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Anthology of American Folk Music®

Historical and award-winning collection

The Anthology of American Folk Music (SFW 40090), Edited by Harry Smith, is one of the most influential releases in the history of recorded sound. Originally issued by Folkways in 1952 as three volumes of 2 LPs each, (a total of 84 tracks), it had been commercially unavailable for many years before this 1997 reissue.

The importance and quality of the Anthology reissue and the accompanying documentation was recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which bestowed two Grammy Awards on Folkways for this project: 1997 Best Historic Album, and 1997 Best Album Notes.

Click to watch video

Harry Smith and the Anthology of American Folk Music. Video edited by Charlie Weber, Joan Hua, and Sara Legg.

When it was initially released, the Anthology brought virtually unknown parts of America's musical landscape to the public's attention. It inspired a generation of musicians to go in search of the traditions, and, in some cases, the musicians whose recordings Harry Smith had selected to include in the Anthology.

Released at a time when the commercial recording industry had largely congealed into a few relatively homogeneous mass markets, the Anthology successfully answered a widespread need for fresh inspiration, aesthetic authority, and uncommon artistry in popular music. It played a seminal role in the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, which has had lasting political, economic, and aesthetic impact on American culture.

For more than half a century, the collection has profoundly influenced fans, ethnomusicologists, music historians, and cultural critics; it has inspired generations of popular musicians, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Jerry Garcia. Many of the songs included in the Anthology have now become classics.

The Smithsonian Folkways reissue comes in a 12" by 12" box containing 84 tracks on 6 CDs. Meticulous digital remastering of the selections ensures the best possible sound quality. Also included in the box is an award-winning 100-page "Booklet of Essays, Appreciations, and Annotations Pertaining to the Anthology of American Folk Music." The booklet follows Harry Smith's original vision and features his "scientific/aesthetic handbook" of songs, an essay by noted critic and author Greil Marcus, additional essays, song notes, photos, graphics, a reproduction of the original liner notes, and recollections by well known artists about the impact of this anthology on their own lives. Compiled and edited by Smithsonian Archivist Jeff Place, the booklet received the 1997 Grammy Award for "Best Album Notes."