Research

At the AMRF our work begins with capture of music and interviews with the artists who create it. When our Mission Statement was authored in 1999 it stipulated a focus on "blues, ragtime, boogie woogie, jazz, and rhythm and blues," but 11 years and over 50 artists later it is clear that our scope includes virtually every genre parsed from the corpus of indigenous American music.

Our artists have taught us that genres are mere pigeonholes, and that attempts to box them into one or another often obscure rather than illuminate their art. Furthermore, while much scholarship has been devoted to differentiating between musical genres, and even more marketing muscle exerted to cast them as isolated containers into which music can be sorted and sold, all genres are interrelated.

Genres are defined primarily by musical structure - ragtime piano marries a persistently syncopated melody with march tempo accompaniment for example, while boogie woogie emphasizes a walking 8-beat bass line. These structures do not simply appear fully realized however; they evolve and emerge over time through the work of individual artists. Most importantly, the artists who create the music rarely invent the labels applied to it. As Willie Nelson said most succinctly, "Labels were invented to sell the music. You had to know what to call it before you could sell it."

Genres provide useful verbal shorthand but placing too much emphasis on the structural distinctions that define them can obscure both an understanding of what the music actually is and full appreciation of it when listening. Genres are best understood as loosely woven baskets stitched together by musical threads weaving around and through the latticework. At the AMRF our approach is an evolutionary one that seeks to illuminate the historical origins and development of music and our emphasis is on threads rather than baskets because they represent the work of individual artists.

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