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THIS IS AMERICA - July 16, 2001: Smithsonian Folklife Festival - 2001-07-16


The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. is famous around the world. Each summer, the Smithsonian organizes a celebration of cultural traditions. It is called the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. I’m Sarah Long.


And I’m Shirley Griffith. We tell about the recent Smithsonian Folklife Festival on our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.



Visitors to Washington usually spend some time on the open grassy area called the National Mall. The United States Capitol building is at the east end of the Mall. The monument honoring America’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, is at the west end. Museums and Smithsonian Institution buildings are on the north and south sides of the Mall.

Usually, the Mall is a place where people walk, sit or play. But for ten days each summer, part of the area is crowded with unusual sights, sounds and smells. That is when the Smithsonian holds its Folklife Festival. Today, we bring you some of these sights and sounds.



That is the sound of Chinese classical music performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this year. It was just one of many kinds of music that Festival visitors enjoyed.

People have been visiting The Smithsonian Folklife Festival each summer for the past thirty-five years. The word folklife describes the cultural traditions of a people. It includes their music and art. Their stories and celebrations. The things they make for their homes and to sell.

These cultural traditions are passed from old people to the young. Few traditions are taught in schools. Young people learn them from living within a cultural group.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage organized the festival. It ended on July eighth. Each festival is about different cultures and people. This year, the festival presented the cultures of New York City and the islands of Bermuda.


Bermuda includes more than three-hundred islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. About sixty-three-thousand people live on twenty of the islands. One of these islands is also called Bermuda. About four-hundred-thousand people visit that island each year. Presentations at the Folklife Festival showed some of what those visitors see.

Three-hundred artists and crafts workers showed the different kinds of work performed by people in Bermuda. These included a beekeeper and his bees and boat builders with their boats. One grassy area of the Mall was covered with small Bermudan boats and flowers common in the islands. Bermudan athletes played cricket while announcers explained the sport and told stories about it. Visitors saw a small Bermudan house. They learned about weddings and preparing food. A large tent sold traditional food from Bermuda.

On the musical stage, Bermudan musicians performed native music. These included Bermudan jazz, religious songs, calypso and reggae. Here the calypso group called the Bermudan Strollers performs the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”



New York City was the other culture represented at the Folklife Festival. Festival officials decided to show the city as its own people see it. So the festival included people who demonstrated how stocks and bonds are bought and sold on Wall Street in the financial area of New York. The festival also included explanations and demonstrations of the different kinds of transportation used in New York. Visitors saw an underground rail car or subway. They also saw a taxicab and a city bus. New York City bus driver Tony Palombella told stories about his eighteen years driving a bus in New York. And he cooked some Italian food at the festival, too. He learned to cook Italian food from his mother.


Another kind of food that is culturally linked to New York City is the bagel. A bagel is a thick, round piece of bread with a hole in the middle. Old stories say the bagel was first developed in Poland and brought to New York by Polish Jews. Bagels have become extremely popular in the United States. You can buy them just about anywhere in the country today. But many Americans say the best bagels are made and sold in New York City.

Steve Ross probably would agree. He has owned a bagel shop in New York for more than sixty years. At the Folklife Festival, he demonstrated how to make bagels and another kind of bread, a bialy. A bialy is also a round piece of bread, but it is thinner than a bagel and has no hole in the middle. Instead, it has onions in the middle.


The Folklife Festival representation of New York City was really a celebration of many different cultures. Each culture represented a group of people who came to the United States from a different country and settled in New York City. These people include Greeks, Indians, Chinese, Albanians, Caribbeans, Africans, Europeans, Lebanese, Ukrainians and many others.

The Festival presented music of these different groups. Many New Yorkers still perform and enjoy this music as a way of keeping their culture alive. Here is an example -- Romanian-Gypsy music.



Artists were also represented in the New York celebration at the Folklife Festival. One group is called Tats Cru. It is a six-person graffiti organization. Graffiti is artwork painted on the subway cars in New York. Teenagers would paint the cars and the station walls with bright colors, words and pictures. Such graffiti has been illegal in New York for many years.

The three founding members of Tats Cru started painting graffiti in New York twenty years ago. Tats Cru is now a legal business. It paints pictures on buildings. The artists have worked in the United States, Canada and Europe. At the Folklife Festival, they painted a large picture on a special wall.


The musical shows presented on Broadway in New York were also represented at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. People who make clothes for performers in Broadway shows demonstrated their skills. So did a theatrical wig maker, a person who makes false hair for people acting in plays. Actors and singers showed how a Broadway musical is prepared. We leave you now with some music from that show, “Guys and Dolls”.



This program was written by Nancy Steinbach and Paul Thompson. It was produced by George Grow. I’m Sarah Long.


And I’m Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.