Musical Archives of the Midwest Mahjar



| Richard Breaux needed a hobby. He began collecting 78 rpm records as a break from his work as a professor of Ethnic and Racial Studies at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. But when he stumbled upon a trove of Arabic language records at an estate sale, his hobby became a scholarly project of its own to document and reconstruct the history of the Arab diaspora in La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Greater Midwestern United States. In this episode, we talk about the history of early 78 rpm Arabic records in the United States, the people who owned them, and the story of a forgotten center of the Midwest Mahjar.


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Richard Breaux needed a hobby. He began collecting 78 rpm records as a break from his work as a professor of Ethnic and Racial Studies at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. But when he stumbled upon a trove of Arabic language records at an estate sale, his hobby became a scholarly project of its own to document and reconstruct the history of the Arab diaspora in La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Greater Midwestern United States. In this episode, we talk about the history of early 78 rpm Arabic records in the United States, the people who owned them, and the story of a forgotten center of the Midwest Mahjar.




Contributor Bios

Richard Breaux is an Associate Professor of Ethnic & Racial Studies. He has published in the Journal of African American History, Great Plains Quarterly, the Journal of Pan-African Studies, and the Journal of African American Studies. He is currently working on a book manuscript on La Crosse's Syrian and Lebanese Community and has a forthcoming chapter on music in Mahjari Arts & Letters Movement due to be out later this year. You can find him blogging at Midwest Mahjar.
Sam Dolbee is a lecturer on History and Literature at Harvard University. His research is on the environmental history of the late Ottoman Empire told through the frame of locusts in the Jazira region.
Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.

Credits

Episode No. 494
Release Date: 22 February 2021
Recording Location: La Crosse, WI / Charlottesville, VA
Sound production by Sam Dolbee and Chris Gratien
Music: Zé Trigueiros
Digitized records (by order of first appearance): Wardatone - Koulta Ghanny; Jamili Matouk - Min Aouilha; Louis Wardini - Shams Il Shamousy; Assad Dakroub - Woudah El Habib; Fadwa Obeid - Shab Haelewa; Pauline Ferris Wedding
Images and bibliography courtesy of Richard Breaux at Midwest Mahjar blog


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Peter Laurence 375
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Images



Announcement of performance by Louis Wardini. 6 September, 1935, Indianapolis Star. More at Midwest Mahjar.



78 rpm record of "Koulta Ghanny" by Louis Wardini. More at Midwest Mahjar.



78 rpm record of "Min Aouilha" by Jamili Matouk. More at Midwest Mahjar



78 rpm record of "Woudah Il Habib" by Assad Dakroub. Courtesy of Richard Breaux. More at Midwest Mahjar.



Columbia records advertisement showing Naim Karacand's trio. Found at the Library of Congress by Steve Shapiro and published in his article "Recovering a Forgotten Musical Heritage" in Jewish Sephardic Image magazine, November 2003. More at Midwest Mahjar.



WWII Draft registration of Assad Dakroub. More at Midwest Mahjar. Image courtesy of Ancestry.com



Fadwa Abed in 1954 at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan. Fordson Yearbook (1954), 144. Courtesy of Ancestry.com. More at Arab America.



Fadwa Abeid, Francis Saad, and Jalil Azzouz in 1956. Courtesy of Richard M. Breaux collection. More at Midwest Mahjar.



On 11 February 1909, Pauline L. Ferris was born to John Ferris and Fanny Joseph Ferris in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The Ferris family had seven children (Zeke, Thomas, Pauline, Mary, Helen, George, and Veronica) and lived at 1033 Charles Street. By 1916 the family had moved to Mankato, Minnesota, only to return to La Crosse by 1928. The Ferris family was related by marriage to the Abdo family in Mankato, Minnesota. After she graduated from high school, Pauline worked at the Lorillard Tobacco Company at 1501 Rose Street in La Crosse. She followed most of her nuclear family to Michigan in the 1930s. On 11 April 1940, Pauline married Francis Ramia in Marysville, Michigan. Francis was born in Damascus, Syria, but came to the US from Naples, Italy, to Detroit where he worked as a grocery store owner. Among the one hundred twenty-five people who reportedly attended the wedding ceremony were Gemilia Monsoor, Thomas & Freda Ferris and one of their daughters, and George and Mary Ferris from La Crosse. In Marysville, Pauline attended Saint Christopher’s Catholic Church. She remained actively involved with the Women’s Club of Marysville and The Cedar Club, which was a local affiliate of the Midwest Federation of Syrian Lebanese Clubs. Pauline and Francis had three children and remained married for 55 years.

This recording is of Pauline Ferris Ramia and her brother, Tom, speaking to several guests (including La Crosse-born Madelle Addis from Toledo and John Wakeen [not to be confused with La Crosse’s John Wakeen] from Port Huron, Michigan) immediately after her wedding ceremony in April 1940. Note, too, the wedding photographer was former La Crosse residents who established Askar-Shain Photographers featured in an earlier post.

Image and description courtesy of Richard Breaux. The full recording is here.


Select Bibliography


Abraham, Sameer and Nabeel Abraham, eds. Arabs in the New World: Studies in Arab-American Communities (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983).

Brooks, Tim. Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919. Champaign, IL, University of Illinois Press, 2004).

Department of State and Justice, the Judiciary, and Related Appropriations: United States Information Agency: Hearings Before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations House of Representatives 86th Congress, Frist Session (1960), 348-349.

Gualtieri, Sarah M.A. Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009).

—. Arab Routes: Pathways to Syrian California (Palo Alto: Standord University Press, 2019).

Hooglund, Eric J. ed. Crossing the Waters: Arabic-Speaking Immigrants to the United States before 1940. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987.

Jacobs, Linda K.  Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900. New York: Kalimah Press, 2015.

Jacobs, Linda K. Strangers No More: Syrians in the United States, 1880-1900. Kindle edition. New York: Kalimah Press, 2019.

Kauffman, Kay Shelemay. Let Jasmine Rain Down: Song and Remembrance Among Syrian Jews. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Kayyali, Randa A. The Arab Americans (Westport, CT: The Greenwood Press, 2006).

Kelley, Robin D.G. Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).

Naff, Alixa.  The Arab Americans (Chelsea House Publishing, 1988).

Nagoski, Ian. Eds, To What Strange Place: The Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916- 1929 (Baltimore:  Canary Records, 2011).

—. Send Me the Bones: From the Earliest Syrian American Recordings, July 1913-June 1919 (Baltimore: Canary Records, 2020).

Othman, Enaya. “Building a Community Among Early Arab Immigrants in Milwaukee, 1890s to 1960s,” Wisconsin Magazine of History (Summer 2013): 38-49.

Orfalea, Gregory.  The Arab Americans: A History (North Hampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2000). 

 Racy, Ali Jihad. “Record Industry and Egyptian Traditional Music, 1904-1932.” Ethnomusicology 20:1 (1976), 23-48.

—. “Arabian Music and the Effects of Commercial Recording.” The World of Music, the Arab World 20,1 (1978):47-58.

Rashid, Stanley. “Cultural Traditions of Early Arab Immigrants to New York.” In Kathleen Benson and Philip M. Kayal, eds. A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City, 74-82. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002.

Rasmussen, Anne K. The Music of Arab America: A Retrospective Collection. Cambridge, MA: Rounder, 1997.

—. “The Sound of Culture, The Structure of Tradition.” In Nabeel Abraham and Andrew Shryock, eds. Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream, 551-572. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000.

—. “The Music of Arab Americans: Aesthetic and Performance in a New Land.” In Sherifa Zuhur, ed. Images of Enchantment: Visual and Performing Arts of the Middle East,135-156. The American University in Cairo Press, 1998.

—. “The Arab World.” In Jeff Todd Titon et al., eds. Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World’s Peoples, 317-354. Belmont, CA: Schirmer Cengage Publishers. 2009.

Sherman, William C., Paul L. Whitney, and John  Guerrero,  Prairie  Peddlers:  The Syrian- Lebanese in North Dakota (University of Mary Press, 2002).

Spottswood, Richard K. Ethnic Music on Record: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings, Volume 5 Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.




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