What would a mixtape of Highland Park in 1905 sound like? Via wax cylinder recordings and phonographs, they would consist largely of Spanish and Native American folk songs from the Charles Lummis collection, recorded at the area's most prominent music space - the Stones Throw studio of its day - El Alisal. The collection includes melodies on rancho life, nursery songs from mission schools and more providing context on culture, attitudes, and values of the Californios.
Lummis was far ahead of his time regarding what was considered archaeology, advocating for the preservation of some of the "earliest American classics" and convincing the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) to fund his project. Upon founding the Southwest Society (the western branch of AIA) in 1904, Lummis undertook the recording of Californio songs with an Edison recorder, horn, and cylinders.
Lummis worked with many artists to archive the folk songs - mostly local musicians who made repeat visits to El Alisal to record the songs. These included Manuela Garcia, a prolific singer at the turn century, Rosendo Uruchurtu, a blind guitarist who often accompanied the singers, Rosa and Luisa Villa, local butcher's daughters who also performed at the annual fiestas held at the Casa de Abobe in the late 1930s, and Francsico Amate, a Spaniard who lived in Lummis' home El Alisal. His wax collection featured over 900 songs - imagine packaging that as an album.
To learn more about "Spanish Songs of Old California" visit this page on Autry's website, written by Kim Walters, director of the Braun Research Library. You can read a detailed account of the collection and its preservation that reckons Lummis' own passion for archiving history. Be sure to listen to the historical recordings available on the right column of the page.
Walters kindly shared with us her vast knowledge of the subject for our Highland Park installment of Departures. In the video below, shot at the Southwest Museum, (Los Angeles' first museum founded by Lummis) she describes Lummis' recording process and shares some musical artifacts from the Museum's archives.
Highland Park has come a long way from rancho life. Songs inspired by the area has changed over time. The neighborhood now reflects a legacy of civic engagement from the community, a rich cultural history heavily influenced by traditions of Latinos, and a thriving urban renewal that welcomes artists who are in tune with nature and the power of handcrafts. The eclecticism of this community inspired Artichoke's 2008 concept album "Historic Highland Park," as well as our recent Highland Park Mixtape contest, which aims to preserve our current musical and cultural ideas that define Highland Park.
Join in the archival process by submitting your song, and be part of the legacy of Highland Park's musical history!