Events T-Bone Slim

Music, Research, and Activism Conference 2023

Authors: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander, Marija Dalbello, Lotta Leiwo, Saku Pinta and John Westmoreland

Music, Research, and Activism Conference 2023

T-Bone Slim project’s researchers Kirsti Salmi-Niklander (PI), Lotta Leiwo (research assistant), Saku Pinta, Marija Dalbello and musician John Wesmoreland held a T-Bone Slim themed roundtable at Music, Research, and Activism Conference on 11 May 2023. The conference brought together researchers and practitioners engaged in activism and knowledge production around music. This short conference report is combined from the roundtable abstracts.

Our project’s roundtable “T-Bone Slim – a songwriter, an activist and a hobo” was chaired by Saijaleena Rantanen who first introduced the project and T-Bone Slim’s life to the hybrid audience. In the first presentation, PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and research assistant Lotta Leiwo discussed about music and poetry in Ashtabula and Erie during T-Bone Slim’s childhood and youth. Their analysis focuses in the Finnish-language books and newspapers published in Ashtabula in the late 19th century, preserved in the National Library of Finland. These fragmentary materials provide some new perspectives to the transnational influences of T-Bone Slim’s poetry. For example, he uses religious satire but also seems to compare himself to the Christ that was often called “Jerusalem Slim” in IWW context. Christ was considered as the first radical and religion had just misinterpreted his message. Salmi-Niklander have observed radical re-evaluations of Christ’s life also in Finnish working-class writing during the same period. Religion is an interesting perspective to Slim’s texts when we know his connection to religious temperance movement – a fact that has been discovered in this project. Furthermore, both Finnish and transnational cultural influences can be observed in T-Bone Slim’s writing: these include the use oral and hybrid genres (proverbs, wellerisms, riddles, rhymes), neologisms and language-twists.

Saku Pinta has observed apologies in the Finnish-language translations of T-Bone Slim’s texts in the Finnish-language IWW daily newspaper Industrialisti. Pinta spoke in his presentation about T-Bone Slim’s forgotten contemporaries and colleagues in the IWW Movement. In his presentation “The Mysteries of Other Popular Wobblies”, Saku Pinta first gave an overall context of the music and culture of the IWW with reference to two of T-Bone Slim’s lesser-known contemporaries: the Finnish American songwriter and poet George Blad and Canadian songwriter and humourist Pork Chop Slim. Pinta explored themes of anonymity, class, and cultures of resistance within the many worlds that T-Bone Slim inhabited.

The working-class poets who wrote about incarceration or migratory life often intended their poetry to be sung to familiar Christian tunes or known popular melodies. Focusing on the period of the late 1910s and early 1920s, Marija Dalbello discussed several narrative poems and ballad-like compositions and presented a preliminary analysis of ”The Rebel Worker group poets” who were active in the late 1910s and early 1920s. They were associated with Leland Sanford Chumley, an IWW activist and editor/business manager of The Rebel Worker, a New-York based bi-weekly newspaper. For example, “My Wandering Boy” is a poem about a jailed migrant worker (‘wandering boy’) intended for public recitation. “We’ll Be There” is a Lew Maisel poem to be sung to the “tune” of T-bone Slim’s “They go wild, simply wild, over me” (itself a parody of a popular 1917 song). Whether performed in barrooms, ballrooms, protests, or jail, these forms reveal a sensibility that Jacques Rancière identifies in the working-class emancipation of the body.

Lastly, musician, researcher, and great grandnephew of T-Bone Slim, John Westmoreland, performed new renditions of some of his Finnish American relative’s published and unpublished songs and poems. Brief reflections and commentary was given between the musical performances as well as an introduction consisting of T-Bone Slim’s own words as printed in his April, 5th 1924 column in the Industrial Worker “Mostly Song”:

“Now, it happens that I have written a few songs —a few songs as rotten as the system itself —no more and no less —ROTTEN. And, I maintain that under proper conditions my songs would have been SWEET as the voicings of an unsuccessful candidate cooing under the protecting wings of the administration. And since this be so and since my songs can not be blamed for the conditions that are, I stand unsullied of any taint of responsibility for the terrible straits in which labor finds itself today and the singing of my songs can not make things any worse than they are.”

ALT: Smiling man standing with a guitar at a lecture hall’s speaker platform. Behind him is a screen of Zoom participants. Names of the participants are smudged. On the left is a bay window with blinds shut. On lower right corner is the project’s round “logo”, which is text “T-Bone Slim Project” in front of handwritten text.
Image: John Westmoreland performing “Mostly Song” at the Music, Research, and Activism Conference on 11 May 2023. Live video from conference dinner can be viewed on YouTube.

For us, Music, Research, and Activism Conference was a “warm-up” for the upcoming T-Bone Seminar we are holding at Kälviä and Kokkola in August 18–19. This time, on MRA conference most of us met online as we usually do every month when we have our project meeting, but in August we finally meet in person here in Finland.

In the seminar, we will give longer presentations on the topics we have been researching during the project but also offer a lot of very interesting cultural programme with art, music and storytelling. The seminar programme will be hybrid so one can follow the presentations via Zoom as well as in person. Cultural programme is available only on site at Jokikylätalo at Kälviä on 18 August and at Kahvila Saha at Kokkola on 19 August. The programme will be published on June 1 on our website’s event page. On that date, the registration for the seminar opens as well. We hope to meet you there!

Ashtabula materials Events News T-Bone Slim

Newspaper Symposium 2022

Author: Lotta Leiwo

Newspaper Symposium 2022: New Exciting Finds from the Archive

Our PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and I, research assistant Lotta Leiwo attended the Newspaper Symposium organized by National Library of Finland on 30 August 2022. The day was full of interesting presentations by researchers from various fields from history, literature, ethnology to folklore studies.

In our presentation ‘Finnish American newspapers – benefits and challenges of digital and physical materials’ we discussed about Finnish American publishing, it’s relations to our project and presented our T-Bone Slim project to the audience both on site and online. As we have already discussed on our blog, American Finnish publishing in Ashtabula was lively already from 1880’s.

Our presentation in Newspaper Symposium was based on the corpus of material from the research project which focuses on the Finnish immigrant community and includes the Finnish-language newspapers Pohjantähti (1886-1887) and Amerikan Sanomat (1897-1913) published in Ashtabula, Ohio. The early newspaper publications provide opportunities to examine the daily lives, communities, and networks of Finnish immigrants at the turn of the century. In our presentation, we discussed our methodology with the newspaper material and the solutions we have adopted. Some Finnish American newspaper materials are available digitized in the Chronicling America database of the Library of Congress (LOC), but the newspapers in our corpus are only available as microfilm copies or as physical copies in the National Library of Finland. This means that the material has to be studied using more “traditional” methods, and that, for example, quick word searches are not possible as is on digitized materials. At the same time, the existing digital Finnish newspaper database provides valuable reference material, allowing us to examine, for example, the folklore texts in our materials and the networks of texts published in several journals.

Newspaper article in Finnish
Mathew Houghton’s text in Amerikan Sanomat 1.1.1903 (National Library of Finland).

The hybrid nature of our data corpus and the manual nature of our work offer both benefits and challenges for research. Going through the material manually is a prerequisite for conducting qualitative analysis – at the same time, the time spent collecting, processing and transcribing the non-digital materials takes time away from other research work. However, browsing physical copies of newspapers gives tangible understanding compared to the more distant digital material. Physical copies of magazines also provide an opportunity to get a feel for the reader’s experience. In our case we were able to find a gem: possibly one of the texts T-Bone Slim might have published in Finnish. Previously there has not been record of T-Bone Slim writing in Finnish or knowledge whether he could write in Finnish at all. This text was written by another pseudonym we knew he used later: “Mathew Houghton” in Amerikan Sanomat 1.1.1903.

Mathew Houghton’s text is correcting a previous correspondence letter from Erie, Pennsylvania published in Amerikan Sanomat. Mathew Houghtons letter was sent to the editorial staff of Amerikan Sanomat, and printed in the last page of the paper where they had a column for “local news”. Additionally, the text is describing a Christmas party of the temperance society “Tyyni”. We were restrainedly enthusiastic with the find but were not 100 % certain this was “our T-Bone”. Literally, as I was finalizing this text yesterday, I ended up turning few more stones to find out more about Tyyni Temperance Society. We have just found out that some of the American Finnish periodicals are actually digitized on National Library of Finland’s database, so I did some searches with different search terms. After a while I was able to find a true gem from Raittiuslehti : Raittiuden Ystäväin Äänenkannattaja [Temperance Paper: Organ of the Friends of Temperance], 25.5.1899:

Periodical article translated. Full text translated below in the blog text.
Raittiuslehti : Raittiuden Ystäväin Äänenkannattaja, 25.5.1899 (National Library of Finland’s digital collections).

Translated text:

“Tyyni Temperance Society’s officers are as follows; agent* Matti W. Huhta, chairperson Petti Lakari, keeper of the minutes Otto Ranta, treasurer J. Erkkilä, servant mrs Hietikko, [hall] caretaker E. Suutala, aid for keeper of the minutes miss Ida Huhta, servants aid miss Katri Lakari. W. Erie”

*Agent probably means a correspondence officer for the publication Raittiuslehti : Raittiuden Ystäväin Äänenkannattaja as the address of “Math. W. Huhta” is available on another page of the publication where all the local correspondents of Suomalainen kansallis-raittius-veljeysseura [Finnish National Temperance Fraternal Society] are listed. The address has a typo, but is the same where T-Bone’s parents Matti and Johanna Huhta had a boarding house at the time (mentioned also on another blog entry here). Apparently, also T-Bone’s sister Ida Huhta was an active member of the Tyyni Temperance Society.

In this case we can be quite certain that this person is “our T-Bone” and it confirms the text written by “Mathew Houghton” is his writing, too. Both texts give us important information of people he worked with and the networks he had. This is truly a significant find as we now have evidence of T-Bone Slim also writing in Finnish. Tyyni Temperance Society is known publishing a monthly hand-written newspaper (see ‘Overview of the Activities of the Tyyni Temperance Society’ in Valoa : amerikan suomalaisen raittiuskansan kesäjulkaisu [Light: American Finnish Temperance Folk’s Summer Issue], 01.01.1938, p. 20, text is in Finnish), could T-Bone have written in that paper? Hopefully we are able to find Tyyni’s “Nyrkkilehti” [Fist Press], as the hand-written newspapers were often called, somewhere to study this topic further!

This topical find is even better example of how we have conducted research on our different research materials, than we were able to provide on our presentation at Newspaper Symposium. This also gives an example how our work is in a really interesting phase right now. We find something exciting almost every day and have several leads from physical, actual newspapers, periodicals and journals that are kept in several archives. With these leads we can do comparative research on digitized materials. Currently, we are working on with several interesting leads and topics concerning T-Bone Slim’s text’s, intertextuality, and his networks.

It seems that the Newspaper Symposium keeps on giving. Besides networking with other researchers and discussing future research prospects, we were able to find new materials that illuminate early years of T-Bone Slim with the inspiration we got from others!


Events John Westmoreland News T-Bone Slim

Uusia tulkintoja: Taiteiden yö 2022

KIRJOITTAJA: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander & LOTTA LEIWO

Uusia tulkintoja – Taiteiden yö 2022

(English version available here.)

Kuumana kesäiltana 18. elokuuta hankkeemme järjesti tapahtuman, joka oli osa Helsingin Taiteiden yö -konseptia. Taiteiden yö, jolloin kuka tahansa voi järjestää kaupungissa taidetapahtuman, on osa kolmiviikkoisia Helsingin juhlaviikkoja. Tapahtumamme teemana oli “Uusia tulkintoja”.

Hankkeemme taiteilija John Westmoreland ja hänen “löydetyt ystävänsä”; Luode-yhtye sekä kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittinen esiintyivät noin 100 hengen yleisölle Topelian sisäpihalla, kauniissa puutarhassa Helsingin yliopiston keskustakampuksella. Suurin osa yleisöstä seurasi esitystä Thirsty Scholarin terassilta. Ennen esitystä hankkeen johtaja Kirsti Salmi-Niklander esitteli T-Bone Slim -projektia yleisölle. Voit katsoa esityksen Unitubesta tai lukea transkriptin alta. Esittelyn jälkeen löydät kaksi videota musiikkiesityksestä.

People sitting on ground, band playing: keyboardist and guitarist.
Yleisö kuuntelemassa John Westmorelandin esiintymistä Topelian nurmikolla. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Female speaking to a microphone. Band set: keyboards, drum set. A van and Topelia building in the background.
Kirsti Salmi-Niklander esittelee hanketta. Kuvaa klikkaamalla voit katsoa esittelyn (englanniksi). © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

“Tervetuloa Taiteiden yön musiikkitapahtumaan, jonka tarjoaa Koneen Säätiön rahoittama tutkimus- ja taideprojekti ’T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America’. Hanke tutkii siirtolaisvasemmiston ylirajaista poetiikkaa ja verkostoja Pohjois-Amerikassa T-Bone Slimin ainutlaatuisen hahmon kautta. T-Bone Slim oli Matti Valentininpoika Huhdan (1882–1942) salanimi, ja hän oli yksi Yhdysvaltain työväenliikkeen merkkihenkilöistä. Hän syntyi Ashtabulassa Ohiossa vuonna 1882. Hänen vanhempansa ja heidän useimmat sisaruksensa olivat muuttaneet Keski-Pohjanmaan Kälviältä muutamaa vuotta aiemmin. Matti Huhta kuoli vuonna 1942 New Yorkissa hukkumalla East Riveriin. T-Bone Slim oli legendaarinen kulkuri, lauluntekijä, runoilija ja IWW-liikkeen (Industrial Workers of the World) lehtien kolumnisti. Hän kirjoitti tekstejään englanniksi, tosin olemme onnistuneet löytämään ainakin yhden tekstin, jonka hän on saattanut kirjoittaa suomeksi Ashtabulan paikallislehteen noin 20-vuotiaana.

T-Bone Slimin kirjoitukset jäivät pitkään unohduksiin. Niitä julkaistiin alun perin IWW-liikkeen sanoma- ja aikakauslehdissä. 1960-luvulla T-Bone Slimin kirjoitukset innoittivat Chicagon surrealistista liikettä ja kansalaisoikeusliikettä. Hän pysytteli kuitenkin poissa parrasvaloista, ja hänen henkilöllisyytensä pysyi mysteerinä useimmille lukijoille. Muutama vuosi sitten John Westmoreland, hankkeemme muusikko ja taiteilija, sai selville, että T-Bone Slim oli itse asiassa hänen isoisosetänsä Matt, joka oli eräänlainen suvun musta lammas. Hankkeemme sai alkunsa Johnin viime vuonna Koneen Säätiön rahoittamasta residenssijaksosta.

Taiteellisessa ja tutkimuksellisessa hankkeessamme jäljitämme T-Bone Slimin elämää ja verkostoja sekä sosiaalisia, kulttuurisia ja poliittisia liikkeitä, joissa hän toimi. Projektiryhmämme on hyvin kansainvälinen: Minä ja tutkimusassistenttimme Lotta Leiwo työskentelemme täällä Topeliassa, ja olemme keskittyneet T-Bone Slimin sukuhistoriaan ja varhaisvuosiin Kansalliskirjaston ja Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran aineistojen pohjalta. Teimme myös jännittävän kenttämatkan Kälviälle toukokuussa. Saku Pinta on suomalais-kanadalainen tutkija, joka asuu Thunder Bayssä ja Winnipegissä. Marija Dalbello on kotoisin Kroatiasta, mutta toimii nykyään informaatiotutkimuksen professorina Rutgersin yliopistossa New Jerseyssä. Saijaleena Rantanen Taideyliopistosta, joka on työskennellyt IWW-laulujen parissa, ja Samira Saramo Siirtolaisuusinstituutista ovat myös mukana hankkeessa. Owen Clayton Lincolnin yliopistosta Iso-Britanniasta on kirjoittanut tähän mennessä ainoat akateemiset artikkelit T-Bone Slimin kirjallisista teoksista, ja teemme hänen kanssaan yhteistyötä hankkeessa. Hankkeemme toimii enimmäkseen virtuaalisesti, ja olemme tutkineet arkisto- ja kirjastoaineistoja sekä Yhdysvalloissa että Suomessa. Ensi vuonna tapaamme vihdoin kasvokkain Suomessa loppuseminaarissamme. Tilaisuuksia on luvassa sekä Helsingissä että Kokkolassa ja Kälviällä elokuun puolivälissä, joten pysykää kuulolla! Hankkeellamme on verkkosivut ja blogi, Facebook-sivu ja Twitter-tili, joilla julkaisemme tutkimustuloksia.

John Westmoreland on työstänyt uusia tulkintoja T-Bone Slimin kappaleista, ja hänen “Resurrection” -albuminsa on tulossa pian. Kaksi kappaletta on jo julkaistu YouTubessa: musiikkivideo “Harvest Land” ja “Weary Years“. John on myös tehnyt tutkimusta näiden kappaleiden taustoista. Hän esittelee laulujen tekstejä tarkemmin pian. Tänä iltana kuulemme siis joitakin näistä uusista tulkinnoista T-Bone Slimin kappaleista. Johnia säestävät “Luode”-yhtye, Antero Kulju ja Jussi Villgren sekä kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittinen.”

Kirstin esityksen jälkeen John Westmoreland & co. esittivät uusia tulkintoja T-Bone Slimin teksteistä.

“Popular Wobbly”

Jos video ei näy, löydät sen YouTubesta täältä.

Kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittinen esittää “Street Beggars” -kappaleessa T-Bone Slimin inspiroiman itkulaulun. Emmi esittelee itkulaulua näin:

“Seuraavassa kappaleessa on pieni itkuvirrenpätkä, joka on tehty karjalaista itkuvirsiperinnetyyliä noudattaen omalla kielelläni, suomeksi. T-Bone Slimin teksti “Street Beggars” inspiroi tähän itkuvirteen.”

Itkuvirren sanat:

“Kuunnelkaa kuinka kurjat kulkurit
Joutuvat kuraisilla kujilla kulkemaan
Katsokaan kallehia kanssakulkijaisia,
Jotka kauhistuneita katseita keräävät,
Kuka voisi auttaa noita apeutuneita asukkaita,
Armahimmat asuntasijaset saamaan.

Oi mistä löytyy kaunehimmat kasvattopaikkaset,
Kaikille kallehille kanssakulkijoisille.

Oo, oommeko yhessä yrittäneet tarpeeksi,
Että eheinä saisi kaikki elellä,
Ettei vain onnekkaimmat,
Kaikkea onnea itselleen ottaisi,
Kaikkea valtaa, omaisuutta itselleen haalisi,
Ja kaikkea yksin hallitsisi.

Oi, armahat syntyset,
Antakaa armoa,
Apeutuneille asukkaille,
Ja kurjille kulkijaisille.”

Jos video ei näy, löydät sen YouTubesta täältä.

Events John Westmoreland News T-Bone Slim

New Interpretations: Night of the Arts 2022

Author: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander & LOTTA LEIWO

New Interpretations – Night of the Arts 2022

(Jos haluat lukea tekstin suomeksi, löydät sen täältä.)

On a hot summer evening on August 18 our project organized an event that was part of the Night of the Arts concept in Helsinki. Night of the Arts is part of three-week Helsinki Festival, a night when anyone can organize an art event in the city. The theme of our event was “New interpretations”.

Our project’s artistic John Westmoreland and his “found friends”; Luode band plus folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performed to a crowd of approximately 100 in Topelia courtyard, a beautiful garden in the University of Helsinki city centre campus. Most of the crowd enjoyed the gig at Thirsty Scholar’s terrace. Before their performance, our PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander presented our project to the audience. You can watch the presentation on Unitube or read the transcript below. After the introduction you find two recorded videos of the musical performance.

People sitting on ground, band playing: keyboardist and guitarist.
People listening John Westmoreland perform at Topelia. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Female speaking to a microphone. Band set: keyboards, drum set. A van and Topelia building in the background.
Kirsti Salmi-Niklander presenting the project. Click the image to view the presentation video (mostly in English). © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

”Welcome to this music event presented by the research and artistic project T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America funded by Kone Foundation. This project explores the transnational poetics and networks of the migrant left in North America through the unique character of T-Bone Slim. This was the pseudonym of Matti Valentininpoika Huhta (1882–1942), who was one of the most seminal figures in the US Labor movement. He was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, 1882. His parents and most of their siblings had emigrated from Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia a few years earlier. He died in 1942 in New York by drowning to the East River. T-Bone Slim was a legendary hobo, songwriter, poet, and columnist in the periodicals of the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World) movement. He wrote his texts in English, even though we now have discovered at least one text which he might have written in Finnish in a local newspaper in Ashtabula when he was about 20 years.

T-Bone Slim’s writings were forgotten for a long time. They were published in newspapers and periodicals of the IWW movement. In 1960s T-Bone Slim’s writings inspired the Chicago surrealist movement and the Civil Rights movement. But, he stayed out of the limelight and his identity remained as a mystery for most of his readers. Few years ago, John Westmoreland, the musician and artist in our project, discovered that T-Bone Slim actually was his great-granduncle Matt, who was kind of black sheep of the family. Our project has originated with John’s residence period funded by Kone Foundation last year.

In our artistic and research project we trace the life and networks of T-Bone Slim, and the social, cultural, and political movements in which he operated. Our project group is very international: Myself and our research assistant Lotta Leiwo work here in Topelia, and we have focused on T-Bone Slim’s family history and his early years, based on materials in National Library and Finnish Literature Society. We also made an exciting field trip to Kälviä in May. Saku Pinta is Finnish-Canadian researcher based in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. Marija Dalbello is originally from Croatia, but now a professor of Information Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Saijaleena Rantanen from Arts University and has been working on IWW songs, and Samira Saramo from Migration Institute of Finland are also involved in the project. Owen Clayton from University of Lincoln in the UK has written so far, the only academic articles on T-Bone Slim’s literary works, and he is a collaborator in the project. Our project functions mostly virtually, and we have explored archival and library materials both in the US and in Finland. Next year we will finally meet face-to-face in Finland in our final seminar. There will be events both in Helsinki and in Kokkola and Kälviä in mid-August, so stay tuned! Our project has a website and a blog, Facebook page and a Twitter account where we publish the results of our research.

John Westmoreland has been working on new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs, and his album “Resurrection” will be coming soon. Two songs have already been released on YouTube: music video “Harvest Land” and “Weary Years”. John has also made research on the background of these songs. He will introduce the texts of the songs he’s performing. Tonight, we will hear some of these new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs. John will be accompanied by “Luode” band, Antero Kulju and Jussi Villgren, and folk musician Emmi Kuittinen.”

After Kirsti’s presentation, John Westmoreland & co. performed new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s texts.

“Popular Wobbly”

If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.

In “Street Beggars”, folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performs a lament inspired by T-Bone Slim. Emmi introduces the lament:

“The short lament piece in this song is created following Karelian lament style in my own language, Finnish. T-Bone Slim’s text “Street Beggars” inspired me to create this lament.”

Translated lament lyrics:

“Listen how the wretched vagrants,
Are forced to wander through miserable alleys,
Look at the poor fellow-travellers,
Who gather terrified glances.

Who could help those dejected citizens,
To get the most merciful lodgings,
Oh, where are the fairest nurseries to be found,
To all the good fellow travellers.

Oh, have we tried enough together,
That we may all live in integrity,
That not only the lucky ones,
To take all the happiness for themselves,
All the power, all the wealth,
And rule all alone.

O, merciful divine powers of ancestors,
Have mercy,
To the downtrodden inhabitants,
And to the wretched wanderers.”

If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.