The Folkways Reach

For most people, Folkways Records is synonymous with the recordings of the iconic folk and blues musicians Woody Guthrie, Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), and Pete Seeger. Fans of early jazz find the recordings of giants such as James P. Johnson and Mary Lou Williams, and traditional music enthusiasts can hear Dock Boggs and Jean Ritchie. For other collectors, Folkways was the first company to record world music.

 
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Woody Guthrie

FW02483
1962
Ronald Clyne
Sid Grossman
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Hard Traveling — Woody Guthrie

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Precious Memories

FW02427
1962
Ronald Clyne
George Pickow
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Precious Memories — Jean Ritchie

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The Great Speckled Bird — Jean Ritchie

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The evocative photograph of this humble interior, which dominates the cover, is rendered in warm black and marigold, lending a nostalgic tone to the design. The neck of the banjo suggests a structure line that separates the performer's name from the title of the album, and together with the dulcimer, frames the mirror in which Jean Ritchie's image is reflected.

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Big Bill Broonzy Sings Folk Songs

FW02328
1962
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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This Train — Big Bill Broonzy

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Early blues giant Big Bill Broonzy was one of Moe Asch's favourite singers. The cover photograph strikes a contemplative mood with its cropped image of Broonzy's face filling the entire cover. The highlighted facial features gain a sculptural, immortal quality, which reinforces the musician's stature.

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Folk Songs and Instrumentals with Guitar

FW03526
1958
Ronald Clyne
John Cohen
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Freight Train — Elizabeth Cotten

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Elizabeth Cotten wrote the classic song "Freight Train" when she was a child. As the photograph shows and Mike Seeger's liner notes explain, "Elizabeth Cotten picks the regular guitar and banjo upside down, or left-handed, using country ragtime style...and a banjo strum" on both instruments and "the first string as thumb string."

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Negro Folk Songs for Young People

FW07533
1967
Ronald Clyne
Frederick Ramsey Jr.
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We're in the Same Boat, Brother — Lead Belly

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The grainy photograph conveys the honesty and integrity of the legendary Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter), wearing his customary suit and tie, performing for a young audience. A powerful singer and guitar player, Lead Belly possessed vast knowledge of African American music with a repertoire ranging from children's play-party games to prison songs. Moe Asch allowed him to record anything he wished, resulting in a canon that continues to influence musicians worldwide.

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Gazette, Volume 1

FW02501
1958
Ronald Clyne
Leona Pierce
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Newspapermen — Pete Seeger

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Iconic Folkways recording artist Pete Seeger sees American folk music as "a living, vital, creative force in our lives...as much a reflection of the present as the past." The cover design plays on the layout of a newspaper front page to create a tone that is popular, accessible, and reflective of the album's topical songs. The expressive woodcut captures Seeger's stage presence perfectly. Attributed to Antonio Frasconi, the woodcut is, in fact, the work of Leona Pierce, Frasconi's wife.

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Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon

FW02386
1962
Ronald Clyne
David Gahr
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Misery Falls Like Rain — Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon

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Duke Ellington and His Orchestra

FW02968
1983
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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Take the 'A' Train — Duke Ellington

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Dock Boggs

FW02351
1964
A. Doyle Moore
Unknown
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Pretty Polly — Dock Boggs

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The cover image is a formally arranged photograph of legendary old-time singer and banjo player, Dock Boggs. As a young man Boggs was able to earn enough as a musician to quit work in the coalmines but returned to the mines during the hard times of the Depression. In the 1960s, musician and traditional music scholar, Mike Seeger, sought out Boggs and introduced him to appreciative urban audiences, leading to this and other recordings.

Several generations have grown up on the music of Ella Jenkins and many other performers who produced children's recordings for Folkways. Teachers and librarians around the world have introduced their students to the history of the American civil rights movement and international struggles for freedom and justice through Folkways.

 
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Adventures in Rhythm

FW07682
1982
Irwin Rosenhouse
Jo Banks
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Hambone — Ella Jenkins

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Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Bigger Fishes

FW07611
1955
Unknown
Carlis
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I Know an Old Lady (Who Swallowed a Fly) — Pete Seeger

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This imaginative children's album cover by John Carlis shows a collection of playful animals arranged in tic-tac-toe formation. The curvilinear typography resembles a child's handwriting. Carlis illustrated many of Folkways earliest covers, especially, but not exclusively for the childrens series. His simple, straightforward designs evoke folk art and children's art.

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Songs to Grow On, Vol. 1: Nursery Days image1Songs to Grow On, Vol. 1: Nursery Days image2Songs to Grow On, Vol. 1: Nursery Days image3
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Songs to Grow On, Vol. 1: Nursery Days

FW07675
1959
Unknown
David Stone Martin
Riding in my car (Car song) — Woody Guthrie

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This volume of Songs to Grow On contains nursery songs that Woody Guthrie sang to his own daughter. The cover drawing by David Stone Martin shows three children, each one taller than the next, with the tallest having "grown" right out of the frame of the picture.

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Who Goes First? ¿Quien Va Primero? image1Who Goes First? ¿Quien Va Primero? image2Who Goes First? ¿Quien Va Primero? image3
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Who Goes First? ¿Quien Va Primero?

FW07857
1979
Ronald Clyne
David Gahr
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Dos y Dos; Tito; Tortilla; Pico; Arre Moto; Los Patitos — Bertha Cordova

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The cover is a finely textured photograph by David Gahr of a young girl striking a playful pose. She looks ready to join in the counting-out rhymes heard on the recording.

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Jambo and Other Call and Response Songs and Chants

FW07661
1974
Unknown
Bernadelle Richter
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Jambo — Ella Jenkins

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One of many recordings that Ella Jenkins made for Folkways, this album is based on Tanzanian call-and-response songs. Jambo means "hello" in Swahili. Photographs by Bernadelle Richter document Ella Jenkins's visit with Tanzanian children and the American children's group "Choir in Training," which performs with her on the album.

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What If I Am a Woman?

FW05537
1977
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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Maria W. Stewart, What if I Am a Woman — Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis

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Mary Church Terrel, Frederick Douglass, 1908 — Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis

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The cover engraving portrays Sojourner Truth, who was born a slave and freed in 1827 and who became a powerful voice against slavery and for women's rights. The speeches of African American women on this album include Sojourner Truth's "Woman's Rights," delivered in 1853 and read here by actor and civil rights activist Ruby Dee, introduced by her husband and fellow actor Ossie Davis. Dee and Davis were activists in the Civil Rights movement.

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Lest We Forget, Vol. 2

FW05487
1980
Unknown
Charles Moore
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Ralph Abernathy speaking — Ralph Abernathy

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Arms and fists of a group of peaceful civil rights protesters, raised in solidarity, dominate the picture at the top. Below, two scenes - one showing a water cannon, the other, police dogs - serve as reminders of law enforcement's response to such civil rights rallies.

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Songs of Struggle and Protest

FW05233
1964
Ronal Clyne
Lucienne Bloch
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What a Friend We Have In Congress — Pete Seeger

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The family in the foreground provides a stark contrast to the rich crop of corn from which they are separated by a barbed-wire fence. High-tension power lines signify the electrification of rural America, begun in the 1930s but of little use to the poor who could not afford it. The cover visually echoes the injustices outlined in the songs.

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Freedom Fighters of Algeria

FW05441
1962
Bob McCarron
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Inno Della Resistenza — n/a

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A green star and crescent moon, seen through a tangled web of barbed wire, underline the notion of an oppressed people whose spirit shines through despite adversity. The star, crescent moon, and colour green are references to the Algerian flag, and, in a more general sense, to the traditional symbols of Islam.

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Ding Dong Dollar

FW05444
1962
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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Ban Polaris - Hallelujah! — Glasgow Song Guild

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The cover photograph, taken in the early 1960's, is one of the first to include the peace sign. The use of the symbol originated in 1958 with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Britain. The group in the photograph is protesting the docking of American nuclear submarines (Polaris subs) in Scotland.

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Bertolt Brecht Before the Committee on Un-American Activities

FW05531
1967
Bob McCarron
M. Holmes
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October 30th 1947 pt. 2: The Actual Recording with Added Commentary by Eric Bentley — Bertolt Brecht

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The "red scare" of the post-World War II period in the United States is visualized, literally, in the red tone of the photograph. The album records the questioning of Bertolt Brecht in October 1947 by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Numerous writers, directors and performers, even non-Americans, such as Brecht, were investigated for their alleged communist sympathies.

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Songs of the Spanish Civil War, Vol. 2

FW05437
1966
Ronald Clyne
Pablo Picasso
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Sevilllanos

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The image is Picasso's famous mural Guernica, commemorating the attack on the Basque town by German bombers under Franco's command. Documenting human suffering through the use of distorted, cubist- and surrealist-based imagery, the nightmarish world represented here is a potent indictment of fascism and the horrors to which it leads.

A much smaller constituency knows Folkways for lectures, literature, and lives recounted-from the famous to the virtually unknown-contained in the spoken word collection. Perhaps least familiar are the remarkable Folkways soundscapes, such as the Sounds of Steam Locomotives and the Sounds of the Office, which document mid-twentieth-century everyday life and experience. This unparalleled diversity and eclecticism makes Folkways Records unique in the history of recording.

 
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W.E.B. DuBois: A Recorded Autobiography

FW05511
1961
Bob McCarron
Charles Wilbert White
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The Crisis — W. E. B. DuBois

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Moses Asch conducted the interview for this recorded autobiography of pioneering writer, scholar, and early civil rights leader W. E. B. DuBois. The cover portrait, by African American artist Charles Wilbert White, conveys Dubois's stature as a giant in the struggle against racism in America.

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Gods Trombones image1Gods Trombones image2Gods Trombones image3
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God's Trombones

FW09788
1965
Ronald Clyne
H. Pippin
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Let My People Go — Bryce Bond

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God's Trombones by James Weldon Johnson, author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, and early civil rights activist, is a collection of seven sermons written in free verse. It demonstrates the dignity and power of African American culture, using the stentorian, vernacular voice of the old-time black preacher, which Johnson likened to a trombone. The cover image, entitled Harmonizing, reinforces the musical metaphor.

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The Making of Americans image1The Making of Americans image2The Making of Americans image3
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The Making of Americans

FW09742
1963
Ronald Clyne
Richard Banks
Carl Van Vechten
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The Making of Americans — Marian Seldes

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An Interview with Henry Miller

FW09724
1964
Ronald Clyne
Cedric Wright
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Interview With Henry Miller, part 2 — Henry Miller

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This photograph of Henry Miller, his face taking up the entire cover surface, is expressive and engaging. Ronald Clyne intended the cover design to reflect the controversial nature of the writer, commenting that "orange catches your attention, and the full frame photograph makes his presence large." Miller, whose works were deemed pornographic in the United States until the 1960s, successfully challenged American censorship laws.

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The Psychedelic Experience

FW09701
1966
Ronald Clyne
Edward Epstein
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Going Out — Timothy Leary

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The fantastic, starburst image evokes the mind-expanding, psychedelic experience advocated and researched by "LSD traveler" Timothy Leary, who coined the popular 1960s counterculture mantra "Turn on, tune in, drop out." Readings presented here are from the book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead." Details in the cover image reference numerous mystical belief systems, ranging from Native American religions to Eastern philosophies.

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The Way of Eiheiji

FW08980
1960
Unknown
Unknown
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Breakfast Preparation Bells and Gongs… — n/a

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The vertical emphasis of the elegant Japanese calligraphic character for "Buddha" is echoed by the composition of the western typography to the right. The colour scheme, light sans serif typeface, and simple, spare structure create a quiet, contemplative mood.

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The Untypical Politician

FW05501
1956
Unknown
Ben Shahn
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Animals in Politics — Myles Platt

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Ben Shahn's illustration of a tight group of men in top hats, off to one side, is suggestive of the elitism and clubbiness of typical political power brokers. The image stands in contrast to the recording of speeches of untypical politicians, perhaps to suggest what they are up against.

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Millions of Musicians

FW05560
1954
Unknown
Joseph Carpini
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Country Auctioneers — Tony Schwartz

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Carpini's print is a close-up rendering of the face and hand of a man in a cap that evokes the notion of "everyman," underlining the intent of producer Tony Schwarz to document everyday people's everyday sonic expressions.

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Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca image1Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca image2Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca image3
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Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca

FW09580
1960
Ronald Clyne
Ronald Clyne
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Oda a Walt Whitman — Jorge Juan Rodríguez

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This abstract, multi-layered design makes effective use of two colours to create a somber, dreamlike backdrop for the clean, sans serif typography that emphasizes the poet's name, through a change in scale, and the subtitle, through a change in direction. The visual tone of the design subtly evokes the tragic circumstance of Lorca's death at the hands of the Spanish fascists.

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Stories and Poems of New Guinea image1Stories and Poems of New Guinea image2Stories and Poems of New Guinea image3
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Stories and Poems of New Guinea

FW09786
1979
Ronald Clyne
Ronald Clyne
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Papua New Guinea — Bernard Barshay

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Clyne illustrates this album cover with carved New Guinea houseposts from his own collection to dramatic effect. Each part of the title, set along the top edge, is anchored to one of the heads. The strong layout structure, which divides the square format into three equal parts, exhibits the modernist aesthetic so prominent in his work.

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Sounds of Steam Locomotives, Vol. 5 image1Sounds of Steam Locomotives, Vol. 5 image2Sounds of Steam Locomotives, Vol. 5 image3
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Sounds of Steam Locomotives, Vol. 5

FW06156
1976
Unknown
Reginald Marsh
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Norfolk and Western 4-6-6-4 and 2-8-8-2 — n/a

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Inspired by the sight of locomotives struggling up the Kicking Horse Pass in the Canadian Rockies, Vinton Wight set out to preserve the sounds of the steam engine that would soon disappear. The 1929 etching by Marsh is historicizing, placing the steam engine visually into the past even when it was still functioning. Moses Asch likely selected this cover image, since it was from his collection.

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Sounds of Insects image1Sounds of Insects image2Sounds of Insects image3
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Sounds of Insects

FW06178
1960
Ronald Clyne
Albro T. Gaul
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Suburban sounds (Crickets and temperature; Crickets chirp at slow speed)

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The cover photograph, a magnified negative image of the formidable hornet, visually reflects the sounds of the insects on the recording, which are greatly amplified and somewhat distorted. Entomologist, Albro T. Gaul produced the record based on his book The Wonderful World of Insects.