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University of Nebraska Press
The following review appeared in the November 2015 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email email@example.com.
Social & Behavioral Sciences
Frances Densmore (1867–1957) was a pioneering ethnomusicologist who field-recorded and transcribed thousands of songs traditional to dozens of North American First Nations. Mentored by Alice Fletcher, Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), Densmore was supported by the BAE until the Depression cut its funds in the 1930s. Postwar, Densmore worked with Smithsonian archivists copying her wax cylinders onto vinyl discs; as Stephanie Thorne, Judith Gray, and Thomas Vennum describe in the book, Densmore’s meticulous ear forced engineers to fine-tune copies. Feedback from Indian singers listening to the copies further enhanced their accuracy. Densmore’s BAE monographs on Lakota Sioux, Chippewa (Anishinabe), Ute, Navajo, Seminole, and other national music genres and the thousands of field photos she took assist Indian communities today as well as scholars. The book details Densmore’s half century of fieldwork and discusses her “new woman” career eschewing domesticity. (Her sister shared Densmore's Red Wing, MN, home and much of her fieldwork travels.) Scholarly but engaged with Densmore’s forging a “new woman” scientist role and with researchers’ movement from hearing Indian music as “primitive” to appreciating its sophistication, the book is interesting, contributing to ethnomusicology, women’s studies, and the history of American Indian studies.--A. B. Kehoe, University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee