Folklorist Chuck Perdue dies at 79
Washingtonians who enjoy folklore and folk music -- indeed, the very traditions that are passing before our eyes -- owe a debt of gratitude to Chuck Perdue, 79, of Madison, Va., who died Sunday, Feb. 14. Perdue held a doctorate in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania, where his fellow folklorists included Ralph Rinzler, who directed the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, and Bill Ferris, who headed the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.
Dr. Perdue was brought to the University of Virginia department in 1971 for his expertise in socio-linguistics. If the field sounds dry and theoretical, Dr. Perdue's books, with such titles as "Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves" and "Talk About Trouble: A New Deal Portrait of Virginians in the Great Depression," were anything but.
The latter, a book of hardscrabble life stories recounted as part of a New Deal writer's project, won a National Oral History Association Award in 1997. Dr. Perdue found the texts hidden in the Virginia State Archive and copied them even as the ink was disintegrating the pages.
Blues fans owe Perdue a debt of gratitude for begging a song out of John Jackson, a guitar player he met at a gas station in Fairfax. Perdue brought Jackson, a full-time gravedigger, to the coffeehouses of Washington. Jackson, who had a vast repertoire of traditional Piedmont blues and his own unique guitar style, embarked on a second career as a professional blues singer.
But perhaps his greatest contribution for Washingtonians was his involvement in the National Folk Festival when it was held at Wolf Trap in the 1970s and the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, which he helped found.
If you have reminiscences or stories about Dr. Perdue, we'd love to hear them.
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