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Smithsonian Folkways has made more than 300 standout titles from the famed Arhoolie Records catalog available digitally to all digital service providers and on CD and vinyl through the Smithsonian Folkways website. The remaining titles from the roughly 650-album collection will be released on an ongoing basis. Smithsonian Folkways acquired the Arhoolie catalog in May 2016, from its founder Chris Strachwitz and his business partner Tom Diamant.

Arhoolie Records founder Chris Stachwitz

Arhoolie Records founder Chris Stachwitz

Chris Strachwitz moved to the United States from Germany in 1947 and fell in love with American roots music. His first love was New Orleans jazz, but radio broadcasts from Los Angeles and Baja California introduced him to hillbilly, rhythm & blues, gospel, Mexican norteño music and beyond. A major collector of 78s, Strachwitz travelled to Texas in 1959 to meet his idol Lightning Hopkins, and was lucky enough to hear him perform live in a small beer joint. Struck by the exchange between Lightning and his audience, and by the poetry of his improvised lyrics, Chris decided right then and there that someone had to capture this man's music live in one of those joints and put it on a record. The following year, Chris returned to Houston only to find Hopkins leaving for California, so he and Mack McCormick, his guide to all things Texas, ventured north out of the city to Navasota, where they encountered and recorded outstanding local songster Mance Lipscomb. A few months later, in November 1960, Arhoolie LP 1001 introduced Chris' new label and that small town Texas songster to the world. (An arhoolie is a field holler; the name was suggested by McCormick.) Over the next 55 years, Chris and Arhoolie Records put out over 350 albums. A passionate seeker of just the right music, Chris’s many recordings included Cajun, zydeco, norteño, bluegrass, gospel and blues. Regional forms like zydeco may have never had national exposure without Arhoolie. The Smithsonian acquired the Arhoolie label from Chris and his partner Tom Diamant in 2016 to assure that his recordings would survive and remain available to future generations.

A few recordings from Arhoolie Records. Click here for more CDs, LPs, and 7-inch singles.