In 1952, a twenty-nine-year-old record collector named Harry Everett Smith squirreled himself away in a two-room office at 111 West Forty-Seventh Street, chewing on peyote buttons and compiling a six-LP compendium for Folkways Records. The Anthology of American Folk Music, which was released by Folkways in 1952 and reissued on CD by the Smithsonian in 1997, was culled exclusively from Smith’s 78 collection and contains only songs issued between 1927 and 1932, that fruitful five-year span between the advent of electrical recording and the apex of the Great Depression.

    Despite its self-imposed parameters, Smith’s anthology is generous in its definition of folk music: child ballads, spirituals, Alabamans playing Hawaiian steel guitar, fiddlers, Charley Patton as the Masked Marvel, Appalachian coal miners, Cajun accordionists, the Carter Family, jug stompers, string bands, church congregations, and Uncle Dave Macon—mouth open, banjo wedged behind his knee, hollering “Kill yourself!”—all appear.

    Taken as a whole (and that’s the entire point), the Anthology is a wild and instructive portrait of a young country working itself out via song. It’s also deeply confounding. There are times when I have clung to it as a kind of last hope, believing that it’s an object that unlocks other objects; there are other times when I have found it solipsistic and nonsensical and inherently ill conceived. Whatever the Anthology offers, it’s not revealed quickly.


Because these songs deserve to be heard, a Spotify List for those who can access it:

this is a great article. i'd never heard the story behind this, or heard the collection, only heard about it. Very interesting to hear about the collection and the man behind it.

posted by BrainBurner: 1740 days ago