Ethnic Music in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan Collection, 1979-1986

Summary Information

Collection Summary

Title: Ethnic Music in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan Collection
Dates: 1979-1986

  • Northland College (Ashland, Wis.)
Unique Identifier: CSUMC0011-CG

Contents: Mills Music Library Wisconsin Music Archives: 290 folders, 2 binders, 1 two-drawer card catalog, 2 posters, 90 reel-to-reel tape recordings, 96 audiocassettes, approximately 30 color photographs; Wisconsin Historical Society History Center and Archives at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center: 1.5 c.f. of folders, approximately 15 pieces ephemera, 39 publications, approximately 373 audiocassettes, 143 commercial vinyl recordings, 444 color slides; James P. Leary: 17 folders, approximately 250 audiocassette duplicates, approximately 450 color slide duplicates

Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures
432 East Campus Mall, Room 332
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Web site:

Archival Locations:
UW-Madison Libraries, Mills Music (Map)
Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center / Ashland Area Research Ctr. (Map)

The Ethnic Music in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan project began as a reconnaissance survey of traditional music spanning the northern tier of counties in Wisconsin and the western upper peninsula of Michigan along Lake Superior's south shore. Numerous community members, folklorists, ethnomusicologists, regional research specialists, and Northland College students contributed to the survey during 1979-1981, which resulted in 200 potential contacts and recorded interviews with over 100 musicians. Field and commercial recordings, field notes, color slides, and secondary resource materials obtained during the project represent the region's mix of European ethnic musical traditions including Cornish, Bohemian, Croatian, Finnish, French-Canadian, German, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Scotch-Irish, Slovenian, Slovak, Swedish, Swiss, and Ukrainian immigrant sacred and secular music, singers, instrumentalists, dance hall veterans, and private soloists. Project outreach included public presentations, media appearances, workshops on ethnographic documentation, and collaboration with community groups and organizers of local festivals, in addition to publications that drew from the documentation. The 1986 release of the commercial recording Accordions in the Cutover completed the project.

Language: The records are mostly in English with some in Croatian, Czech, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Slovak, and Swedish.

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Collection Concordance by Format
Quantity Physical Description Location
Manuscript Materials
2 binders of releases WMA Mills Music Library
290 folders WMA Mills Music Library
1 2-drawer card catalog WMA Mills Music Library
2 publicity posters WMA Mills Music Library
approximately 1.5 c.f. folders WHS History Center and Archives, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
approximately 15 pieces of ephemera WHS History Center and Archives, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
39 publications WHS History Center and Archives, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
17 folders James P. Leary
Sound Recordings
67 7-inch reel-to-reel tapes WMA Mills Music Library
23 5-inch reel-to-reel tapes WMA Mills Music Library
96 copy audiocassettes WMA Mills Music Library
approximately 373 audiocassettes WHS History Center and Archives, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
119 78-rpm commercial recordings WHS History Center and Archives, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
22 LP commercial recordings WHS History Center and Archives, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
2 45-rpm commercial recordings WHS History Center and Archives, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
approximately 250 copy audiocassettes James P. Leary
Graphic Materials
approximately 30 4 x 6 color photographs WMA Mills Music Library
444 35 mm color slides WHS History Center and Archives, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
approximately 450 35 mm color slide duplicates James P. Leary


Marina Lachecki, then Community Specialist at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, initiated the project and directed its first year, 1979-1980. Folklorist James P. Leary, a consultant during the first year, coordinated the project during its second year, 1980-1981, and the later production of the commercial recording Accordions in the Cutover. Stuart Lang, then Professor of History and Native American Studies at Northland College, administered the first two National Endowment for the Arts grants that supported the first two years, while Leary administered a third National Endowment for the Arts grant that supported creation of Accordions in the Cutover. During the first year, Joel Glickman, a Music professor at Northland, supervised fieldworkers Lachecki, Leary, and Music major Matthew Gallmann. Gallmann in turn coordinated a team of student fieldworkers that included Sara Poynter, Robert Savignac, Matt O'Claire, Siaki Leaso, Joe Dan Rose, Terri Heinrich, and Cathy Mosher. Consultants included Frederic Lieberman, Ellen J. Stekert, Thomas Vennum Jr., Richard March, and Frank J. Gillis as well as Leary. Matthew Gallmann assisted Leary with fieldwork, and Marina Lachecki with archiving-related aspects of the documentation, during the second year. An advisory council consisting of community leaders, musicians, and regional research specialists informed the project and contributed to its success. Joseph M. Rose, then Director of Native American Studies at Northland College, led a separate, concurrent research project regarding local Ojibwa musical traditions as part of the overall documentary effort, that is not described here.

Project History

James P. Leary's 30-page “Ethnic Music in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan: A Final Project Report,” completed September 30, 1981, provides a brief summary of the first year of the project, “Documentation of Traditional Music in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan.” He writes:

In 1979 Northland College of Ashland, Wisconsin received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to document traditional music in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Aided by consulting folklorists and ethnomusicologists, Northland College staff members identified over one hundred “contacts” in the region and interviewed forty of them. Notes and indexes were written for each tape, and a sound archive at Northland was established for these materials. Numerous public presentations on traditional music also were made by the project's participants.

Leary's report gives a fuller review of the second year's project goals, activities, and results. Funded with a second grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, this follow-up project, “Documentation and Presentation of Traditional Music in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan,” increased Northland College's “holdings of background materials relevant to the region's traditional music,” by assembling over 100 relevant publications and commercial recordings on traditional music, from standard introductory works to popular songbooks, classic ethnic American studies, unpublished writings of local scholars, a host of older to contemporary commercial and private musical recordings, and newspaper clippings.

Assisted by Northland Music student Matthew Gallmann, Leary also expanded the list of potential contacts with 90 new singers and musicians identified from 13 different ethnic backgrounds. From the new list of nearly 200 contacts, they produced over 100 hours of recorded music and interviews from 62 musicians and groups. Leary first concentrated on Ashland and outlying rural areas where Bohemians, Poles, Swedes, Norwegians, Slovaks, Finns, Russians, Hungarians, Germans, and Swiss had settled. A second focus was on Finnish-American musicians throughout the broader northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan region, following up on Gallmann's prior work with this most populous and musically vital group. Often visiting each musician more than once, they sought life histories, obtained information about the transmission, performance, aesthetics, context, and function of the music, and prepared detailed notes and indexes from the interviews. A third documentary component took place at the North Country Folk Festival in July 1981. Festival staff made recordings, notes, and indexes of performances by musicians from the Ironwood, Michigan/Hurley, Wisconsin area, while Leary prepared their preliminary biographies.

Another project accomplishment resulted in the cataloguing and indexing of all project materials, together with project materials from a contemporaneous Ethnic Heritage project, as a distinct archival collection called the “Ethnic Heritage Sound Archive and Resource Center,” housed in the Wisconsin Historical Society's Area Research Center at Northland's Dexter Library. A gift from Florence Bohlman, from the estate of her parents, Vere P. and Rosa M. McDowell, supported Marina Lachecki as part-time archivist in 1981-82 to duplicate and index the collection's recordings and further the archive's mission to make the collection available to the area's residents, recorded musicians, and researchers.

Throughout the course of the project's second year, Leary and other staff encouraged public performance and local documentation of traditional music in the area through feature articles in regional publications, radio and TV appearances, slide lectures, and community workshops. Staff assisted several community organizations with festival programs, posters, and performer honoraria. Leary published a series of ethnic music and documentation articles in the regional journal North Country Folk, and a 24-page booklet, A Beginning Fieldworker's Guide to European Ethnic Music in Northern Wisconsin. Leary's final report for the project lists project personnel, people interviewed, research collection publications and commercial recordings assembled, newspaper articles that document the project, and the project's public activities.

Finally, a third National Endowment for the Arts grant supported release of selected project recordings on a double LP, Accordions in the Cutover: Field Recordings of Ethnic Music from Lake Superior's South Shore, published in 1986 by the Wisconsin Folklife Center in partnership with Northland College. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Folklore Program obtained the rights to this recording and remaining stock in 1996.

Scope and Content Note

The Mills Music Library Wisconsin Music Archives holds original recordings, photographs, field notes, and musician release forms for fieldwork conducted between 1979 and 1981. Each field session was assigned a number, and a card catalog accompanying the collection correlates those numbers alphabetically by subject (ethnicity/region/instrument) and by fieldworkers or performers. The 1979 recordings are mostly on 7-inch reel-to-reel tapes (some 5-inch) while the 1981 recordings are divided among 7-inch reels and audiocassette tapes. Roughly ten reels are missing, and there are some recordings in more than one format.

The field notes folders contain photographs, mimeographed articles, record jackets, and in some cases audiotape logs. Each folder is labeled by region, ethnicity, fieldworkers, and date. Two oversize posters announcing a Washburn Homecoming concert with Finnish-American musicians on Friday, July 24, 1981 are in the collection, as well as two three-ring notebooks that house original release forms.

At the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, project documentation and related reference materials are interspersed with slides, oral histories, and other documents related to the “Ethnic Heritage Along the South Shore of Lake Superior, Ethnic Heritage Studies Program,” supervised by folklorist Greta E. Swenson and funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant in 1980-81. Other materials include student papers from a 1987 alternative lifestyles class taught by collection donor Marina Lachecki and Grant Herman. A rough inventory of the collection is available from the Wisconsin Historical Society History Center and Archives at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.

James P. Leary's private research collection includes approximately 250 cassette sound recording duplicates mostly of field recordings, approximately 450 color slides, and over a dozen files that contain contact lists, field notes, partial transcriptions, and indexes organized by ethnic group (Bohemians/Slovaks, Croatians, Finns according to location, Hungarians, Poles, Russians, Scandinavians [Norwegians, Swedes], Swiss, and Miscellaneous), correspondence with musicians, a summary of newspaper articles on ethnic music from Ashland's The Daily Press, a bibliodiscography of books and recordings obtained for the project, drafts of publications, quarterly project reports, and production materials related to Accordions in the Cutover.

Related Materials

Leary, James P. “Old Time Music in Northern Wisconsin.” American Music 2 (1984): 71-87.

------. “Ethnic Music Along Superior's South Shore.” John Edward Memorial Foundation Quarterly 72 (1984): 219-230.

Govenar, Alan. Masters of the Traditional Arts: A Biographical Dictionary. Dallas: Documentary Arts, Inc. 2002. [Art Moilanen]

Siporin, Steve. American Folk Masters: The National Heritage Fellows. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1992. [Art Moilanen]

Swenson, Greta E. “Ethnic Life in the South Shore Region” slide exhibit on the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures website,

------. “Ethnic Heritage Along the South Shore of Lake Superior Project,” 1980-81, Northern Wisconsin Heritage Connection collections at Wisconsin Historical Society History Center and Archives at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.


Productions resulting from the described fieldwork were:

Accordions in the Cutover: Field Recordings of Ethnic Music from Lake Superior's South Shore. Ashland, Wisconsin: Northland College. 1986. [Double LP and booklet.]

Leary, James P. “Folklore and Ethnic Culture of the North Country.” North Country Folk 1:1 (1980): 4-7.

------. “Ethnic Music of the North Country: The Ashland Area.” North Country Folk 1:2 (1981): 4-8, 19.

------. “The Peasant Songs of Jerry Novak.” North Country Folk 1:3 (1981): 4-7, 30.

------. “The Musical Traditions of Moquah's Slovaks.” North Country Folk 1:2 (1981): 4-8.

------. A Beginning Fieldworker's Guide to European Ethnic Music in Northern Wisconsin. Ironwood, Mich.: North Country Press. 1981. 24 pp.

Key Subjects

  • Aura Fiddlers Jamboree (Aura, Mich.)

Groups (Ethnic, National, Cultural, Religious, etc.)

  • Bohemian Americans
  • Cornish Americans
  • Croatian Americans
  • Czech Americans
  • Finnish Americans
  • French-Canadian Americans
  • German Americans
  • Hungarian Americans
  • Italian Americans
  • Norwegian Americans
  • Polish Americans
  • Runeberg Society
  • Russian Americans
  • Scandinavian Americans
  • Scotch-Irish Americans
  • Slovak Americans
  • Slovenian Americans
  • Swedish Americans
  • Swiss Americans
  • Ukrainian Americans
  • Yugoslavian Americans


  • Accordion
  • Autoharp
  • Button-key accordion
  • Concertina
  • Danguba
  • Drums (Musical instrument)
  • Fiddle
  • Guitar
  • Harmonica
  • Mandolin
  • Piano
  • Saxophone
  • Tenor banjo
  • Twelve-string guitar
  • Violin


  • Croatian language
  • Czech language
  • Finnish language
  • Norwegian language
  • Polish language
  • Russian language
  • Slovakian language
  • Swedish language


  • Ashland (Wis.)
  • Ashland County (Wis.)
  • Aura (Mich.)
  • Baraga (Mich.)
  • Baraga County (Mich.)
  • Bayfield (Wis.)
  • Bayfield County (Wis.)
  • Benoit (Wis.)
  • Bessemer (Mich.)
  • Boston Location (Mich.)
  • Calumet (Mich.)
  • Copper Harbor (Mich.)
  • Cornucopia (Wis.)
  • Covington (Mich.)
  • Douglas County (Wis.)
  • Gogebic County (Mich.)
  • Hancock (Mich.)
  • Herbster (Wis.)
  • High Bridge (Wis.)
  • Houghton (Mich.)
  • Houghton County (Mich.)
  • Hurley (Wis.)
  • Iron County (Wis.)
  • Iron River (Wis.)
  • Ironwood (Mich.)
  • Keweenaw (Mich.)
  • Keweenaw County (Mich.)
  • Kimball (Wis.)
  • Maple (Wis.)
  • Marengo (Wis.)
  • Marquette (Mich.)
  • Mason (Wis.)
  • Mass City (Mich.)
  • Michigan
  • Middle West
  • Moquah (Wis.)
  • North York (Wis.)
  • Ontonagon (Mich.)
  • Oulu (Wis.)
  • Poplar (Wis.)
  • Sanborn (Wis.)
  • Toivola (Mich.)
  • Trimountain (Mich.)
  • Washburn (Wis.)
  • Wentworth (Wis.)
  • Wisconsin


  • Aho, Ernest
  • Aho, Terese
  • Barnak, Bernice
  • Bloomquist, Verna
  • Brevak, Vivian Eckholm
  • Chopp, Julius
  • Cuty, Marian
  • Cuty, Louis
  • Dybedal, George
  • Gust, Frank
  • Hendrickson, William
  • Hobena, Frank
  • Hokensen, Eskel
  • Isberg, Clarence
  • Illala, Ed
  • Illala, Joyce
  • Johanik, Tom
  • Karye, Charles
  • Kemppa, Rudy
  • Kezele, John
  • Koskela, Miriam
  • Koskela, William
  • Kumpula, Richard
  • Laamanen, Howard
  • Laamanen, Lempi
  • Laamanen, Waino
  • Lombardo, John
  • Luokkanen, Henry
  • Luoma, Lempi
  • Maki, Einard
  • Maki, Hugo
  • Maki, Reino “Ray”
  • Marincel, Tom
  • Mathiowetz, Bob
  • Mattson, Charles
  • Milanowski, Felix
  • Milanowski, Lucille
  • Moilanen, Art
  • Nousianen, George
  • Novak, Jerry
  • Okkanen, Eino
  • Pagac, Frank
  • Pearson, Edwin
  • Pelto, Eddy
  • Pelto, Matti
  • Polso, Anselm
  • Polso, Hilda
  • Prestil, Mary
  • Radosevich, Matt
  • Radosevich, Skip
  • Saari, Matt
  • Sandstrom, Naima
  • Sandstrom, Verner
  • Schultz, Vera Dvorak
  • Shawbitz, John
  • Siedlecki, Alex
  • Stangle, Stanley
  • Stelmach, Mary
  • Suminski, Peter
  • Sveda, Clara
  • Swanson, Fritz
  • Swanson, Rose
  • Synkula, Bruno
  • Tikkanen, Oren
  • Toyras, Helmer
  • Vachon, Jingo Viitala
  • Valenti, Sam
  • Westlund, John
  • Wintturi, Helmer Olavi
  • Wroblewski, Frances


  • Bethany Baptist String Band (Mason, Wis.)
  • Finnish Festival Chorus (Kimball, Wis.)
  • Gogebic Range Tamburitzans
  • Moquah Slovak Dancers
  • Northern Stars Dance Band
  • Paisano Club (Bessemer, Mich.)
  • Polish Conversation Class (Ashland, Wis.)
  • Russian Orthodox Choir (Cornucopia, Wis.)
  • Tom Johanik & the Polkateers (Moquah, Wis.)


  • Brass bands
  • Children's songs
  • Choral songs
  • Dance music
  • Folk music
  • Hymns
  • Patriotic songs
  • Polka
  • Schottisches
  • Waltzes

The documentation was first housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society's Area Research Center at Northland College's Dexter Library, just as a portion of it is now at the WHS History Center and Archives at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center west of Ashland, Wisconsin. At the advice of Archivist Frank Gillis of Indiana University's Archives of Traditional Music, it has remained a separate collection. While once integrated as the McDowell Ethnic Heritage Sound Archive and Resource Center at Northland College, curated by Marina Lachecki, the collection presently is in two places. Lachecki transferred files, slides, copy cassettes, and other related materials to the Northern Wisconsin Heritage Connection in 1996, which made a deposit agreement with the History Center and Archives at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center to provide access to the collection. The Northern Wisconsin Heritage Connection disbanded as an organization in 2009. Original reel tapes, copy cassettes, and other project folders have moved to Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Contact records custodians for access information.

Wisconsin Music Archives at Mills Music Library
University of Wisconsin-Madison
B162 Memorial Library
728 State St.
Madison, Wisconsin 53706-1494
Phone: (608) 263-1884
Web site:
History Center and Archives
Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
29270 County Highway G
Ashland, Wisconsin 54806-9339
Phone: (715) 685-2647
Web site:
Prof. James P. Leary
209 S 4th St.
Mount Horeb, Wisconsin 53572
Phone: (608) 437-4816

Consult repositories for information on use restrictions. For items held by James P. Leary, access to the materials for nonprofit personal, educational, and research purposes may be arranged. Duplication of materials for public presentation, publication, and production requires negotiation with Leary and the people documented.

Preferred Citation

Please consult repositories for guidelines. We suggest the following citation form when using direct quotes from a person documented: [Name of person documented]. [Date]. [Tape/video/other]-recorded interview by [Fieldworker name]. [Place interviewed]. [Name of collection/project]. [Repository, city, state]. When using a specific image: [Identify subject matter/people in caption]. Photo/image by [Photographer/fieldworker name]. [Date]. Courtesy of [repository]. To quote fieldworker, follow bibliographical style.

Collection Inventory and Description
Series: I: Mills Music Library Wisconsin Music Archives
Manuscript Materials
Metal gray two-drawer card catalog
Box   1
290 artist file folders
Box   1
2 binders of release forms
Box   3
2 publicity posters
Sound Recordings
Box   2
96 audiocassettes
Box   2
53 seven-inch reel-to-reel tapes
Box   3
23 five-inch reel-to-reel tapes
Box   3
14 seven-inch reel-to-reel tapes
Graphic Materials
Box   1
One envelope, approximately 30 4x6 color photographs of the Gogebic Range Tamburitzans
Series: II: Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, History Center and Archives
Manuscript Materials
approximately 1.5 c.f. of folders
approximately 15 pieces of ephemera
39 publications
Sound Recordings
approximately 373 audiocassettes
119 78-rpm recordings
22 LP recordings
2 45-rpm recordings
Graphic Materials
444 35 mm color slides
Series: III: James P. Leary
Manuscript Materials
approximately 17 folders
Sound Recordings
approximately 250 audiocassettes
Graphic Materials
approximately 450 35 mm color slides