

2005 Lecture Series

2004 Lecture Series


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   January 16, 2019
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