As the twentieth century neared its end, the entertainment industry dominated popular views of culture. Cultural enterprises including movies, television, theme parks, recordings, and video stores constitute one of the world's largest industries. Nevertheless, there is another world of culture created and sustained in homes, communities, places of work and worship. Our lullabies and hymns, liturgical chants and celebratory songs, songs of work, struggle, and mourning, are rarely heard in music stores or on radio stations. Yet it is those traditions and the cultures they represent that are highlighted at the annual Festival of American Folklife.
The 1997 Festival featured three major programs, complemented by the third annual Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert. Sacred Sounds brought together people from a variety of religious communities, from around the nation, Jerusalem, and from South Africa. Their songs expressed spiritual feelings and convictions connecting their lives to tradition. At the Festival, audiences could hear some of the ways in which music flows from the spirit of a diverse humanity to express its highest aspirations.
A second program, African Immigrant Folklife, illustrated the many traditions of recent immigrants to the United States from Africa. These immigrants participate in a changing culture, as people, families, and communities find their place in American society. Festival visitors could celebrate the enterprise and vitality of recent immigrants to the United States from Africa, who have brought their cultures across the Atlantic Ocean to the Washington metropolitan area.
The Mississippi Delta, the subject of the third Festival program, is a culturally rich region of the United States that gave birth to blues, jazz, rockabilly and rock 'n' roll, honky tonk, distinctive forms of gospel, oratory, marvelous stories, folk and visionary art, and an encyclopedia of river lore - not to mention barbecue and fish fries. Native, Spanish, African, French, and American people all merged along the Mississippi, just as many tributaries flow into one river. Beginning even before the arrival of Europeans, the Mississippi has been a source of food and irrigation, a highway for commerce, a strategic center for political power, a source of inspiration for song and spirit. The region's cultural expressions, continually shaped by the daily experience - the work, worship, home life, and recreation - of the people who live there, were shared with Festival visitors on the National Mall.
The 1997 Festival took place during two five-day weeks (June 25-29 and July 2-6) between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive and between 9th Street and 13th Street, south of the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History.