The Wisconsin Folk Music Project was a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin and the Library of Congress to record music from the state’s diverse population. In the summers of 1940 and 1941 Helene Startman-Thomas and Robert “Bob” Draves traveled throughout Wisconsin recording folk music. Stratman-Thomas was a faculty member of the University of Wisconsin School of Music. Draves was a graduate student and her recording technician. In the summer of 1946, Startman-Thomas was assisted by student-technician Aubrey Snyder. In their travels they recorded over 700 performances by singers and musicians representing more than 30 ethnic and regional groups. On August 24, 1946, Lillie Greene Richmond performed in Lancaster, Wisconsin for the Folk Music Project. She was the only African American included in the project.
Lillie Greene was born into slavery in Missouri on July 4, 1862. She was not enslaved for long. Her grandparents, John and Lillie Smith Greene, led their extended family out of slave holding Missouri when Lillie was only a year old. With the help of the Underground Railroad, the family traveled first to St. Louis and then took a train to Dubuque, Iowa. From Dubuque, the Greene family traveled overland to Pleasant Ridge. The Pleasant Ridge community was established between Beetown and Lancaster in 1848 when free blacks started farms there.
In 1880, Lillie married Romulus Rufus Richmond. They moved to Chariton, Iowa in 1887 and raised ten children together. Lillie Greene Richmond returned to Wisconsin in the 1940s.
To hear the songs Lillie sang for Helene Stratman-Thomas and Aubrey Snyder click here.
If you want to learn more about the Wisconsin Folk Music Project visit:
Mills Music Library Wisconsin Folk Music Project