Folkways means that “everything occurring on the earth and in the contemporary time is being recorded. Folkways is a record company to describe the human race, the sound it makes, what it creates.

Moses Asch

Spoken Word

The postwar cultural and literacy movements of the 1950s saw a strong interest in using sound recordings to capture and disseminate works of literature. The Folkways spoken word category represents an extensive collection of classical and contemporary literature, crowned by major writers reading their own works. These albums demonstrate an explicit inclusion of elite culture but clearly privilege voices from the margins, including the progressive, the avant-garde, and the oppositional.

 
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The Bhagavad Gita image1The Bhagavad Gita image2The Bhagavad Gita image3
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The Bhagavad Gita

FW09920
1951
Irwin Rosenhouse
Unknown
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53rd-73rd Verses, Chapter 2 (in Sanskrit) — Telliyavaram Mahadevan, Ponnambalam Mahadevan

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This famous and beloved sculpture of Lord Krishna in dance pose, softened and mellowed by yellow and brown tones, leads effectively to the Bhagavad Gita in which Lord Krishna figures centrally, offering guidance and wisdom to human beings torn by contradictions.

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The Poetry of Abraham Sutzkever image1The Poetry of Abraham Sutzkever image2The Poetry of Abraham Sutzkever image3
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The Poetry of Abraham Sutzkever

FW09947
1960
Irwin Rosenhouse
Marc Chagall
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Yiddishe Gass — Abraham Sutzkever

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This cover image is by Marc Chagall, who was a friend of Abraham Sutzkever, one of the great Yiddish poets. It illustrates Sutzkever's poem "Sibir," which describes his family's experience in Siberia. The poems present life in the Vilna Ghetto during World War II, the struggle to survive, and the atrocities committed against the Jewish people.

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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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La Chanson de Roland

FW09587
1961
Unknown
Unknown
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XXXIV – XVLII

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The black line drawing, set against a somber brown background, depicts an army of knights led by Roland setting off to battle. This famous epic poem, read in medieval French by members of Montreal's Proscenium Theatre, presents Roland's account of the tragic seventh-century battle against the Saracens in Spain.

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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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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.

Such voices also dominate the interview recordings of important twentieth-century figures. The cover art for the spoken word albums shines in setting historical and stylistic contexts, with portraits, artworks, and other references to Euro-American artistic and intellectual trends and reinforces their progressive edge.

 
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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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Dante: The Inferno

FW09871
1959
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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Canto VI: The Gluttons — John Ciardi

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A striking red and black cover depicts Dante and his guide standing on a mass of dark bodies convulsing on the ground. Backlit by the unrelenting brightness of hellfire, the gruesome image evokes mass destruction for the modern, post-World War II viewer.

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Readings from Walt Whitman image1Readings from Walt Whitman image2Readings from Walt Whitman image3
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Readings from Walt Whitman

FW09750
1958
Unknown
Carlis
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Hear America Singing - 'Inscriptions' — The University Players

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This evocative image places the poet against a grass-coloured ground. It is based on Samuel Hollyer's steel engraving of Gabriel Harrison's 1854 daguerreotype, depicting Whitman as a young man. Hollyer's engraving, which appeared as the frontispiece portrait in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, was criticized for its "informality." Whitman, however, liked its "natural, honest, easy" quality and had it placed opposite "Song of Myself" in the 1881 reprint.

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W.E.B. DuBois: A Recorded Autobiography image1W.E.B. DuBois: A Recorded Autobiography image2W.E.B. DuBois: A Recorded Autobiography image3
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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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French African Poems image1French African Poems image2French African Poems image3
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French African Poems

FW09933
1977
Ronald Clyne
Tyani Mayakivi
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Negritude - Aimé Césaire — Paul A. Mankin

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The cover lithograph by Tyani Mayakivi is entitled Mr. T. Moyokin at Age Eighty. The album showcases African poetry of "negritude," a concept asserting black identity in response to colonialism. Among the internationally renowned poets represented are Senghor and Cesaire.

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Brendan Behan on Joyce

FW09826
1968
Ronald Clyne
John
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This album is not publicly available at this time. No audio sample is available.

The cover drawing of James Joyce, simply signed "John, 1930," depicts the famous writer in a direct, informal manner. The recording is from a lecture that Irish author Brendan Behan delivered to the James Joyce Society at the Gotham Book Mart in New York City. The liner notes include an application for membership to the Society, which was founded in 1947 and remains active today.