Thanksgiving Folk: The Origins of the Traditional American Song, part 2.

Ben’s Chili Bowl, photo courtesy of dbking

This week in The Roadhouse,

Part Two of last week’s Holiday program, Thanksgiving Folk: The Origins Of The Traditional American Song.

All the songs on this show are from the most influencial release of all-time. The Anthology Of American Folk Music. It’s an 84 song collection of recordings from the Golden Age of American recordings – from the dawn of electronic recording to when the depression killed it by 1934. Since it’s release in 1952, The Anthology continues to garner appreciation as a unique cultural document of an Old Weird America. Recordings of exotic music from our own backyard; mostly rural, Southern, and Mountain locations. Stuff most Americans were not at all familiar with at the time of release. It’s now considered to be the spark that ignited the Great Folk & Blues Revival of the 1960s.

It was assembled from the personal record collection of local eccentric Harry Smith.

Harry grew up round here, in our neck of the woods, and went to high-school in my hometown of Bellingham. His interest in off-beat American culture and his almost anthropological documentation of it began with his boyhood experiences with local Indian tribes – the Swinomish and the Lummi. By the time he was a teenager, he began collecting records, and experimenting with film. During WW II, he accumulated a mass collection of records, and helped rescue from obscurity much music that would have been otherwise discarded. This was a time when recording collecting was virtually unheard of, and his vinyl rarities could have been lost forever, as records were being used for shellac during the War effort.

Harry saved this music. He was a true digger. A hero.

When the Anthology was finally re-issued in 1997 by Smithsonian Folkways, the original packaging was not compromised – including Harry’s meticulous book of notes, which is part anthropological genius and a discographers dream. It’s also fantastic clip-art, and a window into Harry Smith’s eccentric and unique vision. Along with detailed bibliographies and credits (hand-typed!), Harry would write his own, fake, newspaper headlines to each songs. For instance, for the song “Frankie”, a song about a woman who revenge kills her lover, Harry writes ” ALBERT DIES PREFERRING ALICE FRY. BUT JUDGE FINDS FRANKIE CHARMING AT LATTER’S TRAIL” In “White House Blues” Harry writes, “McKINLEY SWEARS, MOURNS, DIES. ROOSEVELT GETS WHITE HOUSE AND SILVER CUP”.

Since the Anthology’s re-issue in 1997, there have been several tribute concerts devoted to the music of the Antholgy and to Harry Smith. You will hear on this show such live recordings, from a new release called The Harry Smith Project: The Anthology Revisted – featuring people like, Lou Reed, Beth Orton, Nick Cave, David Johansen, Wilco, and others.

Also on this show, I spoke with someone who knew Harry. Rani Singh is a Senior Research Associate at the Getty Institute in L.A., and the Director of The Harry Smith Archives. She also was co-produced The Harry Smith Project, which includes a DVD documentary about Harry. We spoke on the anniversary of Harry’s death, 15 years ago last Monday Nov 27th.

This show is for Harry Smith and his Anthology Of American Folk Music.

You can listen right now. Listen for up to 2 weeks. Pass to friend!

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