Rosanne Cash Curates a Carnegie Hall Exhibit with AFC

Rosanne Cash
Library of Congress

When Rosanne Cash, recognized by the Library as one of the most compelling figures in popular music, was asked to curate a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York, she graciously brought the American Folklife Center along for the ride. Cash asked AFC to help her curate a photo exhibit, which is being installed outside Carnegie Hall’s Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall. It will be in place in time for this Saturday’s concert featuring The Time Jumpers, which will be the first in Rosanne’s “Perspectives” series.
In a recent interview, she explained the concerts:
I’m really inspired by Southern roots music. Everything from blues to Southern gospel to country pop and Appalachian music. I was born in Memphis and my parents were Southerners, so when I was asked by Carnegie Hall to be a Perspectives artist for the 2015-16 season, I knew immediately that I wanted to curate a series of shows with Southern roots music as the theme. My album ‘The River and The Thread’ had recently been released and music from the Delta and Appalachia was all-consuming for me. I was so honored to be invited and delighted that Carnegie Hall was so enthusiastic about the theme.
Cash sees the concerts as an entertaining way to catch up on Southern roots music history. “I wanted to cover different areas of roots music, so I invited The Time Jumpers (October 4), Ry Cooder and Ricky Skaggs with Sharon White (November 4), and a new Alabama soul band called St. Paul and the Broken Bones (January 15, 2016),” she explained. “My own show, in which I’ll play my album ‘The River and the Thread’ in sequence, rounds out the series on February 20, 2016. In that group of artists we cover bluegrass, soul, country, blues, gospel, Appalachian music and more– I think people will be wowed.” It was when she heard that the concert hall included exhibition space for photos that she thought of the Library of Congress, and especially AFC. “I called AFC director Betsy Peterson shortly after I was invited, told her the theme, and said, ‘start thinking about images to accompany this music!'” The seeds for this project were sown during Cash’s residency at the Library of Congress in December 2013, when she met Betsy and the rest of the staff. That program, spearheaded by the Library’s Music Division and Poetry and Literature Center, included a concert at which Cash’s band performed “The River and the Thread,” much like the closing show of the Carnegie Hall series. “The first concert with the band at The Library of Congress was such a high,” she wrote at the time. “We performed my upcoming record in sequence, which was exhilarating.” She also participated in a songwriters’ round-robin in the Coolidge Auditorium with Amy Helm, Cory Chisel, Rodney Crowell, and her husband John Leventhal, which she called “a kind of musical combustion.” “The audience was so warm and the night charged with energy,” she remembered.
Cash came to know about the American Folklife Center as a result of AFC’s participation in the residency: as a way of welcoming her to the Library, AFC staff put together a display of materials in our collections that we thought might interest her. As she recounted, the materials made her think even more about the Library’s role in preserving American culture:
The curators were kind enough to bring some special items from the American Folklife Center to show us—instruments, field recordings and some old fan magazines of my dad, with photos of my mother and me and my sisters as children. It’s mind-boggling to think what this building preserves, and I’m so grateful they do.
The items we brought out for Rosanne included the disc sleeve for “Rock Island Line,” the famous field recording collected by John and Alan Lomax and their assistant at the time, Lead Belly; Rosanne’s father Johnny Cash recorded the song and released it as the first track on his first legendary LP from Sun Records.  We found the fan magazines in the Christopher S. Wren Collection, which is made up of research materials for Wren’s book on Johnny Cash, including many interviews with Rosanne’s family members. (In addition to the pictures, the fan magazines Wren donated to AFC included Rosanne’s earliest publication: a poem she wrote at the age of 9.) The main instrument we brought out was Burl Ives’s guitar, which she and all her friends got to play.
Rosanne said she enjoyed the process of working with the AFC curators. “It’s always a pleasure,” she said. “They understand what I love and how much respect I have for them. They’ve been so helpful and so welcoming. I feel I can just stop into the Center any time I want, have a cup of tea and see and hear priceless bits of history.” 

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