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Judith McCulloh (16 August, 1935, Spring Valley, IL; 13 July 2014, Urbana, IL)

We mourn the loss and celebrate the life and spirit of Judy McCulloh, who helped bring into the world some of the first and most important books of generations of scholars and who midwifed American music research publishing as we know it. Among many other career highlights, she founded the Music in American Life book series with the University of Illinois Press, was instrumental in the founding and served as board chair for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and was elected president (1986-87) of the American Folklore Society.

Armed with a diploma from Cottey College (Nevada, MO) and a bachelor's degree in English from Ohio Wesleyan, she earned a master's degree in English from Ohio State University, won a Fulbright Fellowship to study Indo-European philology at the Free University of Brussels (1958-59), and earned a PhD in Folklore from Indiana University (1970) with a dissertation titled "In the Pines": The Melodic-Textual Identity of an American Lyric Folksong. She developed a lifelong, abiding love and encyclopedic knowledge of the fiddle tunes and folksongs of the rural Midwest.

When her husband Leon took a faculty position in Mathematics at the University of Illinois, UrbanaDChampaign, Judy participated in the University of Illinois Campus Folksong Club, producing two LP recordings: Green Fields of Illinois (1963), field recordings of central and southern Illinois; and cowboy balladeer Glenn Ohrlin's Hell-Bound Train (1964), annotated with Archie Green of the English Department. Judy began as an assistant editor of publications on English literature and music for the University of Illinois Press in 1972, and that year launched the first book series devoted to the study of music in the United States, which she called Music in American Life, with Green's masterpiece, Only a Miner: Studies in Recorded Coal-Mining Songs. That same year, she was approached by Jean Geil, Doris Dyen and Deane Root with a proposal for a new journal in American music; she and director Richard Wentworth determined that the Press would love to publish it, but that it would need a scholarly society to serve as a subscriber base to cover the production costs. After the Sonneck Society was founded three years later, its negotiations with McCulloh and Wentworth launched the journal American Music (1983), edited by Alan Britton.

Music in American Life began issuing path-breaking studies shaped by the fields of folklore, English literature, and labor history, before American music had become a subject in the academic curriculum, and it had a profound effect on shaping the emergent field. Judy sought out authors and nurtured topics that fit her vision for the series: Great Day Coming: Folk Music and the American Left by R. Serge Denisoff; American Labor Songs of the Nineteenth Century by Phil S. Foner; Stars of Country Music by Bill C. Malone, a volume for which she was credited as co-editor; Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War by Dena Epstein; and a host of others spanning the musical lives of musicians, occupations, industries, ethnic groups, and regions. The series even included more technical and bibliographical volumes such as Richard Wolfe's Early American Music Engraving and Printing and D.W. Krummel's Resources of American Music History. Judy was a constant presence at the UI Press exhibit table during annual meetings of the Sonneck Society, Society for Ethnomusicology, American Musicological Society, Music Library Association, AFS, and other confluences of scholars and ideas that would feed into the series. And consequently, she became an invaluable sounding board for new scholarly ideas and approaches, a publishing mentor to scholars young and old alike even for research not destined for her signature series. When she retired from the Press in 2007, she continued to maintain a heavy schedule of scholarly conferences.

When she wasn't serving on the board of trustees of the American Folklife Center (1986-2004) or providing other services to scholar's organizations, she devoted attention to her marvelous garden at home. For the Society for American Music she was first vice President (1989-93) and delegate to the AMS Committee on the Publication of American Music (1989-93; 1994-2008), and served on the ByLaws Committee (1991-94), Nominating Committee (1993-95; 1999-2001), and Honors & Awards Committee (2001-03; 2008-09), which she also chaired (2009-11). Over the years she was recognized by many of the societies whose members she mentored, receiving the Society for American Music Distinguished Service citation (2001), International Bluegrass Music Association Distinguished Achievement Award (2002), International Country Music Conference Lifetime Achievement Award (2003), Society for Ethnomusicology Honorary Member (2005), National Heritage Fellow (2010), and Association for Recorded Sound Collections Distinguished Service Award (2011).

"Our Judy McCulloh"

To be sung the tune of "The Wabash Cannonball"
Words by Laurie Matheson

   From the shores of Chillicothe
   To the Indiana line
   She is searching for the folklife
   In the hills and in the pines
   For the ballads and the stories
   That everyone should know
   She's a woman with a mission
   Our Judy McCull-oh


   So let us raise our glasses
   To Judy once again
   An editor extraordinaire
   A colleague and a friend
   Our Judy is a wonder
   She's known quite well by all
   She is the one and only
   Our Judy McCull-oh

   The golden age of gospel
   Unfolds at her command
   The theremin and banjo
   Are putty in her hands
   From minstrelsy to miners
   From cowboys to Hank Snow
   She's searching for the lost sounds
   Our Judy McCull-oh


   Now Judy goes to Memphis,
   Milwaukee, and Mattoon
   She is an institution
   At Bean Blossom in June
   She's traveling the highway
   With Ralph and Bill Monroe
   She is the queen of bluegrass
   Our Judy McCull-oh


   So here's to Jimmie Rodgers
   And here's to Milton Brown
   They never would have found their
   With Judy not around
   The heartbeat of the people
   Is Judy's battle call
   Come join the celebration
   For Judy McCull-oh


Judy McCulloh was a woman of incisive intellect, gentle wisdom, plain speech, and deep humanity. She spoke quietly but always with a sense of authority. She listened carefully to each person's ideas and took them seriously, whether that person was a first-year graduate student or a scholar with many years in the field. She held both others and herself to high scholarly and ethical standards, yet she was never stuffy or high-handed. She was a patient teacher, whose academic institution was the University of Illinois Press, and whose movable "classroom" was the book exhibit hall at innumerable academic conferences. She generously mentored scholars young and old with practical advice on successful publishing and on-the-job training in editing. A memorial service was held on the University of Illinois campus August 16th. She is greatly missed!

Deane L. Root and Doris J. Dyen
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Author:Root, Deane L.; Dyen, Doris J.
Publication:Society for American Music Bulletin
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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