NC Jukebox (2016-2017)


In the 1930s Duke scholar Frank Clyde Brown began recording and archiving folk music from western North Carolina. Most of those recordings are still housed on wax cylinders and glass discs in the Duke Libraries, but about 400 songs have been converted to digital formats. Scholars in music and folklore, librarians, students, digital media specialists, descendants of the original performers and contemporary musicians are working together to bring the collection to life.

Project Description

This project transforms an inaccessible audio archive of historic North Carolina folk music into a vital, publicly accessible digital archive and museum exhibition. As a digital cultural heritage project, NC Jukebox provokes critical questions around authority, appropriation and control of cultural artifacts preserved in wax and glass. At the same time, it opens up possibilities for academic and community collaboration around a living set of traditions and practices.

The project includes an exhibition and online playlist of the “greatest hits” of the Frank Clyde Brown collection. It also necessitates metadata standards and library infrastructure. In addition to foregrounding the music itself, NC Jukebox team members will explore biographies of the singers, transcribe the songs and trace the Scotch-English history, variations and contemporary analogues of the songs. Interactive touchscreens, period photos and hybrid analog-digital audio playback machines will invoke the historical conditions of production and reception.

To bring back that sense of wonder and awareness of the materiality and technocultural context within which the singers and Frank Clyde Brown operated, we anticipate creating a few novel playback devices, such as a fake jukebox, a programmable radio or perhaps even a real phonograph that can play back the music in question. In addition to extending and documenting the physical exhibits, we will turn toward longer-term online archive development (Drupal-based platform for storage and sharing of the resources we create; scalable infrastructure for this type of teaching-research-public outreach project).

The team will focus on the African American singers and songs that were left out of the original published collection because they didn’t fit the “correct” musical profile for the edited collection. By adding information about these worksongs, prisons and religious genres we will be filling in an important piece of cultural history. Another area of focus is the relationship of musical performance to dance culture of the time period. We also plan to use visualization technologies to explore the metadata of the collection. This includes locations, song themes, variations and familial relationships.

Anticipated Outcomes

Physical and digital exhibitions; enhanced digital archive; group-sourced databases that are transformed into interactive archives and maps; blogs, oral presentations, papers and multimedia presentations; conference presentations; external publication

Related Course

NC Jukebox, Spring 2017


Summer 2016 – Spring 2017

Summer 2016: Construction of exhibition materials; setup of touchscreen kiosk interface; installation in Rubenstein Library; site design; construction of a “front porch” set; touchscreen programming for audio playback. August 2016: Public opening at Rubenstein; concert/performance. September 2016: Archive development and, if possible, ingestion of more materials into the site; ongoing research into singers, songs and pathways. October 2016: Presentation at Southeastern Music Librarians Conference. November 2016: Exploration of data visualization techniques; historical source materials research for worksongs, prison camps. January to April 2017: NC Jukebox class, singer and song research, contextual research, write-ups, data visualizations. May 2017: Presentation at HASTAC; update and enhancement of exhibit in western NC; submission of essay for publication in Digital Humanities Quarterly.

Team Outcomes to Date

Teaching with Archival Music: The NC Jukebox Project (presentation by Trudi Abel and Victoria Szabo, Southeast Chapter of the Music Library Association annual meeting, Durham, NC, October 21, 2016)

The Common Ground We Meet Upon: Music Collections in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library (exhibition featuring the Frank Clyde Brown collection and materials from the NC Jukebox project; Mary Duke Biddle Room, Rubenstein Library, Duke University; August 1–November 1, 2016)

This Team in the News

Twelve Students Receive Grants to Take Their Bass Connections Research Further

Special Event Will Highlight a Duke Collection of Tradtional Music from Western North Carolina

Reflections on Mentoring from Bass Connections Graduate Students

Visiting Our Past: Myron Houston, Mountain Tale-teller

Bass Online Apprentice Develops Diverse Skill Set to Teach Online

Meet the Members of the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

An Exhibit of How Music Is Our Common Ground

On the Road with the Frank C. Brown Collection

See earlier related team, NC Jukebox (2015-2016).

The Franklin Humanities Institute provides additional support for this project.

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Trudi Abel, Duke Libraries & Informational Technology - Rubenstein Library*
Winston Atkins, Duke Libraries & Informational Technology
Megan Brown, Duke Libraries & Informational Technology
Louise Meintjes, Trinity - Music*
Victoria Szabo, Trinity - Art, Art History & Visual Studies*
Laura Williams, Duke Libraries & Informational Technology

Graduate Team Members

Meghan O'Neil, PhD in English

Undergraduate Team Members

Bao Doan, Economics (BS), Computer Science (BS2)
Yunhee Kang, Asian & Mid East Studies (AB)
Adriana Lapuerta
Jaymin Patel, English (AB), History (AB2)
Jaehoon Sung

* denotes team leader