Robert Bethke

Under direction of Kenneth S. Goldstein at the University of Pennsylania, initially for a Ph.D in Folklore and Folklife and largely inspired by the examples of Edith Fowke field collecting in Ontario and Edward D. (Sandy) Ives in Maine/Canadian Maritime provinces, Robert D. Bethke (1945-  ) from 1970-1980 focused on the Adirondack foothills portions of St. Lawrence County. Compared to the eastern Adirondacks and Champlain Valley, where recognition of Warner, Cleveland, Older, and other traditional performers had become established, along with the names of associated collectors, the northwestern Adirondack region of Adirondack traditional music remained little mentioned in publications and largely undocumented.

Bethke aimed to help correct this imbalance, with special attention to identifying and situating living traditional performers within their heritage. Major collecting for the dissertation (1973)--about 60 hours reel-to-reel and audiocassette tape recorded, and many photographs--included fiddlers and singers, in both cases enhanced by further inquiries that resulted in publications:  an LP featuring Ted Ashlaw, Adirondack Woods Singer (1976), and a book exploring both folksong and oral storytelling traditions titled Adirondack Voices:Woodsmen and Woods Lore (1981; rpt., 1994). The Robert D. Bethke Folklore Collection at TAUNY includes source materials.

Bob Bethke’s attention to the Adirondacks also marked the beginning of a 30-year professional career as faculty member of the Department of English at the University of Delaware. Approaching completion of the Adirondack book, he turned increasingly to Delaware heritage, and beyond, in research projects and field collecting. Lectures, conference presentations, book reviews, and so on from the 1980s into the present nonetheless give evidence of sustained Adirondack tradition interest and commitment to its recognition.