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Visitors to the Library of Congress, that temple of grammatical correctness, might be surprised to hear the phrases “y’all,” “ain’t” and “bless yer heart.” But those countrified expressions recently took center stage at the Library. And they’re fixin’ to make more frequent appearances in years to come as the Library’s dignified tone takes on a bit of a twang.
On Dec. 4, the LOC Jefferson Building’s Coolidge Auditorium hosted a concert as part of the Country Music Association Songwriters Series, the second country show held at the Library in 2010. Organizers have tentatively announced a third iteration of the series for the spring, and all signs point to a country music presence at the Library of Congress that is more visible than ever before.
Country music isn’t new to the LOC. In fact, Susan Vita and Dee Gallo, both employees in the Library’s music division, said the Library has the world’s largest collection of country music. That collection is made up primarily of copyright deposits — the “birth certificate of a song,” Gallo said.
But bringing actual country music performers to the Library was more of a risk, if only because country music doesn’t have the same fan base in Washington, D.C., as it does elsewhere in the country. Moreover, the Library’s concert venue traditionally hosts classical rather than contemporary musicians, but that has changed in recent times.
“If you look over the concert series offerings for the last 10 years, you’ll see we now do a balancing act between classical chamber music, American musical theater, jazz, we have blues and other things sometimes, and now, country,” said Vita, who is the head of the music division. “Because we’re not the classical music division — we’re the music division, and consequently, we try and reflect what we have in our collections.”
Gallo, the LOC music division’s supervisory librarian, found a compelling reason to bring live country music to Washington. She discovered that country music isn’t just a soundtrack for beer commercials.
In a study of music-themed research topics presented at the American Musicological Society, Gallo found that research is moving away from Euro-centric music and toward American styles.
“People are doing equivalent research on country as they’re doing on Beethoven,” she said.
The LOC and the CMA were brought together early this year by Jim Free, country music’s D.C. lobbyist and a friend of the Library. The CMA held a board of directors meeting in Washington in the spring, and Free worked with Vita to arrange a series of presentations and a one-off concert to coincide with the meeting, Vita said. Last week’s show built off that performance.