African-American work chants are brought to life in “Gandy Dancers,” screening in Lowell, February 27


Calling Track & Military Cadence Calls:
How an African-American Tradition Influenced Military Basic Training

featuring a screening of the film GANDY DANCERS
Sunday, February 27 @ 2 PM
Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center
246 Market Street, Lowell
Free admission!

Download and print the event flyer

We are truly honored to know State of Massachusetts folklorist Maggie Holtzberg, who has recently been assigned to work at Lowell National Historical Park to bring more traditional arts programming to the Mill City. Coming Sunday, February 27, Maggie will be hosting a fabulous program at the National Park Visitor Center that includes a special screening of her documentary film Gandy Dancers. By definition, Gandy Dancer is the slang term referring to the African-American laborers who would lay and straighten railroad track back in the day before machines began doing the job. As with laborers in the field, these men used work chants to pass the day, maintain morale, and even tighten the quality of their work by adding rhythm to their mechanized labor. In addition to the screening of Gandy Dancers, this great presentation will examine the role of these historic work chants, once an oral tradition, and how they were eventually introduced into modern military basic training as the cadence calls or “drill” calls we have all come to recognize. Following the film, Maggie will lead a discussion that includes historic sound recordings and a demonstration by a military drill sergeant who will vocally bring the modern-day cadence call to life.

We hope you’ll join us next Sunday for this remarkable FREE presentation by our dear friend Maggie and our friends and supporters at the National Park. To learn more about Maggie’s experiences and her amazing work, visit her blog Keepers of Tradition, showcasing the traditional arts and folk heritage. Below is her official bio:

Maggie Holtzberg is Manager of the Folk Arts & Heritage Program at the Massachusetts Cultural Council (1999 to the present). As a folklorist, she works closely with traditional artists and communities through documentary fieldwork, grant programs, presenting, and technical assistance. She is curator of Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts (2008), The Lost World of the Craft Printer (1992), Portrait of Spirit: One Story at a Time (1996), producer of the sound recording Georgia Folk: A Sampler of Traditional Sound (1990), and co-director/producer of the documentary film Gandy Dancers (1994). Holtzberg holds a Ph.D. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania and served as Folklife Program Director of the Georgia Council for the Arts prior to coming to Massachusetts. Holtzberg is currently on loan to Lowell National Historical Park to support the development and expansion of traditional arts programs. Building on the energy of the Lowell Folk Festival, Maggie is developing plans to help the Park offer similar programs and experiences throughout the year. There is also the possibility of re-establishing a folklife center at the Park.


Published by Lowell Film Collaborative

The Lowell Film Collaborative is a grassroots initiative in Lowell, MA, whose mission is to bring more cinematic awareness to the community.

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