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Jim Griffith

July 30, 1935

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'Big Jim' Griffith has devoted his life to the folkways and religious expression found along the U.S.-Mexico border. He co-founded Tucson Meet Yourself, an annual festival that celebrates the city's ethnic and cultural diversity. 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Jim Griffith, photograph by Steven Meckler, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Jim Griffith, Tucson Meet Yourself festival, Tucson, Arizona, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Jim Griffith, Tucson Meet Yourself festival, Tucson, Arizona, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Jim Griffith, Tucson Meet Yourself festival, Tucson, Arizona, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Tucson Meet Yourself festival, Tucson, Arizona, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Jim Griffith, Tucson Meet Yourself festival, Tucson, Arizona, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Jim Griffith, Tucson Meet Yourself festival, Tucson, Arizona, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Jim Griffith, a native of Santa Barbara, California, is the winner of the Bess Lomax Hawes Fellowship. He has devoted more than four decades to celebrating the folkways of the U.S.-Mexico border. He came to Tucson in 1955 to attend the University of Arizona, from which he earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology and art history. He led the university’s Southwest Folklore Center until his retirement in 1998, after which he served as a research associate. He has considered himself a permanent Tucson resident since 1963 and has said, “I guess I’ll stay in Tucson as long as it gets worse slower than other places.”

In 1974, Griffith and his wife, Loma, co-founded Tucson Meet Yourself, which celebrates the city’s cultural and ethnic diversity. He served as its director until 1995 and has remained deeply involved with the festival, which draws more than 100,000 people each year.

Griffith is an award-winning banjo player who recorded the CD The Dixie Cowboy and wrote the liner notes for Heroes and Horses: Corridos of the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands. In 1974, he performed as the Spanish-speaking master of ceremonies for rasgos musicales, a State Department-sponsored tour of U.S. traditional musicians through Latin America. In 1975 and 1976, he served as an actor-musician and consultant for Diamond Studs, a musical comedy based on the life of Jesse James.

“Big Jim,” as he is affectionately known, has written several books on the folk and religious art traditions of southern Arizona and northern Mexico and has hosted “Southern Arizona Traditions,” a segment on KUAT-TV’s Arizona Illustrated program. He has conducted extensive fieldwork and made presentations at a number of festivals, including the Festival of American Folklife, the Arizona Heritage Fair and cowboy poetry gatherings in Arizona and Nevada. He has presented numerous concerts and lecture-concerts featuring traditional musicians in Tucson.

Griffith has curated a number of exhibitions on regional traditional arts, including “La Cadena Que No Se Corta/The Unbroken Chain: The Traditional Arts of Tucson’s Mexican American Community,” at the University of Arizona Museum of Art. He is the author of several University of Arizona Library Web exhibits (http://parentseyes.arizona.edu/community_people.php). The many honors Griffith has received include the 2005 Henry Glassie Award and the 2009 Pima County Library Lifetime Achievement Award. He served as grand marshal for the 2010 Tucson Rodeo Parade.

Bibliography
Griffith, James S. Beliefs and Holy Places: A Spiritual Geography of the Pimeria Alta.( University of Arizona Press, 1993.).
____________. Folk Saints of the Borderlands: Victims, Bandits, and Healers. (Rivo Nuevo Publishers, 2003.)
____________. Liner notes, Heroes and Horses: Corridos of the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands. Smithsonian Folkways 40475.
Herreras, Mari. “Tucson Folklorist Big Jim Griffith Interview.” Tucson Weekly (September 2, 2010).

Discography
The Dixie Cowboy. Sonyatone ST-1002.

Videography
Big Jim’s Southern Arizona Food Traditions. Produced by The Southwest Center/University of Arizona as a project of BorderLore, under the direction of Dr. Maribel Alvarez, 2010.

Watch

Jim Griffith performing 'The Dying Hobo' at Suce Creek, Montana, ca. 2008, courtesy Jim Griffith

Jim Griffith interviewed by Joseph T. Wilson, 2011 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Jim Griffith interviewed by Joseph T. Wilson, 2011 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Jim Griffith talks about his childhood and how he became interested in folk art, telephone interview by Alan Govenar, June 29, 2011

Jim Griffith talks about his college years, telephone interview by Alan Govenar, June 29, 2011

Jim Griffith answers the question 'What prompted you to want to start a folk festival?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, June 29, 2011

Jim Griffith discusses the lack of folk festivals in Tucson and the start of the Tucson Meet Yourself festival, telephone interview by Alan Govenar, June 29, 2011

Jim Griffith answers the questions 'What was the climate in Arizona for starting a folk festival? Were people interested?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, June 29, 2011

Jim Griffith answers the question 'What style of music do you play?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, June 29, 2011

Jim Griffith answers the question 'What has been your main focus of fieldwork and study over the years?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, June 29, 2011

Jim Griffith answers the question 'In what ways did you document the Tucson Meet Yourself festival?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, June 29, 2011