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AFS Review: In Memoriam

Alan Jabbour (1942-2017)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rosalind V. Rini Larson
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By Carl Fleischhauer (Library of Congress) — 

Alan Jabbour was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1942, and passed away in Washington in 2017.  He was educated at the University of Miami and Duke, where he received his Ph.D.  In his youth, Alan was a violinist with the Jacksonville and Miami Symphony orchestras, and the University of Miami String Quartet.

Alan was a master of American traditional fiddle music. While a graduate student, he traveled in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia to record music and folklore. During 1966 and 1967, he paid repeated visits to the Virginia fiddler Henry Reed, who shaped Alan's repertory and style in important ways.  Alan's performances with the Hollow Rock String Band in the mid- to late-1960s made him an influential member of the old-time music revival.

His background with classical and folk music underpinned his musicological analyses of fiddle playing.  He annotated a number of record albums, including ones featuring the Hammons family of West Virginia, and an online presentation of the music of Henry Reed.

In 1968, Alan taught English and folklore at UCLA. In 1969 he was appointed head of the Archive of Folk Song at the Library of Congress. In 1974 he moved to the National Endowment for the Arts to launch the folk arts program.  In 1976, Alan came back to the Library as the founding director of the American Folklife Center, continuing for twenty-three years before retiring in 1999.  He served on the board of a number of organizations and, in 1988, as president of the American Folklore Society.

His leadership of the Folklife Center emphasized a number of subjects and policy areas.  The cultural traditions of ethnic groups, for example, were documented in field projects and were a focus of conferences, surveys, and publications pertaining to phonograph records, "Saturday schools," and broadcasting.  A project to preserve century-old cylinder recordings disseminated Native American music back to the tribes.

During the 1980s, the Folklife Center had a continuing relationship with the National Park Service and with the field of historic preservation, seen in cooperative projects on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the New Jersey's Pinelands, and in the report titled Cultural Conservation and a field project in Grouse Creek, Utah.

Alan stressed outreach and saw to it that the Center presented folk music concerts, staged exhibitions and public programs, published compact disc recordings, and provided access to materials on the Internet.  He described his approach as a continuation of the work carried out by his predecessors: John and Alan Lomax, and New Deal stalwarts like Herbert Halpert, Charles Seeger, and Ben Botkin.

After his retirement, Alan continued to perform.  He and his wife of fifty-five years, Karen Singer Jabbour, documented the tradition of decorating graveyards and co-authored Decoration Day in the Mountains. Karen had joined Alan in visits to Henry Reed in the late 1960s, and their cooperative research and writing brought them back to a shared documentary effort.  We miss Alan and send Karen and their three children our warmest thoughts.



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