Dr. Frances Densmore was born on 21 May 1867, in Red Wing, Minnesota. Densmore began her study of music at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1886 through study of piano and organ performance, as well as study of harmony. She then went on to continue her study of piano performance at Harvard under the direction of John K. Paine in 1890. Densmore began her study of American Indian music in 1893 after reading reports written by ethnologist and anthropologist Alice C. Fletcher, and with encouragement from an authority on American Indian music at the time, John Comfort Fillmore. She first transcribed American Indian music in 1901 when she wrote down a couple of songs sung by a Sioux woman living near Red Wing. In the years that followed, Densmore, in conjunction with the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution, transcribed 2,400 songs and made thousands of recordings from the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Papago, Pawnee, Seminole, Sioux, Maidus, and Pueblo tribes. The Smithsonian-Densmore collection of Indian Sound Recordings was first housed in the National Archives in Washington D.C., and was later moved to the Library of Congress


Densmore recording songs from a Blackfoot Chief

Densmore began recording the Seminole Indians of Florida in January of 1931, when she went on her first recording expedition of the Seminole at the Big Cypress Swamp. This initial trip was followed by a second visit, begun in November 1931 that continued until March of 1932. During the second expedition, Densmore once again visited the Big Cypress Swamp, but she also traveled to record the Cow Creek groups. Her third, and last, expedition to record the Seminole occurred during 1933 during which she recorded members of the Cow Creek group. Densmore returned from her travels with several-hundred song recordings, 243 of which appear analyzed in her monograph.


Coconut rattle

Coconut rattle

The Seminole use rattles, drums, and the occasional flute to accompany their songs. The rattles usually are made out of coconut shells that are filled with seeds. Women participating in the Corn and Stomp Dances often wear these rattles tied to their legs, just below the knee. The drums that are used by the Seminole are one-headed hand drums. Flutes are used rarely by the Seminole, but can be made out of cane.

Corn Dance and Hunting Dance:

The Seminole have only two tribal gatherings per year—one in June for the Corn Dance, and one in September for the Hunting Dance. The Corn Dance is a celebration of the ripening of the corn, when everyone can eat together. None of the new corn that has been grown is eaten by the Seminole until after the ceremony, which can last anywhere from four to eight days, and takes place in a central location so that all groups may be present. The Corn Dance is also a time during which trials and punishments are doled out to those who have done wrong, and the punishments are carried out by the offender’s family. Songs specific to the Corn Dance are the Buffalo Dance Song and the Corn Dance Song.

Corn Dance Song

The Hunting Dance occurs in order to make sure that the hunt for that year is successful. Unlike the Corn Dance, during the Hunting Dance, only the leader and his helper sing, with the rest of the people not joining in. Songs specific to the Hunting Dance are the Snake Dance or Horned Owl Dance, and the Hunting Dance.

Hunting Dance Song

Works Cited: