FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records of the Great Depression

The Federal Music Project (FMP)

1935-1940  69.5.3  

Cath Madden Trindle

Los Angeles Federal Music Project presents "The chocolate soldier" CA FAP

Los Angeles Federal Music Project presents “The chocolate soldier” CA FAP

The Federal Music Project was established in 1935 with Dr. Nikolai Sokoloff , formerly conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra (1919-1933) as the director.  He appointed a staff of five Regional Directors, twenty three State Directors, and five administrative staff.  In 1939, the FMP transitioned to the Works Progress Administration‘s Music Program which eventually was phased out in WWII

The goal of the Music Project was to both help musicians become self-supporting by providing  educational opportunities to improve and opportunities to perform as well as educate the public in appreciation of music through education and opportunity.  This was achieved by providing: 

  • Free or low cost concerts to promote music.
  • Lessons for adults who were underprivileged.
  • Musical education for children.  Most schools established their own music programs with help from the FMP.
  • A Composers Forum Laboratory.
  • Music Festivals throughout the country.
  • 34 new orchestras.  Among those established were five in California: Los Angeles Federal  #1 and #2; Federal Symphony of Northern California (San Francisco); San Bernardino Federal; and San Diego Federal
  • support for singers, dancers, vocal groups, and vocal producers.

Additionally, employees of the FMP researched American traditional music and folk songs, a practice now called ethnomusicology.  Among the resuts were studies on cowboy, creole, and negro music.

The Baton was published monthly in Los Angeles by the FMP detailing project activities and productions throughout California.  It is available on Internet Archives as part of the San Francisco Public Library Americana Collection.  Also available on Internet Archives is  Reminiscences of an American musicologist oral history transcript : Charles Seeger (1972).  Charles Seeger was the assistant director of the FMP.  His interest in musical culture were behind the research of American Music.  You might also find publications for other states FMPs online or in state and local repositories.

Library of Congress online collections include posters created for music productions. Most of the LOC collection of recorded U.S. Work Projects Administration Federal Music Project collection materials are not available online. They may be accessed in the Performing Arts Reading Room of the Library’s Music Division.  One exception is for the California Music Project which is a part of  American Memory.  

The  California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties  online collection includes 35 hours of recordings by 185 musicians this collection ” …was organized and directed by folk music collector Sidney Robertson Cowell for the Northern California Work Projects Administration. Sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley, and cosponsored by the Archive of American Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center), this undertaking was one of the earliest ethnographic field projects to document European, Slavic, Middle Eastern, and English- and Spanish-language folk music in one region of the United States.” (1)  Digital offerings include not only the sound recordings, but also photographs, drawings, research materials and more. There is a wonderful collection of Portuguese materials.

NARA holdings include  Narrative reports of state activities, 1935-40. Reports relating to education, 1936-40; employment, 1936-40; performance and attendance, 1936-40; and American composers, 1936-38. Records relating to folk music, 1936-40; the Composers Forum Laboratory, 1935-40; music festivals, 1935-40; and music research, 1935-36, including cowboy, Creole, and Negro folk music. Programs and schedules, 1936-40. Press clippings, 1936-40. Subject file of correspondence, reports, and press releases, 1936-40. Records relating to Nikolai Sokoloff, director, FMP, 1935-39, and Harry L. Hewes, project supervisor, 1936-40. Scrapbooks relating to the FMP activities in New York City, 1936-41.

Wikipedia – Federal Music Project

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I have been a bit remiss in checking for California projects on FamilySearch as we went for quite a long time without any.  But there is a project available on the indexing site now.  It is a collection of Alameda County Obituaries dated 1985-2006.  This is considered an intermediate project.  Read through the .pdf on Indexing Obituaries and Death Notices Projects before you get started.  It will answer a lot of questions you might otherwise have.

If you belong to the California Genealogical Society there is also an ongoing project involving indexing San Francisco Coroner’s Records.  Contact CGS for information on how to sign up for that project.


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Join the country’s genealogists as they sign the Bill of Rights for Genealogists.  Read more on the Legal Genealogist Blog:  We’re genealogists… and we vote


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