I was driving home from work the other day and was feeling a bit worn out by the CD that’s been sitting in my car’s CD player for the last two months, so I did the unthinkable: I turned on Top 40 radio to keep myself company. “Cups,” by actress Anna Kendrick, has been floating around the airwaves now – despite her version having originated in the movie Pitch Perfect, which was released in 2012. It was a catchy song and, besides that, I was confused by the fact that an actress had a Top 40 hit, so a little bit later I looked the song up and happened to run into this article over on the NY Magazine entertainment blog, Vulture. (And, later, this story on NPR’s All Things Considered.)
It wasn’t until later, when I was talking about it in the office, that Corinne pointed out the direct link between the origin story of this Top 40 pop song and our mission as a non-profit to keep roots music alive and relevant. It’s not a new idea that there exists a popular canon in American music and that sometimes these songs leak into what’s hip and top-grossing – but sometimes you find it in the least expected of places, like a song sung by an actress from a movie released a year and a half ago based on a youtube video inspired by a hand game added to an old appalachian tune inspired by a song about death. (Whew.)
Whether it’s as innocuous as preserving our artists’ music so that maybe one day it will go on to inspire continued reinterpretation (a staple of oral tradition, a kind of telephone game of song) or as straight-forward as pairing developing next generation artists with mentors steeped in the tradition, the bottom line is that the music remains important and alive. And sometimes it’s still just catchy as all get out.
Sometimes the link between traditional tunes and top hits isn’t much of a surprise and sometimes it’s buried beneath such a saga of origination that it’s almost impossible to see. Are there any other top 40 hits with old-time, folk, or blues roots that are hidden by the glitz and glamour of the Billboard charts? Share them with me in the comments – I’d love to know!