If you want to trace the history of recordings of American folk music there’s no better place than Smithsonian Folkways, and there’s no better person to speak with than Folkways archivist Jeff Place. Jeff has won two GRAMMY awards (and been nominated two more times) for collections he has put together for Folkways, and he produced and wrote the award-winning 1997 edition of the Anthology of American Folk Music.
Jeff shared his knowledge and experience with us, and took us on a tour of the Folkways archives. Early Carter Family recordings for Victor sit alongside field recordings of musicians not only from throughout Appalachia but from around the world. The archives hold the Woody Guthrie papers and the original recording of This Land Is Your Land, in addition to tapes and films from each of the Smithsonian folk festivals held each summer on the National Mall in DC.
Wayne Henderson is included in that collection cooking squirrel stew on the Mall. Jeff told us that Wayne took note of the tamed nature of squirrels on the Mall and observed that it would be easier to catch them than the ones who live closer to Rugby.
Folkways was founded by the legendary Moses Asch in New York in 1948, and over the next four decades the label released more than 2,000 albums. Following Asch’s death in 1986, the Smithsonian acquired Folkways from his estate and has continue its mission of recording and documenting the “people’s music” from all over the world.