OxFilm Oxford, MS


Greg Johnson

Head of Special Collections, Blues Curator, and Professor, J. D. Williams Library

Songcatcher— A brief history of folk song collecting in America

The story at the heart of the film Songcatcher is part of a tradition of folklorists and musicologists seeking out old folk songs in America and tracing their origins to pre-new world sources. Greg Johnson, Head of Special Collections in the University of Mississippi Libraries, will speak on several important folk song collectors, placing special emphasis on work done in Mississippi through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and more.

OxFilm Oxford, MS

Film Synopsis

A musicologist travels to Appalachia and makes the discovery of a lifetime. 

In 1907, Dr. Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer), a professor of musicology, is denied a promotion at the university where she teaches. Disappointed, she impulsively visits her sister (Jane Adams), who runs a struggling rural school in Appalachia. There, she stumbles upon the discovery a lifetime: a treasure trove of ancient Scots-Irish ballads, songs that have been handed down from generation to generation, preserved intact by the seclusion of the mountains. With the goal of securing her promotion, Lily ventures into the most isolated areas of the mountains to collect the songs and finds herself increasingly enchanted—not only by the rugged purity of the music, but also by the raw courage and endurance of the local people as they carve out meaningful lives against the harshest conditions. It is not, however, until she meets Tom (Aidan Quinn)—a handsome, hardened war veteran and talented musician—that she's forced to examine her motivations. Is the "Songcatcher," as Tom insists, no better than the men who exploit the people and extort their land?