Collection Number: 20552

Collection Title: Bruce M. Conforth Collection on Lawrence Gellert, 1918-1983

This collection has access restrictions. For details, please see the restrictions.

This collection has use restrictions. For details, please see the restrictions.

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the Duplication Policy section for more information.


Archival processing of the Bruce M. Conforth Collection on Lawrence Gellert was made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Size 3.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 2500 items)
Abstract The Bruce M. Conforth Collection on Lawrence Gellert consists of papers and original field recordings related to the independent white music collector, Lawrence Gellert, who recorded African American vernacular music in the American South from roughly 1920-1940. Folklorist, Bruce M. Conforth, compiled the materials as part of his ongoing research on Lawrence Gellert, which culminated with Conforth's 2013 publication, African American folksong and American cultural politics: the Lawrence Gellert story. Papers consist primarily of research files on Lawrence Gellert compiled by Bruce M. Conforth, as well as lyric transcriptions, musical scores, notebooks, writings, and other materials by Lawrence Gellert. Original field recordings consist of African American work songs, chants, spirituals, and blues songs recorded by Lawrence Gellert in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Creator Conforth, Bruce M., 1950-
Language English
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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Information For Users

Restrictions to Access
Use of the collection is restricted to library reading room use only until 7 August 2022.
Use of audio or moving image materials may require production of listening or viewing copies.
Restrictions to Use
Duplication or publishing of collection materials requires permission from the seller, Bruce Conforth.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the Bruce M. Conforth Collection on Lawrence Gellert #20552, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acquisitions Information
Purchased from Bruce M. Conforth in December 2017 (Acc. 103300).
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subject Headings

The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

Bruce M. Conforth received his PhD in ethnomusicology and folklore from Indiana University. He served as the first curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and was a member of the faculty of the American Culture Department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor until 2017. Since his time at Indiana, Conforth has researched and helped to release recordings by Lawrence Gellert (1898-1979), an independent Hungarian American music collector who recorded and published African American vernacular music from the American South from roughly 1920-1940. Gellert was the younger brother of the radical artist, Hugo Gellert, who was also on the editorial staff of the American intellectual journal, The New Masses, which Lawrence Gellert often contributed songs, lyrics, and commentary to. Lawrence Gellert was also known for his 1936 publication Negro Songs of Protest, which contained song transcriptions and accompanying musical arrangments of African American vernacular music. Bruce M. Conforth wrote his masters thesis on Lawrence Gellert and his collection of field recordings held at Indiana University's Archives of Traditional Music. Conforth also helped produce two albums of songs from this same collection, including releases under Rounder Records ( Cap'n You're So Mean: Negro Songs Of Protest, Volume Two, 1982, RR 4013) and Heritage Records ( Nobody Knows My Name: Blues From South Carolina And Georgia 1924-1932, 1984, HT 304). In 2013, Conforth published a book on Lawrence Gellert titled, African American folksong and American cultural politics: the Lawrence Gellert story, which includes discussion on how Lawrence Gellert's field recordings were adopted by the American Left and American Communist party as "songs of protest", as well as folklorists' and scholars' assertions that Gellert's field work had been doctored for political purposes.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

The Bruce M. Conforth Collection on Lawrence Gellert consists of paper materials and original field recordings related to the independent white music collector, Lawrence Gellert, who recorded African American vernacular music in the American South from roughly 1920-1940. Folklorist, Bruce M. Conforth, compiled the materials as part of his ongoing research on Lawrence Gellert, which culminated with Conforth's 2013 publication, African American folksong and American cultural politics: the Lawrence Gellert story. Collection materials contain papers on or by Lawrence Gellert, as well as original field recordings by Lawrence Gellert on aluminum instantaneous disc.

Papers consist mostly of Bruce M. Conforth's dated research files on Lawrence Gellert. These files include copies of clippings on Lawrence Gellert's brother, Ernest Gellert (1918), and brother, Hugo Gellert (1925); copies of correspondence with Langston Hughes (1931), W. C. Handy (1932), Ben Davis of Negro Liberator (1934), Louis Coleman of International Labor Defense (1934), John Gassner of Theatre Guild (1934), Elie Siegmeister (1934), Lon Adomian (1935), Carl Fischer (1936), and Alice Lightner (1936); copies of publications, including Negro Songs of Protest (Lawrence Gellert, 1936, 1938), Me and My Captain (Lawrence Gellert, 1939), Music Vanguard (1935), and "Federal Writers Project Manual for Collecting Folklore" (1939); copies of Gellert's writings on Nancy Cunard (undated), Stephen Foster (1940), and a Monroe, La. lynching (1946); Gellert's collection of army songs for the Pepsi-Cola Company (1942); and other materials.

Papers also include audiovisual documentation, lyric transcriptions, musical scores, notebooks, writings, and other materials compiled by Bruce M. Conforth. Audiovisual documentation includes an inventory and assessment by Conforth of Gellert's field recordings, presumably held at Indiana University. Song lyrics and musical scores by Lawrence Gellert consist of typed and handwritten lyric transcriptions and musical scores, some of which are annotated. Notebooks by Lawrence Gellert contain writings, lyric transcriptions, and musical scores. Writings and other materials consist of Bruce M. Conforth's liner notes and writings on Lawrence Gellert's recordings, biographical materials on Gellert compiled by Conforth, as well as additional writings and other materials created by Gellert. Writings of particular note include about 290 pages of typed and annotated manuscript of Lawrence Gellert's collection of I'shman tales, which contain folktales told by African Americans in the South about Irish immigrants to the area. Please note that additional I'shman tales manuscript materials can be found in the Southern Historical Collection's Lawrence Gellert Scrapbook (#04442).

Original field recordings consist of 75 aluminum instantaneous disc recordings of African American vernacular music recorded by Lawrence Gellert in the American South, including the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The recordings are undated, but were presumably created between 1920-1940. They feature African American work songs, chants, spirituals, and blues songs.

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Papers, 1918-1983 and undated.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Field Recordings, undated.

75 items.

Arrangement: In order as received.

Processing information: Titles compiled form original discs.

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/1

"She's Got the Biggest Kanakas in Hawaii"; "Who Slapped Annie on the Fannie with a Flounder?" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/1

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/2

"Ah Own Capn some Money"; "Sistern and Brethren Don' Fool Wit Pray" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/2

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/3

"Takes Rock an' Gravel to Build a Solid Road"; "Oh Captain Russel Meanes' Man In Town" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/3

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/4

"You Wouldn't Give Me Breakfast"; "John Hawky" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/4

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/5

"Handy Man"; "She Got It" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/5

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/6

"Some Folks Think Cap'n So Mean"; "Ah Got de Meanes' Boss in de Lan" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/6

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/7

"Mah Boss Man Got Somethin' Jes' Law a Risen [?]"; "Standin' on de Corner, Talkin' To Mah Brown" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/7

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/8

"You Steal Mah [?]"; "Police, Police Don't Shoot" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/8

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/9

"Ah Went Down to Mah Baby's House"; "Why So Many Men Are [?] Over [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/9

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/10

"Short Enin Bread"; "Atlanta, Georg" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/10

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/11

"So Cold in China"; "What's Dat Taste Lak Gravy" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/11

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/12

"Ah Wouldn Bbe Where Ah Am Down in Alabama"; "Ah Got Peaches in Mah Pantry" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/12

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/13

"Pick Em Up Boys Set Em Down"; "Believe Me Chain Gang Ain't No Fun" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/13

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/14

"Jedge You Ought to Hear My Plea"; "When Ah Git on de Other Side" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/14

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/15

"Ahm Gwine Tell You Folks Ahat de Chain Gang Will Do"; "Ahm Tired Eatin Peas, Cawn Bread, Peas, and Molasses" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/15

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/16

"Ah Woke up Dis Mawn fo on' Someone Callin' Me"; "De Train Ah Ride 16 Coarses Long" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/16

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/17

"Ah'm a Chain Gang Daddie"; "Mah Boss Man Name Was Sammie" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/17

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/18

"Dey Lay Down Reuben"; "Beans for Meh Breakfast" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/18

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/19

"Ain't No Use a' Aorryin' Bout Time Bein' Low"; "Don't Bother Me, I Don't [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/19

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/20

"Ah Wore Ball and Chain so Long"; "Way Soon Dis Mawnin" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/20

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/21

"Oh Pal, Oh Pal" ; "Slipped [?] de Kitchen"; "Everywhere High" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/21

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/22

"Ahm Goin' Away, Cryin' Won't Make Me Stay"; "Heah Ah Am in Dis Low Down Jail" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/22

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/23

"How Long"; "Last year [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/23

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/24

"Big [?] Julia Ol' Lawd is Mah Gal"; "Ah Shot Dice in Cuba" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/24

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/25

"Carry Me Home Put Me in Bed"; "60 Days on Chain Gang Making Big Rock [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/25

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/26

"Capn Told High Sherrif"; "Ef de Man in de Moon"; "Workin on de Labor, Sleepin on de Groun" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/26

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/27

"I Don't Want to Bo yo Man"; "Go to Sleep Yo Lil' Baby" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/27

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/28

"Ah'm Wearin [?]"; "When Ah Was in Louisiana" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/28

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/29

"Ahm a Po' Ol' Prisoner"; "Got a Nine Foot Shovel" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/29

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/30

"Don't You Hear Dem Peafowl Holler"; "Ahm Goin' to Chain Gang"; "Ah Received Yo Letter that Mah Man was Dead" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/30

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/31

"Rooster an' Nigger"; "What You Gonna Do When Yo [?]eat Give Out" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/31

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/32

"Canned Wheat Whiskey"; "Bed Bug Bit You"; "Ah Hears de Folks a Talkin' Yestiday" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/32

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/33

"Ah Went Down to Church"; "Ah Ain't Gonna Be de Ol' Ox" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/33

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/34

"Ah Rather be a Ca[?]"; "Way Yonder [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/34

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/35

"Stealin', Stealin'"; "Ford Won't Run" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/35

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/36

"[?] Been Here so Long"; "Liquor [?] All [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/36

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/37

"When Ah Got Money Ah Got Friend [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/37

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/38

"When Ah Was Young an' Wild"; "[?] Ahm a Lowdown Nigger" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/38

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/39

"How [?] How [?]"; "Lawdy Mamie" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/39

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/40

"Cap'n Did You Hear" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/40

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/41

"Whippit Old Gal, Yo Home Ain' Heah"; "Ah Wants Mah Labor Bought Cap" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/41

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/42

"Say de Train Run Off A Mile Fom Town"; "Ah Write A Letter to Uncle Sam" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/42

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/43

"Lost John Standin' on de RR Track" and "White Folks Go to Church"; "Goin' to Rain 5 days" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/43

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/44

"[?] Jail with Mah Backed Turned to De Wall"; "Travelling Man" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/44

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/45

"Sugar is Sugar. Salt is Salt"; "It was on Monday Mawnin [?] Boot 4 O' Clock" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/45

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/46

"Ahm Mad Ahm Mad To-day"; "Ah Woke up Dis Mawnin' at de Break of Day" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/46

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/47

"Ah Got Mah Pistol in de Heart of Town"; "Ah Got 25 Years Makin' [?] Rock Smaller" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/47

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/48

"Ah Got A Gal She Live Behin' De Pines"; "Me An' Mah Capn Don't Agree" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/48

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/49

"30 Days in Jail with My Back [?] to de Wall"; "Mah Momma Tol Me Mah Pappa Tol Me Too" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/49

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/50

"Ole Aunt Dinah Black as Tar"; "White Folks Has Whip" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/50

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/51

"Alabam's a Money Makin' Country"; "Went to de Jail House Beggin My Jailor Please" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/51

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/52

"Some Black Snake Been Suckin' Mah [?] Tong"; "Way Down South Lived Colored Preacher Man" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/52

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/53

"Won't You Hear Me Screamin'"; "Bein' a [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/53

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/54

"Ah Been a Makin' It White Folk Takin' It"; "Lawdy Lawd When Ah Gits Home" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/54

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/55

"Doctor Doctor [?] Me [?]"; " When Ah Make Dese 10 Months in Chain Gang" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/55

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/56

"Hey Jailor Tell Me What Ah've Done"; "It Take de Lawd to Tell You Whats On Mah Min" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/56

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/57

"Make Me Down a Pallet on You Flo"; "Standin' on de [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/57

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/58

"She Got It Last Nite"; "My Handy Man" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/58

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/59

"All Roun' The Water Tank"; "Sweet Mamma Buddie Bean" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/59

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/60

"Ef You Catch Me Stealin"; "Ah was Rested and Boom in [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/60

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/61

"Way Down in Arkansas" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/61

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/62

"Ahm Diggin' in de Cole Mine--Lawd Way Under GR" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/62

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/63

"Whitewash Station 10 Miles from Town" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/63

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/64

"Ah Lay in Jail wit Mah Back [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/64

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/65

"Reuben Reuben [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/65

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/66

"She's Long She's Tall, She 6' from de [?]" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/66

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/67

"Workin on de Levee, Workin on de ground" #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/67

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/68

[unidentified sound recording] #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/68

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/69

[unidentified sound recording] #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/69

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/70

[unidentified sound recording] #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/70

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/71

[unidentified sound recording] #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/71

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/72

[unidentified sound recording] #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/72

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/73

[unidentified sound recording] #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/73

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/74

[unidentified sound recording] #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/74

Instantaneous Disc

Instantaneous Disc FD-20552/75

[unidentified sound recording] #20552, Series: "2. Field Recordings, undated." FD-20552/75

Instantaneous Disc

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Processing Information

Processed by: Emma Evans and Anne Wells, July 2018

Encoded by: Anne Wells, July 2018

Archival processing of the Bruce M. Conforth Collection on Lawrence Gellert was made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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