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Smithsonian Folkways Records


Woody Guthrie - 'Asch Recordings, Vol. 1'

Woody Guthrie - 'Asch Recordings, Vol. 1'

© Smithsonian Folkways

Basic Information:

Folkways Records was founded in New York City in 1948 by Moses (Moe) Asch and Marian Distler, for the purpose of recording the traditional music of the world. The label released more than two thousand recordings from the time it was founded until Asch's death in 1986. Due to Moe Asch's allegiance to traditional singer-songwriters, and his championing of folks like Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, Folkways became one of the most influential folk music record labels in its time, next to Verve Records (in which Asche also had a hand). Folkways Records was acquired by the Smithsonian following Asch's death in 1986.

Smithsonian Folkways Artists:

Though Folkways continues to release timely and timeless recordings by contemporary artists, the label is best known for its collections by classic folk artists like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, the Almanac Singers, Ledbeally, Big Bill Broonzy, the Carter Family, Guy Carawan, Elizabeth Cotten, Ella Jenkins, Flatt & Scruggs, Lightnin' Hopkins, Cisco Houston, Alice Gerrard, the Freedom Singers, and others. The old days of Folkways also included recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Charles Ives, and other jazz legends.

Recommended CDs from Smithsonian Folkways:

Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Leadbelly: The Original Folkways Recordings (Smithsonian Folkways, 2008) compare prices

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard: Pioneering Women of Bluegrass (Smithsonian Folkways, 1996) compare prices

Birds, Beasts, Bugs, and Fishes Little and Big: Animal Folk Songs (by Pete Seeger, for Smithsonian Folkways, 1998) compare prices

Books By and About Smithsonian Folkways:

Smithsonian Folkways has also produced a number of books by and about the artists it has always championed. Among them:
Making People's Music: Moe Asch and Folkways Records, by Peter D. Goldsmith.
Labor's Troubadour by Joe Glazer
Lox, Stocks, and Backstage Broadway: Iconic Trades of New York City by Nancy Groce
Riding in My Car (an illustrated children's book), by Woody Guthrie

Visit the Folkways Books site for more information on their books.

Purchase/Download Folkways MP3s:

"Won't You Come Sing for Me" (by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, from Classic Bluegrass: Vol. 2)
"The Virginian Strike of '23" (by Mike Seeger, from Tipple, Loom & Rail: Songs of the Industrialization of the South)
"Keep Your Hands Off Her" (by Leadbelly, from A Vision Revisited - The Original Peformances Of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger)
"Three Little Birds" (by Elizabeth Mitchell, from You Are My Little Bird)

History of Smithsonian Folkways Records:

Moses Asch founded Asch Records in New York City in the 1940s, recording originally to 78 RPM recordings, then eventually migrating to LPs when they were invented in 1948 and changing the name of the label to Folkways Records. When he died in 1986, the label was taken over by the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, DC. It then became known as Smithsonian Folkways - the label under which it has been producing high-quality music and books ever since.

Asch cataloged more than 2,000 recordings in his life with Folkways Records, focusing on the indigenous music of communities around the world, he collected Cajun songs and Mormon songs, protest songs, children's songs, and love songs. He was a major champion of the work of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and Pete Seeger; paying Guthrie to record music during a time when Guthrie would otherwise have been destitute.

When the Smithsonian took over Folkways, the deal was facilitated by Moe's family to make sure the label retained the same dignity with which Asch had always run it. He saw no need, for example, to delete any recordings from his catalog simply because some artists may have become more popular than others. His interest was in preserving folk music. Indeed, the Smithsonian Folkways label has defined as part of its mission statement, an intention to "strengthen people's engagement with their own cultural heritage and to enhance their awareness and appreciation of the cultural heritage of others."

Since 1986, the Smithsonian has added other labels under the Folkways umbrella, bringing in the catalogs of Cook, Monitor, Fast Folk, and others. Fast Folk was the label and magazine developed by folksingers in Greenwich Village during the late 1970s and 1980s. Learn more about Fast Folk with this profile and biography.

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