Sandy, you're right. Should have played something more accessible for those students. But there is something to be said for the shock value of it all. They had to realize that there was something unfamiliar than what they thought they knew. The idea that folk music could mean something else to them besides the Kingston Trio or Joni Mitchell at least opened a door whether they liked the music or not. And Almeda Riddle was memorable to them whether positive or negative in their reactions. Some of them may think it over later and decide there was something there. My point was to underscore just how important it is that the "Almeda Riddles" become recognized by the general public. Why? Because it's our cultural resources that have value just as our American history is important.
Dick, I know that you think that the word "folk" is too vague to represent any decent discussion on this issue. But we're not just talking semantics, here. I feel folk music and I know it's different in it's primary source (original traditional folk singing) than it is in it's secondary source (popular "folk revival" singers.) I know that Alan Lomax and many other collectors such as Harry Smith, Ralph Rinzler, Mike Seeger and the many other people who have devoted their lives to collecting this music know the difference between Iron Head Baker and the Weavers. And there is a cultural difference that is shown in the music. All you have to do is hear it to know that.
The original purpose of the "folk revivalists" were to bring this kind of music before a public, albeit a limited one at the time. Then it became a vehicle to eexpress the values of a political left. Who knew it would become "pop folkie"? Pete traveled a year with Sonny Terry because he wanted people to hear this folk musician. As it was, there were many who might have come to hear Pete and came away with an appreciation for Sonny. Bonnie Raitt did this with "Sippie" Wallace later. I submit to you Dick that you didn't travel to Ashville or anywhere in the South to hear Harry Belafonte, Limelighters, KT or Joni, Dylan, PP and M, Weavers or any of the secondary sources ("folk revivalists"). If you don't want to call that kind of music "folk" I can see your point. Call it anything you want to but it is different than the singer/songwriter in the coffee house, the professional entertainer/performer on the concert stage who sings folk songs, the newest profundities from the abstruse navel gazer who puts words together to convey life's deepest meanings. Sometimes the music overlaps into the pro entertainer's domain such as Uncle Dave Macon, or Leadbelly on his college concert tours but the music is different because it reflects a cultural connection with a sub-society that has existed and developed a tradition base.
Wally, the Weavers with Gordon Jenkins were a fine example of the "folk revivalists" who learned the music from primary sources. A lot of what they did was folk music and some were composed songs or popular songs of earlier days. This doesn't at all invalidate what they did. They were the popularizers and what's wrong with that?
But the Mad Tea Party approach that says "Folk music is what I choose it to mean and nothing else" is doing a disservice to a kind of music that has it's own value and is different than popular music or popularized folk songs.