Vagabonding at The Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown

Tonight I am attending “Songs to Remember” or Vagabonding—Reminiscences, Songs, Stories and Poems of Marjorie Lansing Porter.  The evening evolves into a tender history lesson, an enchanting musical journey, and a moving and nostalgic tribute to one of the founders of this museum in Elizabethtown who also happened to be the foremost collector of North Country Folklore and folk songs.

Adirondack History Center Director Margaret Gibbs introduces the program and the many relations of Marjorie Lansing Porter who are in attendance.  The first entertainer is Marjorie’s close friend, Lee Knight. Lee explains how Marjorie could be a “little feisty, a little prickly, but there’s positive prickly.” He reads from a letter Marjorie sent to him explaining “vagabonding.”  In fact, earlier today Lee was vagabonding in the mountains, visiting favorite spots, enjoying nature, as Mrs. Porter described several decades ago. He then sings to his own drumbeat, a Native American piece by Ray Fadden, the “Seneca Canoe Song.”

We then hear from Adirondack author/publisher, Morris Glenn, who quotes Mrs. Porter, “It Takes Books to Make Books.” Though he could talk of her other accomplishments, Mr. Glenn tells us he will try to confine himself to Mrs. Porter’s life as a writer and journalist. Her local history articles started appearing in papers in 1941. She was professional, prolific, and knew how to publish.

Next we hear from local folk musician, Speedy Arnold, who knew Marjorie Lansing Porter as “Aunt Margie.” She was a great family friend and encouraged Speedy in his love of music. He pays tribute to her tonight with his original and brand new piece, “She Was Aunt Margie to Me.” He also tells us of the famous people his “Aunt” Margie knew—from Burl Ives and Pete Seeger to artist Rockwell Kent.

We hear from local news reporter, Jack LaDuke, about how Mrs. Porter introduced him as an adolescent to a music that he knew nothing about and how he learned what it meant to make a record of this musical heritage.

There are more tributes from relatives reading Mrs. Porter’s poems, singing her songs, and relaying touching memories.

Some of the background information I have gleaned about this remarkable woman comes from the TAUNY (Traditional Arts in Upstate New York ) website which explains that The Marjorie L. Porter Collection of North Country Folklore, as it eventually came to be known for archival purposes, provided the Adirondack region source material for LP albums by Pete Seeger (1960) and Milt Okun (1963). The Porter Collection consists of 33 reel-to-reel tapes that include folk ballads, lyrical folksongs, early “hillbilly”/country derivative pieces, French-Canadian songs, and fiddle tunes. Copies of the recordings are at Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress; the originals, along with Porter's manuscript collection are at the SUNY College at Plattsburgh Special Collections.  

Together with PBS  and the Feinberg Library of SUNY Plattsburgh, TAUNY is helping produce a Marjorie Lansing Porter project that includes a songbook with music, lyrics, historical information and a documentary featuring Pete Seeger, Peter Yarrow the Bacon Brothers and Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary. That documentary is scheduled  to premiere this fall on PBS.

For more information on this program and other exhibitions at the museum call 518-873-6466 or click on the museum website link.

For more information in cultural events in the Lake Champlain Region, click here.

Kathleen Recchia has been enjoying the arts in the Adirondack for about 20 years—both as observer and participant (acting, directing, and producing). She also enjoys cross-country skiing, swimming, juggling, and hosting visitors to the area at her bed & breakfast in

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