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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Elsie Houston interview 

In the June 1942 issue of the Inter-American Monthly (thanks interlibrary loan!), Elsie Houston is interviewed by Gilbert Chase. Most of the interview covers familiar ground, but the following paragraphs are striking:

"I absorbed the spirit of Brazilian folk music from the time I was a little girl. In our country everybody sings. I grew up with these songs. One of the songs I still sing, a fado of Portuguese origin, I first heard when I was seven or eight, and I have never found any trace of it since then. In those days we had in our household a Negress who used to sing for me the weird songs of the macumba, the secret fetichistic ritual of the Brazilian negroes. I began to be fascinated by this type of folklore, so dark and mysterious."

People often wonder how Elsie Houston happens to have such an American-sounding name. The answer is that her name is American. Her father, a native of Tennessee, migrated to Brazil as a young man and settled in Rio, where Elsie was born and raised. She is a great grand-niece of Sam Houston, of Texas fame. Perhaps that helps to make her feel at home in this country, but it does not make her less Brazilian. She speaks English with a delightful accent. At home she generally speaks French, since her husband is a French writer and poet.

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