The 250 disc recordings of about 125 performers, along with eight reels of film footage and photographs, reflect the rich mixture of cultures in Depression-era Michigan, where immigrants fleeing poverty and persecution in Europe and the South came seeking jobs.
Natives of French-speaking Canada, Finland, Italy, Croatia, Germany, Poland, Ireland and Hungary perform the songs, which represent 10 languages.
John and Alan Lomax's archives at the library's American Folklife Center encompass 10,000 sound recordings and 6,000 graphic images, documenting creative expression by cultural groups around the world.
Most famous were the field recordings made in the South, including those of Leadbelly, Muddy Waters and Son House.
"This fills in a big chunk of the top half of the middle section of the country," says Laurie Sommers, an ethnomusicologist who serves as Michigan's program coordinator for the Lomax project. "Now you have the stories and the sounds of sailors, miners and lumberjacks, ethnic communities who came to work ... and brought their traditions with them."
One example is Exilia Bellaire, a woman from the Upper Peninsula community of Baraga who recorded "I Went to Marquette." It's sung in a mixture of French and English, and Harvey said the song is one of many that "captures (what) occurs when cultures interact with one another."
Lomax's Michigan research proved to be challenging. Thieves twice broke into his car and stole equipment and films, and performers would hound him for money or liquor in exchange for recording them. He frequently requested more money from headquarters, in part, he wrote, because "songs in (Michigan) absolutely require beer."
The recordings weren't released at the time, in part because the late 1930s were a time of growing suspicion of non-English speaking immigrants in the United States, said Sommers.