Moses Asch’s Artistic Sensibility

It is no surprise that Moe Asch had a keen artistic sensibility. Art and artists were ever-present throughout his life. He was the son of famous Yiddish writer and intellectual, Sholem Asch who was a central figure in the international artistic community. Asch spent his early years in Europe, traveling extensively with his family before they settled in New York. Between the world wars, he studied sound technology in Germany. He returned to New York at a time when the city was becoming the nexus of international cultural and artistic expression.

 
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Statement: Lecture at Columbia University image1Statement: Lecture at Columbia University image2Statement: Lecture at Columbia University image3Statement: Lecture at Columbia University image4
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Statement: Lecture at Columbia University

FW35503
1977
Ronald Clyne
Hermann Struck
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Statement — Sholem Asch

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The traditional, centered arrangement, together with the surrounding border and colour selection, lends a serious and solemn tone to the cover. The drawing of Sholem Asch, along with the word "Statement," conveys a sense of resolve, while the title Sholem Asch Statement adds a sense of defiance. The Columbia lecture was Asch's response to attacks from within the Jewish community over his writings on Christian themes.

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Niloh Service image1Niloh Service image2Niloh Service image3
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Niloh Service

FW08925
1973
Irwin Rosenhouse
Irwin Rosenhouse
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Ato Hivdalto M'Chol Lavonoseinu — Abraham Brun

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The sketchy quality of the image and hand-rendered letterforms give currency and immediacy to this traditional Jewish service. The first recordings made by Moe Asch were popular Yiddish songs, Jewish commentaries, and educational programming for radio station WEVD. Jewish cantorials and liturgical material from other faiths became an important part of the Folkways catalogue.

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The History of Jazz image1The History of Jazz image2The History of Jazz image3
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The History of Jazz

FW02860
1978
Ronald Clyne
Joan Miro
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Who Stole the Lock off the Henhouse Door — Mary Lou Williams

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Hesitation Boogie — Mary Lou Williams

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The Miro painting reflects the playful, dynamic nature of the wide range of jazz music recorded here. The form and colour of the type subtly reiterate the whimsical qualities of the painting. Contrast is provided by the warmth of the orange ground. Mary Lou Williams was a pioneer jazz musician, arranger, and composer, and one of Moe Asch's favourite artists.

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When I was a Boy in Brooklyn image1When I was a Boy in Brooklyn image2When I was a Boy in Brooklyn image3
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When I was a Boy in Brooklyn

FW03501
1961
Ronald Clyne
David Gahr
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Autograph Books — Israel Kaplan

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An unabashed reconstruction of a piece of American life that disappeared between the wars, this recording presents the boyhood experiences of Israel Caplan: "The asphalt and the cobblestone pavements of Brooklyn spawned a resilient and self-contained comitatus that was able to perform that strangest of all human duties--entertaining itself" (liner notes).

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Eugene V. Debs

FW05571
1979
Ronald Clyne
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An Overview of Eugene V. Debs

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The bold, slab serif typeface and posterized photograph give weight and power to this tribute to Eugene V. Debs, trade unionist, socialist, and revolutionary. The red, white, and blue colour scheme underlines Debs's passion for the America "of the people." Moe Asch's first recordings in the 1930s were for the Yiddish radio station WEVD, created in 1927 by the Socialist Party. The station call letters stood for the initials of Eugene Victor Debs.

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Margaret Walker Reads Poems by Langston Hughes and Margaret Walker image1Margaret Walker Reads Poems by Langston Hughes and Margaret Walker image2
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Margaret Walker Reads Poems by Langston Hughes and Margaret Walker

FW09797
1975
Ronald Clyne
Tom Feelings
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Harlem — Margaret Walker

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The impressionistically rendered cover artwork by Tom Feelings is sensitive and intense. The guitarist is intent on his playing, his expression conveying the depth of feeling for the music and the story it tells. The writings of Langston Hughes and Margaret Walker celebrate ordinary black life and experience, drawing upon African American music for inspiration.

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The Asch Recordings 1939 - 1945, Vol. 2

FW00AA3/4
1939, 1967
Irwin Rosenhouse
Irwin Rosenhouse
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Cowboy Waltz — Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston

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Issued in 1967, this album is a compilation of material that first appeared on Asch and Disc Recordings, predecessor labels to Folkways. The cover design features the lively, hand-generated type for which Rosenhouse became known. The two-colour design makes use of overprinting to create a third colour and reversal to render the typographic elements at the top in white.

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Take This Hammer

FW31019
1950, 1968
Craig Meirop
Craig Meirop
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Take This Hammer — Lead Belly

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This image of Lead Belly shows him wearing his customary suit and tie. The capital sans serif letterforms create a simple band of typographic elements along the top edge, which allows the powerful, full-colour illustration to dominate. This album contains many of Lead Belly's signature songs and demonstrates how the legendary artist captivated audiences everywhere with "his steel voice, his steel arm on the twelve strings, and his high-voltage personality" (liner notes).

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Dixieland Jazz in the Forties

FW02853
1978
Ronald Clyne
Walker Evans
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Red Hot Mama — The Muggsy Spanier Group

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Main Street Architecture, Selma, Alabama, 1935. This photograph by Walker Evans is one among many by this important photographer to be featured on Folkways covers. Always concerned with people and their environments, Evans records with clarity and dignity, main street architecture from the southern town of Selma, Alabama.

Asch used his technical skills to begin documenting the diversity of this community first for radio and later through recordings. His interest in the visual arts included an appreciation for non-Western and folk art as well as art that reflected a particular social or political experience. This interest in folk traditions is reflected not only on the recordings but also in collaborations with artists who shared his aesthetic sensibilities and social conscience and whose work appears on the covers of Folkways albums.

 
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Struggle

FW02485
1976
Ronald Clyne
David Stone Martin
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Union Burying Ground — Woody Guthrie

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David Stone Martin's lithograph, a reference to Guthrie's "Union Burying Ground," exemplifies two related themes in the Folkways catalogue: the struggle of the working people and the history of the American labour movement. The simplified form and raw expressive power of the print, framed by the red border with black letters, typifies a colour combination and style used in Folkways albums dealing with themes of people's struggles.

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Mississippi's Big Joe Williams

FW03820
1962
Ronald Clyne
Raeburn Flerlage
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She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain — Big Joe Williams

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Eminent Chicago photographer Raeburn Flerlage took this intimate portrait of Big Joe Williams. Flerlage began his career documenting the greats of jazz and blues when Moe Asch asked him to take photographs of Memphis Slim for a Folkways cover. His ability to hone in on the musician in this personal and evocative way is emblematic of his work and reflects his deep connection to the music and the musicians. His portraits and performance photographs create an invaluable document of the Chicago music scene of the 1960s and early 1970s.

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Mexican Corridos

FW06913
1956
Irwin Rosenhouse
Irwin Rosenhouse
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El Arreglo Religioso: Pts. 1 and 2 — Cancioneros de Sonora

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Corridos are stories told in song. The simple, "primitivist" style used in the design transforms the figure of a Mexican revolutionary into the personification of death in a carnivalesque combination of playfulness and the macabre that evokes the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday, commemorating deceased ancestors.

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Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child image1Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child image2Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child image3
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Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child

FW07015
1950, 1953
Ronald Clyne
David Gahr
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Little Sack of Sugar — Woody Guthrie

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This luminous photograph by David Gahr conveys the intimacy between a mother and her baby. The first of a series, the album contains playfully instructive songs by Woody Guthrie about everyday activities, such as bathing, eating and playing, meant to amuse and stimulate the imagination of very young children. The liner notes include drawings by Guthrie.

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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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This Land is My Land image1This Land is My Land image2This Land is My Land image3
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This Land is My Land

FW07027
1951
Unknown
Irwin Rosenhouse
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The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn — Pete Seeger

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This rough, organic, stamped image reinforces the notion of hands-on labour involved in farm work, further epitomized by the silhouetted worker, hoe in hand. Overprinting of various tints of pink and blue makes effective use of two-colour printing, creating a rich third colour, dark purple. The hand-generated Rosenhouse letterforms across the top animate the whole.

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Woody Guthries Childrens Songs image1Woody Guthries Childrens Songs image2Woody Guthries Childrens Songs image3
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Woody Guthrie's Children's Songs

FW07503
1974
Ronald Clyne
Woody Guthrie
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Bling Blang — Logan English

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Although best known for his songs, Woody Guthrie was also a prolific writer and artist, illustrating countless of his own stories and songs. The drawing for this collection, with the bright red background, swinging hammer, and modest little house, is typical of his style--cheerful, animated, and accessible.

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Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti (front cover) image1Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti (front cover) image2Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti (front cover) image3
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Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti (front cover)

FW5485a
1965
Designers Collaborative
Antonio Frasconi
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Vanzetti's Letter — Woody Guthrie

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The songs on this album commemorate the Italian immigrants and anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who, in what was to become a notorious miscarriage of justice, were tried and executed in Boston during the 1920s.

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Irish Folk Songs for Women

FW03518
1958
Unknown
Miriam Schottland
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Come, Oh Love — Lori Holland

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The rich, decorative patterning of this block print evokes a folk art tradition. The green of the woman's dress and the harp that she is playing clearly mark the album as Irish, while the script and decorative framing suggest early Irish manuscripts.