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Smithsonian Folkways Makes More Than 5,500 Arhoolie Tracks Available

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I Wonder Where You Are TonightSmithsonian Folkways is making more than 300 standout albums (over 5,500 tracks) from the famed Arhoolie Records catalog available digitally and on CD through the Smithsonian Folkways website starting October 21 (folkways.si.edu/arhoolie). The remaining titles from the roughly 650-album collection will be released on an ongoing basis. Arhoolie Records is best known for "down home" blues, jazz, country, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, Mexican-American, and world music. Smithsonian Folkways acquired the Arhoolie catalog in May 2016 from its founder Chris Strachwitz and his business partner Tom Diamente. It is the largest addition to the Smithsonian Folkways catalogue since it launched in 1987, bringing the total number of available tracks to almost 60,000.

Some albums of interest to our readers include the bluegrass recordings on Arhoolie Records. Artists include Del McCoury's I Wonder Where You Are Tonight (1967). Stevie Barr with Friends Along the Crooked Road features bluegrass from Virginia's The Crooked Road heritage trail. You'll also find Snuffy Jenkins' album Pioneer of the Bluegrass Banjo and The Vern Williams Band's Traditional Bluegrass and other recordings from the past.

From Blues to Bluegrass and Zydeco to Ukrainian folk music, there is enough roots music to keep you busy day and night being entertained by the vast catalog of roots music from the south and the world.

The collection features seminal recordings by artists such as Bukka White, Big Mama Thornton, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Big Joe Williams, Flaco Jiménez, and Clifton Chenier. More recent releases include titles from the Savoy Family Band, the Magnolia Sisters, and the Pine Leaf Boys. "Hear Me Howling," a collection of recordings made in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1960s, won a GRAMMY Award in 2011. That same year, the label issued a GRAMMY-nominated retrospective box set celebrating Arhoolie's 50th anniversary.

The Arhoolie acquisition brings more than 1,000 new artists into the Folkways family and includes 350+ albums released going back to 1960, as well as recordings from three South Texas regional labels specializing in Mexican music (Ideal, Falcon, and Rio); Andean Huayno music from the Peruvian label Discos Smith; and archival materials. Remaining titles from the roughly 650-album collection will be released on an ongoing basis.

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 selected number of titles unearthed from Arhoolie's El Cerrito warehouse are also available on vinyl, in limited quantity. They include:

  • Clifton Chenier - The King of Zydeco (12")
  • Michael Doucet & Beausoleil - Parlez-Nouz à Boire (12")
  • Strange Creek Singers - Strange Creek Singers (12")
  • Uncle John Patterson - Plains, Georgia Rock (12")
  • Flaco Jiménez - "Ay Te Dejo en San Antonio" (7")
  • Rose Maddox - "Philadelphia Lawyer" (7")
  • CJ Chenier - Check Out the Zydeco" (7")
  • See a full list on vinyl at folkways.si.edu/arhoolie

    Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among people through the documentation, preservation, production, and dissemination of sound. Part of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, it is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States.

    Smithsonian Folkways Recordings retail distribution in the US is through ADA (Alternative Distribution Alliance) at 800.239.3232. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings releases are available through record and book outlets. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, as well as Folkways Records, A.R.C.E., Arhoolie, Banjo Builders, Blue Ridge Institute, Cook, Collector, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, I.L.A.M., The Mickey Hart Collection, Monitor, M.O.R.E., Paredon, and UNESCO, are available via mail order at 888.FOLKWAYS or 800.410.9815. Visit the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website at folkways.si.edu or write to 600 Maryland Ave. SW, Suite 2001, Washington, DC, 20024.

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

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