Reuss, Richard A.

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Reuss, Richard A.

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Reuss, Richard A.


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active 1888



active 1986


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Biographical History

Indiana University alumnus and professor of folklore; distinguished scholar of folksong revival.

From the description of Richard A. Reuss papers, 1888-1986 (bulk 1927-1973). (Indiana University). WorldCat record id: 55702888

Richard A. Reuss was well-respected as a pioneering scholar of the folksong revival. His collection contains the documentary materials on which he and several other scholars drew heavily for their publications on Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and the folksong revival. Scholars of and participants in the folksong revival appreciated Reuss for his detailed knowledge, his intellectual honesty and his gracious and helpful responses to their requests for facts, analysis, citations and reviews.

His rich and varied correspondence and interviews with so many scholars and performers of the period provide a vantage point for peering into the political and intellectual currents and disputes that surrounded folklore and folksong scholarship from the 1960s until his death in 1986.

Richard A. Reuss was born May 24, 1940 in New York City. He received a B.A. in history from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1962, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in folklore from Indiana University in 1965 and 1971 respectively. Reuss died in Ann Arbor, Michigan on August 17, 1986 at the age of 46 due to complications from respiratory disease.

In 1976 Reuss spent the summer and fall as visiting Assistant Professor of Folklore at Indiana University in what turned out to be his final university teaching position. Prior to IU, the bulk of Reuss' teaching career was spent in Michigan, first at Wayne State University in Detroit where he taught folklore in the Anthropology Department from 1968 to 1974, and later at the University of Michigan, part time, in 1974. Before this, Reuss taught at the University of California in Los Angeles in the fall of 1967.

Following several unsuccessful attempts to publish his 1971 dissertation, “American Folklore and Leftwing Politics: 1927 1957,” Reuss dropped "efforts to see his dissertation into print, a decision which may have cost him his academic folklore appointment and eventually led him out of the field of folklore into counseling” (David D. Dunaway in Songs About Work, 1993, p. 7). Starting in 1977, Reuss worked in the financial aid department at the University of Michigan. In 1981 Reuss completed a Masters of Social Work at Michigan. He spent the remainder of his professional life working at a Detroit community mental health clinic.

Reuss's research interests fell largely into three, sometimes overlapping, areas: the American left's use of folk music (especially between 1927 and 1957), Woody Guthrie, and the "popular folksong revival." In pursuing these interests Reuss gathered a large collection of ephemeral publications relating to the folksong revival, clippings from the Daily Worker, New Masses, and other left leaning press publications. He interviewed and corresponded with folksong composers, folklore scholars, acquaintances and relatives of Woody Guthrie, and other folk song performers and personalities.

Other activities Reuss pursued at various periods in his life include work as Editorial Assistant for the Journal of the Folklore Institute (Indiana University), 1964 and 1966, and work as a volunteer reorganizing the People's Songs Library at Sing Out! magazine in the summer of 1965. Reuss received a research grant from the Guthrie Children's Trust Fund in 1966 1967, and was President of the Michigan chapter of the Committee to Combat Huntington's Disease from 1971 to 1973. Reuss also served as chairman of the American Folklore Society History Committee from 1968 to 1974 and is well-regarded for his contributions to the historiography of the field of folklore.

In 2000, Reuss‘s dissertation, based on many of the collection’s materials, was published posthumously by Scarecrow Press as American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 1927-1957. He never completed his planned biography of Woody Guthrie, although his published works include A Woody Guthrie Bibliography: 1912-1967 (New York: Guthrie Children's Trust Fund), 1968, and “Songs of American Labor, Industrialization and the Urban Work Experience: a Discography.” Reuss also published a number of articles and reviews including the 1970 "Woody Guthrie and His Folk Tradition" in Journal of American Folklore 83.

From the guide to the Richard A. Reuss papers, 1888-1993, bulk 1927-1973, (Indiana University Office of University Archives and Records Management



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Folk singers

Cold War--History--Sources

Folk music

Civil rights demonstrations--History--20th century--Sources

Folk songs--Research





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