Mary MacPhee Is Recorded Performing Gaelic Songs

On June 15, 1939, in Oakland, California, folk music collector Sidney Robertson Cowell recorded Mary MacPhee performing Gaelic songs from the Hebrides, Scotland.

The collection California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell contains these a cappella performances as well as still photographs, drawings, and written documents from a variety of European ethnic and English- and Spanish-speaking communities in Northern California. On the dust jacket of MacPhee's recording of "Hi Oro 's Na Horo Eile" Cowell noted, "This she sang to her husband when they were courting."

Cowell's California Folk Music Project was one of the earliest large-scale ethnographic surveys of regional American folk music. In order to accomplish her mission, Cowell organized a consortium of three institutions. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), a massive employment relief program launched by the Roosevelt administration in 1935, offered funds to hire approximately twenty people. The Music Department of the University of California, Berkeley provided space and equipment for the project. And, the Archive of American Folk Song (now The Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center) of the Library of Congress supplied 237 twelve-inch acetate recording discs and a repository for their safekeeping.

…I found their music beautiful and important and…wanted it preserved as it truly was for future generations to hear. ”

— Sidney Robertson Cowell