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John Donald Robb Field Recordings

Identifier: MU-7

Scope and Content

The John Donald Robb Field Recordings is one of the most comprehensive folk music collections in New Mexico, depicting the rich history of the three predominant ethnic populations of the state. The collection of over 2500 songs represents Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo cultures, including the influences they have had on one another throughout history. The importance of the collection also goes beyond New Mexico, representing life in the Southwest and Mexico. Some types of music, particularly cowboy songs and matachines cross cultural boundaries.

Hispanic folk music is the largest group of recordings. This music was recorded in New Mexico, Mexico and parts of Latin America. It includes alabados, pastores, décimas and canciones.

Alabados/Alabanzas contain religious hymns or chants that serve to praise or glorify Christ, Mary, or the saints. Drawing its roots from Spain in the later middle-ages, alabados were also used to effectively convey Roman Catholic doctrine to the people of New Spain.” Alabados are, thus, not only songs of praise but also important cultural principles that convey a unity among community members and provide a sense of tradition. Hand written and rewritten in cuadernos, alabados have changed as they traveled through time and space, reflecting the cultural transformations that New Mexico has undergone. J.D. Robb’s collection of alabados is an important representation of cultural and religious tradition as interpreted in the mid twentieth century by various Hispanic artists and communities in New Mexico.

Pastores, also known as pastorelas and auto sacramentales, contain songs sung during the Christmas season. Pastores are connected with religious devotion, as well as with the festive and popular humor of the middle ages. Like the alabados, pastores draw their beginning to medieval Spain, eight hundred years ago, when the songs were compiled into a play that eventually reached the New World with the Franciscan missionaries. The play and the songs have been influenced by elements of the local culture and represent the social world of those who perform it. They are often viewed by scholars as mediums through which practitioners transmit, communicate, and critique cultural and social practices, as well as improper or poor behavior (i.e. indulgence in drinking, skirting family responsibilities). The collection offers a great compilation of pastorela songs from various parts of New Mexico, sung by elders and by various troupes.

The décima, created by Vicente Espinel, is considered to be one of the most popularly used literary meters in the Spanish language. Relying on the octosyllabic verse, the décima is characterized as educated poetry (poesía culta), popular poetry (la poesía popular), and folkloric poetry (poesía improvisada) that is usually sung. The décima has served multiple purposes: as a medium for complaint, for praise, for controversy, for joking and taunting, as well as for satire and love. The collection reflects the folkloric aspect of the décima in New Mexico, used for religious praising, for making fun, for depicting controversy and satire, and for communicating experiences with love and death.

Canciones, span categories of love, friendship, gambling, drinking, and culture and lifestyle of rural New Mexican Hispanics. In this group are also corridos, cowboy songs, lullabies, patriotic songs and war songs that provide researchers with performance texts of experiences with shifting political structures and changing lifestyles on the frontier.

Instrumental and Mexican Dances also includes Matachine songs like the dance of La Malinche, Danza de los Matachines, and La Batalla. Matachines are also included with Indian Dances and Songs. The Matachine are an interesting combination of the veneration of the Virgin Mary and other saints, and the representation of the history of Montezuma, bringing together the Indigenous and Hispanic culture and historical experiences that have played an important part in shaping ethnic relations in northern New Mexico.

Indian Dances and Songs include songs, chants, and stories from various New Mexican Pueblos and tribes sung in English, Tewa, Tiwa and Diné languages. Pueblos and tribes included are; Acoma, Taos, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Cochiti, Zuni, Mescalero Apache, Comanche, Navajo and diverse performers from the Albuquerque Indian School.

Chants consist of Navajo chants about World War II. For example there are several songs about Iwo Jima and songs about Japanese girls. Here researchers will also find ceremonial chants from the different pueblos and tribes. Chants are generally explained as mediums for telling stories, which function as the principle vehicle for informing Indians of their religious history, for explaining the causes of natural phenomena, and for teaching morality. However, not all chants in this collection have religious purpose. Some are merely intended to entertain.

Dances include war dances and religious ceremonial dances with narration from the singers about the function of the dance. Again, the songs are from a variety of Pueblos, the Albuquerque Indian School, and Apache and Navajo performers.

Love Songs and Cowboy Songs include ballads and narrative songs. Some of the songs are also accompanied by stories that communicate Indian-Anglo relations and Indian-Hispano relations in the Southwest.

Instrumental and Matachine music is similar to some of the Hispanic folk music, with the exception that the singers and performers here recorded are Native American. The matachine recordings are from San Juan Pueblo.

Anglo Folk Music consists of cowboy songs, frontier ballads, and some mining songs.

Cowboy Songs and Frontier Ballads includes mostly songs sung around campfires that are personal or historical in nature, but always significant to experiences on the frontier. Some of the ballads include the “Assassination of President Garfield” by Charles Getteau, “Billy the Kid," “California Joe," “Davy Crockett," “Alpine Boy," “Buffalo Girls," and songs about traveling the frontier and fighting Sioux Indians. These songs mostly revere the bravery, endurance, and conquest of Anglos over wild frontiers. Other songs such as “Cowboy at a church," “Come sit by my side little darling," and “Cowboy’s dream," deal with everyday experiences, love, and thoughts on morality and salvation. Some of these songs, especially those sung by artist Ray Reed, begin with an explanation about the song and the history behind it.

Mining Songs are few but remain important testimony to mining experiences in the Southwest and particularly New Mexico.


  • 1942-1979


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.

Biography / History

John Donald Robb, PICT 000-497-0001-0020 (Box 1, Folder 1)

John Donald Robb, professor emeritus of music and dean emeritus of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico, was responsible for the growth of fine arts at UNM in the l940s and l950s and, in turn, for the impact that UNM had in the fine arts throughout the state. Robb, a composer of stage, classical, and electronic music, was also a collector of folk music. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and died in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Robb had a first career as a lawyer. Educated in eastern schools, Robb graduated from Yale University in l9l5. He taught in China for one year and served in the armed forces for two years during World War I (l9l7-l9l9). After completing his legal training at Harvard Law School, Robb practiced law in New York City and in Europe from l922 to l94l. Musical activities and studies, particularly the art of composition, were, however, Robb's constant avocation.

In l941 Robb began his second career as professor of music and head of the Department of Music at the University of New Mexico. He became acting dean of the College of Fine Arts in l942, and was appointed dean in l946. He retired from this position in l957. While at UNM, Robb was instrumental in the ultimate building of the Fine Arts Center and the establishment of a folk music archive. He was also active as a composer, while continuing to build support for contemporary music throughout the state.

Always fascinated by folk music, Robb made recordings in the field and transcribed over 3,000 songs and dances from areas as diverse as Nepal, South America, and the American southwest. This collection forms the nucleus of the more than 25,000 items that comprise the John Donald Robb Archive of Southwestern Music.


94 CDs


The John Donald Robb Field Recordings consist of Hispanic, Native American, and Anglo music recorded between 1942-1979 in different parts of New Mexico, the Southwest, Mexico, and Latin America. The collection contains Hispanic folk music such as the alabado, the pastore, the decima, and the corrido. Additionally, Native American chants and dances, as well as Anglo cowboy and frontier ballads are represented in the collection.

Field Recordings Online

All of the John Donald Robb Field Recordings are available online via New Mexico's Digital Collections.

See searchable "Correlation Guide".

Related Material

Song texts (CSWR ML 156.4 F6 R61) and melodies (CSWR ML 156.4 F6 R6) for the Robb field recordings are available at the Center for Southwest Research, Anderson Reading Room. A few items do not have a text and/or a melody. These existing song texts and melodies were digitized and appear with the field recordings online via the New Mexico Digital Collection.

J. D. Robb Papers, 1915-1989. Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico John Donald Robb Photograph Collection Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Frank McCulloch Collection of Spanish New Mexican, Mexican and American Music. Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Manuel Archuleta collection of Pueblo Indian, Navajo and Hopi music Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Ned Sublette Collection of New Mexico Country Western and Hispanic Folk Music Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico James B. Wright Collection of Southwestern Native American and Hispanic Music, Interviews and Literary Programs Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Paul Tosa Collection of Jemez Pueblo Music Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Thomas J. Steele alabado collection Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico. Jenny Wells Vincent Recordings Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Sally Noe collection of Gallup oral histories and Southwest Native American music Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Ken Keppeler and Janies McLerie collection of Northern New Mexico Hispanic music Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Enrique Lamadrid Collection of Folk Songs, Oral Histories and Photographic Projects Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico

Separated Material

In the 1940s John Donald Robb made his recordings on Wilcox-Gay Recordio discs. 7 of these Recordios have survived, corresponding to CD 8 - songs 227-237. These original discs are stored on B3 with Robb Masters.
Finding Aid of the John Donald Robb Field Recordings, 1942-1979
L. Nicolae
© 2008
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131