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Frances Densmore: Recording & Preserving Native American Music

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Susan Windgrow (Makawastewin) with Frances Densmore, approximately 1930

Frances Densmore was born in 1867 in Red Wing, Minnesota. She studied piano, organ, and harmony at Oberlin Conservatory. Densmore became interested in the music of the Omaha tribe after reading a book about the ethnomusicology of the tribe, and soon pursued the study of Native music herself. In 1905, she visited the Ojibwe bands in Grand Marais and Grand Portage where she started to transcribe their music. Densmore began her work in Minnesota, observing and recording the cultures of the Dakota and Ojibwe, and then traveled across North America preserving the customs and traditions of many Native American tribes. She was a prolific author, writing over twenty books and 100 articles, and recorded over 2,000 wax cylinders of Native music. Her records preserved a vast amount of Native American music and culture during a period when white settlers were moving onto Native lands and encouraging the tribes to adopt Western customs.

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