Ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore Recording The Music Of A Blackfoot Chief Onto A Phonograph, 1916

October 20, 2021

In 1907, Densmore began to record Native American music as part of the Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) working with many tribes, including the Chippewa, the Mandan, the Sioux, the Winnebago, and the Seminoles. She spent more than 50 years studying American Indian music and collected thousands of recordings, originally often on wax cylinders, although many of them have been reproduced on other media. Many of them are in the Library of Congress and some are in other archives as well.

Source: (Reddit/colorized).

In 1926, she wrote The Indians and Their Music, and between 1910 and 1957, she published 14 book-length pamphlets for the Smithsonian. These works each described the music of a different Native American group; although she at first believed that the music of the Plains Indians was representative of all Indians, over time, and through exposure to tribes across North America, she began to recognize the diversity of Native American music and culture. 

Preservation In A Time Of Attempted Assimilation

Source: (reddit).

She completed her work during a time when there was a series of efforts in the United States to assimilate American Indians into the mainstream. With the mass European immigration, the public supported a standard set of cultural values and practices. These Americanization policies arose from the idea that when Native Americans learned the customs and values, they would merge their traditions and peacefully join American society. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the federal government outlawed traditional religious ceremonies, including the Sun Dance. The government also sent children to Native American boarding schools; at the schools, they had to abandon tribal traditions, speak English, and attend church.