Music Research Institute

Around the World in 80 Years.  A Memoir - A Musical Odyssey

by Henrietta Yurchenco
Published by the MRI Press January 2003

380 pages, 55 photographs, ISBN  0-9627473-5-1

Publishers Note

$22.00 per copy plus shipping 

This biography is the first publication in the series World without Boundaries: MRI Biographies in Music 

Around the World in 80 Years.  A Memoir – A Musical Odyssey

by Henrietta Yurchenco. MRI Press ©Dec 2002

Henrietta Yurchenco, a world-renowned ethnomusicologist, tells the story of her life, a unique tale of adventure and discovery. Now 86, she has spent 60 years tracking down people in remote corners of the world, recording songs and stories that otherwise would have disappeared into the dust of history. She is author of three books and numerous articles, has released selections from her recordings on 15 LPs and CDs (Smithsonian-Folkways, Library of Congress, Nonesuch, Global Village, Rounder).

Initially sponsored by the Library of Congress for work in Mexico, she has received grants from the American Philosophical Society, The City University Faculty Research Fund, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Her entire collection is permanently housed in the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, with parts held at the National Indian Institute of Mexico, the Hebrew University Fonoteca in Israel, the Arias Montano Institute of Madrid, and Sephardic House in New York.

Born in New Haven Connecticut, Yurchenco came from a poor but savvy immigrant family. A gifted pianist she came of age during the Depression and moved in the world of art and politics of that tumultuous time. In 1936, at age 20, she married Basil Yurchenco, a talented Argentine-born painter, and moved to New York. Abandoning her dream as a concert pianist, she plunged into the exciting activities of the city, and soon was hired as staff member of radio station WNYC. Always the innovator, Yurchenco initiated the first broadcasts of folk and world music on New York airways, featuring such artists as Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Pete Seeger, as well as musicians from India, China, the Middle East, and Africa.

Her life changed forever in June of 1941 when she and her husband traveled to Mexico. Soon afterwards, she began what was to be her life-long work. For the next five years, traveling on muleback, carrying 200 pounds of equipment, she recorded ancient pre-Hispanic music among 14 remote mountain and desert tribes of Mexico and Guatemala. Since then she has continued her work in other Spanish-speaking countries, particularly Spain, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Morocco among the Sephardic Jews resident there since expulsion from Spain in 1492.

Her memoirs, however, tell a personal story, recollections of her nonconformist family and friends, the trials and tribulations of travel in unchartered territory, and tales about the fascinating people she met along the way. In her extensive research, Yurchenco has been guided by a two-fold purpose: (1) to record tribal and popular music, and (2) to document music’s role not only as an expression of human emotions, but also as a forum for social and political issues. In the 1960s-70s, like the earlier 1930s, again in the vortex of turbulent times, she voiced those principles on her own campus, The City College of New York, on her renewed broadcasts on WNYC, and in her record and concerts reviews for The American Record Guide and Musical America.

Her memoirs also include experiences elsewhere in the world, particularly behind the Iron Curtain both before and after the demise of the Soviet empire, where she observed first hand, the dire consequences of Soviet-style repression, and manipulation of culture.

The Music Research Institute under the imprint of MRI Press is privileged to publish the English edition of this seminal memoir. For additional information regarding purchasing or reviewing the book contact MRI, ATTN Publications at 

The memoir is cited in SongCatchers:  In Search of the World's Music by Mickey Hart with K. M. Kostyal, a National Geographic book published in June 2003.

Listen to Henrietta on WNYC, show broadcasted on July 21, 2002.  

  • WNYC Website (Henrietta's section is the 5th on the list, or you can listen to the whole show).

Interesting article about Henrietta and her work, published by The Villager | 487 Greenwich St., Suite 6A | New York, NY 10013

Publisher's Note:

MRI’s first book series, Intercultural Music, now in its sixth and last volume, is published for the Centre for Intercultural Music Arts based at the Institute of Education, University of London, U.K.

This memoir inaugurates World without Boundaries: MRI Biographies in Music in the form of autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs. All too often, the subjects portrayed are not seen in the context of their time and era.  These books will focus on those who chose music as their life’s work and who I believe have made major contributions to the arts that have yet to be fully realized.  Often they work outside the mainstream and perhaps are not in sync with their time, or simply have a different vision of what music is all about.   Hence, this series is meant to capture the essence of individuals who exemplify the maverick, the visionary, the outspoken, and the risk taker.

Reviews/ Comments:

  • Karen M. Kostyal, National Geographic.  Feb. 10, 2003  "Henrietta's is a life well and fully lived, and this book tells the stories that made it so. From New York's avant-garde artistic community of the thirties to the highlands of Mexico to the villages of Morocco, Henrietta celebrated the world she was in, the people she was with, and the music they made.  Her memoir makes its own music, and it's a tune readers will keep humming to themselves for a good while." 
  • Folklife Center News, Winter 2003, vol XXV, no 1, page 15.   Book is briefly mentioned under "Henrietta Yurchenco Autobiography Published".

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