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The Folkways Collection
A podcast series from Smithsonian Folkways and CKUA Radio
This series of 24 one-hour programs explores the remarkable collection of music, spoken word, and sound recordings that make up Folkways Records (now at the Smithsonian as Smithsonian Folkways Recordings). The music of modern day giants like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Ani Difranco is interwoven with original Folkways recordings to demonstrate the lasting legacy that Folkways Records has on popular music. Recent and archival interviews with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Mickey Hart, Studs Terkel, and others help reveal the remarkable human stories behind this equally remarkable collection. The series was produced by CKUA Radio in Alberta, Canada and originally aired in 1999.
- Episode 1: A Folkways Overture
The opening program in the series paints a broad canvas, presenting outstanding musical samples that reflect the strength and diversity of the Folkways collection. Included is a sampling of original and archival interviews with the many personalities featured throughout the series, including Pete Seeger, Mickey Hart, and more. This program also introduces the key themes explored over the 24 programs, such as the role of music in social activism.
- Episode 2: Moses Asch: Man and Myth
This program examines Moses Asch, the founder of Folkways Records, and the influences which guided his choices in building the Folkways Collection. Among those interviewed for this program are Asch's son, Michael Asch Professor Emeritus of the University of Alberta; Asch's biographer, Peter Goldsmith of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire; and renowned folk singer Peter Seeger. Musical selections for this episode reflect works which Asch himself considered particularly significant or which had a profound bearing on his work.
- Episode 3: Folkways: An American Canon
The third program in the series explores the Folkways collection in terms of its remarkable breadth and the fascinating way in which it was catalogued by Moses Asch. The program incorporates many and varied examples of the material Asch recorded over the years, ranging from field recordings of rural blues and folk music, to ethnic recordings from around the world, to 'soundscapes', to oral history, to recordings of the poets of the Beat era, to the studio recordings of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, The Lost City Ramblers and Lead Belly.
- Episode 4: The Anthology of American Folk Music™ Part I
This is the first of three programs which take an in-depth look at the Anthology of American Folk Music™, an award-winning collection edited by Harry Smith as a commissioned project by Folkways, and recently re-released on Smithsonian Folkways. This episode focuses on the original material in the anthology and the process by which it was collected and published.
- Episode 5: The Anthology of American Folk Music™ Part II
This is the second of three programs which take an in-depth look at the Anthology of American Folk Music™. This episode tells the fascinating story of the life of film-maker, record producer and entrepreneur Harry Smith and his life-long musical odyssey, which took him across the United States and beyond.
- Episode 6: The Anthology of American Folk Music™ Part III
This is the third of three programs which take an in-depth look at this award-winning collection compiled by eccentric record collector and folk historian Harry Smith. This episode examines the enduring legacy of the Anthology of American Folk Music™, and features 'cover' versions of works found in the original Harry Smith collection.
- Episode 7: Huddie Leadbetter (Lead Belly)
Huddie William Leadbetter was a convicted murderer who overcame adversity to establish himself as a music legend.In addition to his own compositions, Lead Belly was a living library of old European ballads, black work songs, southern ballads, blues and even cowboy songs. His own work included such popular favorites as "Goodnight Irene" and "Rock Island Line". In this program, we learn about the life and music of the man known as 'Lead Belly,' through Folkways recordings of his performances and both archival and contemporary interviews.
- Episode 8: Woody Guthrie
An original folk hero, Woody Guthrie transformed the folk ballad into a vehicle for social protest. Guthrie wrote literally hundreds of songs, many of them now revered classics, including the unofficial anthem "This Land Is Your Land." He was also a major influence on music superstars such as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Moses Asch, who recorded much of Guthrie's material, thought of Woody as nothing less than a full-blown genius. Program eight is devoted to a portrait of this giant in American folk music.
- Episode 9: Blues
Among its other accomplishments, the Folkways collection captures significant developments in the evolution of the Blues as a dominant genre in American roots music. This program looks at key blues artists in the collection, including Lead Belly, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Lightnin' Hopkins, and reviews musical examples from a variety of blues styles: tradition rural blues, piano blues and urban blues. Among the works incorporated in this program are selections from a Folkways blues anthology entitled Asch Recordings 1939-47, Volume 1: Blues, Gospel and Jazz.
- Episode 10: Jazz
The Folkways collection is primarily regarded as a repository of folk music, but Moses Asch's appetite was eclectic if nothing else, and he was an early recorder of jazz music. A number of notable jazz recordings found their way into the collection. This Program explores the connections of a number of jazz greats, such as James P. Johnson and Mary Lou Williams, to the Folkways collection.
- Epsode 11: Country and Bluegrass
The Folkways collection captures the evolution of modern day country and bluegrass music through its field recordings of rural American music earlier in this century. The focus of this program is on the music and artists of the southern country and bluegrass genres; music from Tennessee, Kentucky and the Appalachians. Artists such as the New Lost City Ramblers, the Carter Family and Doc Watson are featured.
- Episode 12: Pete Seeger
Born of a renowned musical family, Pete Seeger's name is synonymous with the post-War American folk music revival. A contemporary of and collaborator with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger casts his own long shadow over the folk music genre. This program overviews Seeger's life and music, including his work with Guthrie, and features recent interviews with Seeger and those who have known him well.
- Episode 13: Music and the Winds of Change: The Labor Movement
This episode is the first of three programs which look at how Folkways artists have used music as an instrument for social activism. This particular program focuses on musicians whose songs inspired those struggling for improved working conditions and wages. The works of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Cisco Houston, have all played a vital role in the labor movement, and we celebrate that history in this episode.
- Episode 14: Music and the Winds of Change: The Civil Rights Movement
The second of three programs on music as an instrument of social activism, this episode pays particular attention to material in the Folkways collection which documents and reflects the civil rights struggle, especially through the ten year period between 1955 and 1965. The program draws on such Folkways albums as "Voices of the Civil Rights Movement (Black American Freedom Songs, 1960-1966) and an audio-verite recording of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington entitled "We Shall Overcome." Original interviews with Bernice Johnson Reagon of the SNCC Freedom Singers and one-time Black Panther activist Angela Davis blend with archival interviews from Smithsonian Folkways to recapture the spirit of the struggle and to provide contemporary context to its meaning.
- Episode 15: Music and the Winds of Change: The Women's Movement
Moses Asch was committed to supporting and reflecting the struggle for equality by American women through a number of the artists featured on Folkways, among them Peggy Seeger. This Program reviews the material on this subject and features interviews with prominent contemporary female artists, reflecting on the contribution of Folkways to the women's movement.
- Episode 16: Children's Music
One of the great treasures stored within the Folkways collection is the body of children's music recorded by such artists as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Ella Jenkins. The Program takes us on a voyage of joyful rediscovery, aided by the perspectives of Seeger, Jenkins and others.
- Episode 17: Voices of History
A significant section of the Folkways collection is devoted to documentaries and oral history. This program gives the listener a sense of the remarkable material contained within these recordings and a sense of the foresight which Moses Asch demonstrated in preserving this material for future generations.
- Episode 18: Music of the World
The phenomenal diversity of the Folkways collection becomes immediately apparent when one examines the field recordings of ethnic music which Moses Asch collected from around the world. In many respects, this body of work set the stage for the explosion of so-called 'world beat' and 'world fusion' music in the 1990's. This is the first of two programs dedicated to this subject, incorporating both original recordings from Folkways and modern examples of world music hybrids.
- Episode 19: Music of the World II
This is the second of two programs dedicated to exploring Moses Asch's field recordings of ethnic music from around the world, incorporating both original recordings from the Folkways collection and more contemporary examples. This episode also includes interviews with some of the notable artists who have led the parade toward a truly global sound in music, such as Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead.
- Episode 20: The Poets
Poetry held a special place in Moses Asch's heart, and the Folkways collection includes original recordings of some of the most influential poets of our time, such as Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes and Leonard Cohen. This program reviews these unique artists--and many others--as captured on vinyl.
- Episode 21: Subterranean Homesick Blues I
It seems almost everybody who was destined to become a somebody to the Beat Generation turned up in Greenwich Village in the late 1950s, and, of course, Moses Asch and Folkways were right in the thick of it. This is the first of two programs in the series dedicated to this fascinating era, revealing the personalities, rivalries and creations of some of the most influential people of the time: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs, to name a few.
- Episode 22: Subterranean Homesick Blues II
Greenwich Village in the late 1950s and early 1960s--the time and place has taken on the flavor of legend. This second of two programs focusing on the era looks at Folkways Records' documentation of the burgeoning folk music revival and the New York coffee house scene which led to the birth of the singer-songwriter genre.
- Episode 23: Phil Ochs
For a time, Phil Ochs was considered Bob Dylan's greatest rival for the crown atop the politicized folk music movement of the 1960s. His life ended in tragedy; his downward spiral as an individual and as an artist coinciding with the increasingly confused and cynical mood of America in the late 60s and early 70s. This program examines the legacy of this great singer-songwriter.
- Episode 24: Epilogue
This final program in the series revisits some of the great music and oral tradition of the Folkways collection and incorporates interviews with a variety of artists, biographers and music historians to place the Folkways collection in its proper historical context--at least as clearly as can be determined just fifty years after the Folkways label was born.