Anthology of American Folk Music

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The Anthology of American Folk Music is a compilation of several dozen folk and country music recordings that were released as 78 rpm records in the 1920s and 1930s. The compilation was released in 1952. Although the choice of music is idiosyncratic, the collection is famous due to its role as a touchstone for the US folk music revival in the 1950s and 1960s.

Harry Smith was a bohemian who lived in Berkeley, California in the late 1940s and 1950s. Although he considered himself an abstract-expressionist, with a special interest in film, he had a hobby collecting old folk and country records. At a time when many people considered these records to be ephemeral, he took them seriously and accumulated a collection of several thousand recordings.

In 1952, Smith compiled 84 of his favorite records on a collection of six LPs. The music on the compilation provided direct inspiration to much of the emergent folk music movement. The Anthology made widely available music which previously had been largely the preserve of marginal social economic groups. Many people who first heard this music through the Anthology came from very different cultural and economic backgrounds from its original creators and listeners. Many previously obscure songs became standards at hootenannies and folk clubs due to their inclusion on the Anthology. Some of the musicians represented on the Anthology saw their musical careers revived, and made additional recordings and live appearances. Selections were chosen by Harry Smith from his personal record collection, and chose records from 1926-1932 for the reasons that, as he stated himself, "1927, when electronic recording made possible accurate music reproduction, and 1932, when the Depression halted folk music sales."

The album is divided into three sections: Ballads, Social Music, and Songs. A fourth collection, including union songs and some songs recorded after World War II, was created but not released until 2000. Harry Smith created the liner notes himself, and these notes are almost as famous as the music. Smith used a fragmented, collage method that presaged some postmodern artwork, and he wrote narrative summaries of all the songs. Smith incorporated the music into his own unusual cosmology. Each of the four albums is associated with a color (Blue, Red, Green, and Yellow respectively), and an element (Water, Fire, Air, and Earth). In the 1960s, Irwin Silber replaced Smith's covers with a Ben Shahn photograph of a poor farmer.

The Anthology has had enormous historical influence. Smith's methodology of sequencing tracks, along with his inventive liner notes, called attention to the set, imbuing it with a talismanic aura (the cover image is a monochord drawn by Robert Fludd). This reintroduction of near-forgotten popular styles of rural American music from the selected years had impact on American ethnomusicology, and was both directly and indirectly responsible for the aforementioned folk music revival. By extension, along with other factors such as the civil rights movement, the emergence of the Beats, the rise of rock and roll, and the invention of the Pill, the counterculture of the 1960s would not have happened, or would have been vastly different without the release of Smith's seminal archival document.

The Anthology originally appeared on the Folkways label established by Moses Asch. In 1997, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings republished the collection on six CDs. In 2000, Revenant Records released the fourth collection on two CDs and two LPs.

In 2003, the album was ranked number 276 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Track listing


Track Song Title Performed By
1. Henry Lee Dick Justice
2. Fatal Flower Garden Nelstone's Hawaiians
3. The House Carpenter Clarence Ashley
4. Drunkard's Special Coley Jones
5. Old Lady and the Devil Bill & Belle Reed
6. The Butcher's Boy Buell Kazee
7. The Wagoners Lad Buell Kazee
8. King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O "Chubby" Parker
9. Old Shoes And Leggins Uncle Eck Dunford
10. Willie Moore Burnett and Rutherford
11. A Lazy Farmer Boy Buster Carter and Preston Young
12. Peg and Awl The Carolina Tar Heels
13. Ommie Wise G.B. Grayson
14. My Name Is John Johanna Kelly Harrell
15. [[Bandit Cole Younger Edward L. Crain
16. Charles Guiteau Kelly Harrel
17. John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man [[The Carter Family
18. Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand Wiliamson Brothers and Curry
19. Stackalee Frank Hutchison
20. White House Blues Charlie Poole w/ North Carolina Ramblers
21. Frankie Mississippi John Hurt
22. When That Great Ship Went Down William & Versey Smith
23. Engine 143 The Carter Family
24. Kassie Jones Furry Lewis
25. Down On Penny's Farm The Bently Boys
26. Mississippi Boweavil Blues [[The Masked Marvel
27. Got the Farm Land Blues The Carolina Tar Heels

Social music

Track Song Title Performed By
1. Sail Away Lady "Uncle Bunt" Stephens
2. The Wild Wagoner Jilson Setters
3. Wake Up Jacob Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers
4. La Danseuse Delma Lachney and Blind Uncle Gaspard
5. Georgia Stomp Andrew & Jim Baxter
6. Brilliancy Medley Eck Robertson and Family]]
7. Indian War Whoop Hoyt Ming and his Pep-Steppers
8. Old Country Stomp Henry Thomas
9. Old Dog Blue Jim Jackson
10. Saut Crapaud Columbus Fruge
11. Acadian One Step Joseph Falcon
12. Home Sweet Home The Breaux Freres (Clifford Breaux, Ophy Breaux, Amedee Breaux)
13. Newport Blues Cincinnati Jug Band
14. Moonshiner's Dance Part One Frank Cloutier and the Victoria Cafe Orchestra
15. Must Be Born Again Rev. J. M. Gates
16. Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting Rev. J. M. Gates
17. Rocky Road Alabama Sacred Harp Singers
18. Present Joys Alabama Sacred Harp Singers
19. This Song of Love Middle Georgia Singing Convention
20. Judgement Sister Mary Nelson
21. He Got Better Things For You Memphis Sanctified Singers
22. Since I Laid My Burden Down Edwards' Sanctified Singers
23. John The Baptist Moses Mason
24. Dry Bones Bascom Lamar Lunsford
25. John the Revelator Blind Willie Johnson
26. Little Moses The Carter Family
27. Shine On Me Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Singers
28. Fifty Miles of Elbow Room Rev. F.W. McGee
29. I'm In the Battle Field for My Lord Rev. D.C. Rice and His Sanctified Congregation


Track Song Title Performed By
1. The Coo Coo Bird Clarence Ashley
2. East Virginia Buell Kazee
3. Minglewood Blues Cannon's Jug Stompers
4. I Woke Up One Morning In May Didier Hebert
5. James Alley Blues Richard "Rabbit" Brown
6. Sugar Baby Dock Boggs
7. I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground Bascom Lamar Lunsford
8. Mountaineer's Courtship Ernest Stoneman and Hattie Stoneman
9. The Spanish Merchant's Daughter The Stoneman Family
10. Bob Lee Junior Blues The Memphis Jug Band
11. Single Girl, Married Girl The Carter Family
12. Le Vieux Soulard Et Sa Femme Cleoma Breaux and Joseph Falcon
13. Rabbit Foot Blues Blind Lemon Jefferson
14. Expressman Blues Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell
15. Poor Boy Blues Ramblin' Thomas
16. Feather Bed Cannon's Jug Stompers
17. Country Blues Dock Boggs
18. 99 Year Blues Julius Daniels
19. Prison Cell Blues Blind Lemon Jefferson
20. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean Blind Lemon Jefferson
21. C'est Si Triste Sans Lui Cleoma Breaux and [[Ophy Breaux w/ Joseph Falcon
22. Way Down The Old Plank Road Uncle Dave Macon
23. Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line Uncle Dave Macon
24. Spike Driver Blues Mississippi John Hurt
25. K.C. Moan The Memphis Jug Band
26. Train On The Island J.P. Nestor
27. The Lone Star Trail Ken Maynard
28. Fishing Blues Henry Thomas

External links


Because of their potential public domain status, some of these recordings are available on the Web: