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Hugh Tracey

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South African ethnomusicologist Hush Tracey was born to British parents in 1903. As a young man, while farming in what is today Zimbabwe, Tracey fell in love with the songs sung by his African co-workers. In 1929, astonished that nobody was documenting these and other indigenous African musics, Tracey set about making high quality recordings and keeping meticulous notes about the music. A couple of years later, with the support of a Carnegie Scholarship, Tracey branched out into radio broadcasting and wholeheartedly devoted himself to recording the traditional musics of sub-Saharan Africa. In 1954, he founded the International Library of African Music and set about acquiring collections of African instruments and recordings -- many of which he gathered while doing fieldwork. Despite his dedication to preserving the music of sub-Saharan Africa, some ethnomusicologists have criticized Tracey for conducting supposedly "traditional" performances, shortening the length of songs to fit onto his tape and manipulating the position of his microphone in order to record what instruments he thought were most appealing. Whatever the case, Hugh Tracey made recordings of exceptional quality, edited over 200 commercial releases, and preserved the musical legacies of many African cultures that have since disappeared. A recent re-release of his work, Historical Recordings by Hugh Tracey, makes a stunning series of his recordings available on CD. ~ John Vallier

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Years Active:

'40s, '50s, '60s, '70s