…with the formation of Folkways Records I started the more intense catalog of protest songs, workers songs, protest poetry, documentation, etcetera.

Moses Asch

Passion and Populism

A populist emphasis was reinforced by the use of images produced by a number of key Folkways artists, photographers and designers, some of whom had worked on public arts projects initiated by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression. These projects not only provided financial relief to struggling artists, they documented the economic hardships suffered by the American people, highlighting social and economic injustice. It was in the context and spirit of these projects, about the people and for the people, that Folkways covers were firmly grounded.

 
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Songs of Struggle and Protest image1Songs of Struggle and Protest image2Songs of Struggle and Protest image3
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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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Dust Bowl Ballads image1Dust Bowl Ballads image2Dust Bowl Ballads image3
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Dust Bowl Ballads

FW05212
1964
Ronald Clyne
Arthur Rothstein
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The Great Dust Storm — Woody Guthrie

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Some of the most enduring images of the "dustbowl" come from photographers, such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Arthur Rothstein, who documented the rural poor while working for the Farm Security Administration. Arthur Rothstein's famous 1936 photograph, Fleeing a Dust Storm, is the perfect image for Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads.

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Struggle image1Struggle image2Struggle image3
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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.

Folkways cover art and designs are as eclectic as the music and sound collection itself. They include reproductions from the work of such widely recognized artists as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Joan Miro, as well as the work of artists more closely associated with Moe Asch, such as Ben Shahn, Antonio Frasconi, and David Stone Martin. Although many graphic designers contributed significantly to Folkways including David Stone Martin, John Carlis and Irwin Rosenhouse, the designs of Ronald Clyne dominate the body of work. Clyne, alone, designed over 1000 Folkways covers.

 
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Songs of the Spanish Civil War, Vol. 2 image1Songs of the Spanish Civil War, Vol. 2 image2Songs of the Spanish Civil War, Vol. 2 image3
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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.

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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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Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti (back cover) image1
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Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti (back cover)

FW5485b
1965
Designers Collaborative
Antonio Frasconi
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Vanzetti's Letter — Woody Guthrie

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Frasconi's woodcuts were undoubtedly informed by Ben Shahn's social realist paintings from the early 1930s, which deal with the controversial trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.

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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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Langston Hughes Jerico-Jim Crow image1Langston Hughes Jerico-Jim Crow image2Langston Hughes Jerico-Jim Crow image3
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Langston Hughes' Jerico-Jim Crow

FW09671
1964
Ronald Clyne
Bert Andrews
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Langston Hughes' Jericho-Jim Crow (Part IV) — Hugh Porter

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The cover photograph is likely a scene from Langston Hughes's song play Jerico-Jim Crow. First performed in 1964, it chronicles events and attitudes of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Bert Andrews was a preeminent photographer of the African American theater in New York.

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Lets Put the Axe to the Axis image1Lets Put the Axe to the Axis image2Lets Put the Axe to the Axis image3
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Let's Put the Axe to the Axis

RF 610
1981
Ronald Clyne
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Let's Put the Axe to the Axis — Abe Lyman and his Californians, Four Eton Boys

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The World War II poster featured on this album cover focuses on combat and action in a dramatic, propagandistic image intended to garner support for the war effort. It is an appropriate visual accompaniment to the songs on the recording. Written quickly and in direct response to specific war events, they are late examples of the topical song tradition.

Many Folkways album covers feature folk art of various peoples and periods the world over and a few make use of the artwork of recording artists such as Woody Guthrie. Covers designed by Ronald Clyne often focus exclusively on abstract design components, and a spare, minimalist aesthetic characteristic of modernist experimentation taking place in post-World War II graphic design.

 
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Songs and Dances of Honduras

FW06834
1955, 1964
Unknown
Francisco Amighetti
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Sois un Angel (You Are an Angel) - Sique

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The simplified sun motif on the left and the band of linear and zigzag geometric design on the right are references to the Indigenous people and crafts of the Honduras. The architectural church backdrop within the image, on the other hand, points to the Spanish colonial influence found in the music.

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Folk Songs of Vietnam image1Folk Songs of Vietnam image2Folk Songs of Vietnam image3
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Folk Songs of Vietnam

FW31303
1968
Zetlan and Stephens
Unknown
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Ho Lo — Pham Duy

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These folk songs, recorded at the height of the Vietnam War, serve as a poignant reminder of the humanity of the Vietnamese people. The white disc of the sun, reiterated in the sunhats of the workers, is set against the warm tone of the background suggesting the heat of the tropical location.

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L'Honneur des Poetes

FW09944
1968
Ronald Clyne
Unknown
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Paul Eluard - L'Honneur des Poetes — Paul Eluard

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The understated cover shows portrait drawings of four prominent French resistance writers. The portraits are informally arranged, together with the titles of their poems, on what appear to be vertical, irregularly cut, grey strips of paper, on a black ground. This collage-like arrangement suggests a link between the visual avant-garde and the poets.

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No More Nukes image1No More Nukes image2No More Nukes image3
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No More Nukes

FW32850
1979
Ronald Clyne
David Gahr
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No More Nukes — Roger Matura and the Niss Puk Band

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The cover superimposes a photograph of the Niss Puk Band on a scene of urban decay and isolation, representing, literally, the background of the band members, who grew up in Essen, Germany, a mining and industrial centre that was decimated during World War II. The image of the abandoned building, suggestive of post-nuclear destruction, also references the title of the recording.

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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.

Despite this diversity in the art and design, two aspects of the representations found on the covers are striking with respect to the overall visual program of Folkways. First is the recurring use of a raw, powerful, expressionist idiom. Second is the related reference to and use of numerous vernacular pictorial traditions-including emphasis on pre-industrialized and non-western artistic techniques, such as woodcut prints, cutout art, and other kinds of folk handwork-reinforcing the idea that this is art of the people and for the people.

 
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Entre Hermanas / Between Sisters

FW08768
1977
Ronald Clyne
Elsa Garcia Pandavenes
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La Muñeca (The Doll) — Suni Paz

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The repeated, stylized woodcut in dark blue of singer Suni Paz in traditional dress appears against a backdrop of white. The vibrant pink of the lettering reinforces Paz's dedication of the album "to the many women who encouraged my work and inspired through their example my own struggle" (liner notes).

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Music Down Home image1Music Down Home image2Music Down Home image3
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Music Down Home

FW02691
1965
Ronald Clyne
Philip Evergood
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Lost John — Prison Farm Work Group

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The illustration suggests a sense of community through the pictorial device of superimposing the central musician's face upon a group of figures of various ages. The figures relate to the music on the album, which includes roots music and songs of the Civil Rights Movement.

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The Glory of Negro History image1The Glory of Negro History image2The Glory of Negro History image3
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The Glory of Negro History

FW07752
1958
Edgar Fitt
Tom Feelings
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Part I - The Struggle: The Struggle — Langston Hughes

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The two young African American girls represented on the cover suggest a sense of innocence and vulnerability. The images of the American flag and the electoral voting district poster, references to the voter registration activity of the civil rights movement, reinforce a sense of hope for the future.

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Whale-Wail, in Peace, en Paix image1Whale-Wail, in Peace, en Paix image2
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Whale-Wail, in Peace, en Paix

FW34006
1986
Ronald Clyne
Ann McMillan
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Part II, Whale II — Ann McMillan

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This album, coming from the early popular environmental movement, uses a simple, pastel design to evoke the sense of peace alluded to in the title. The recording captures vocalizations of whales interspersed with verse in English and French by the album's creator, Ann McMillan.

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Mexico: Imagenes Cotidianas image1Mexico: Imagenes Cotidianas image2Mexico: Imagenes Cotidianas image3
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Mexico: Imagenes Cotidianas

FW05448
1979
Ronald Clyne
Andrea Gomez
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El Mandado — Joaquin Lopez

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The illustration shows a circle of people whose attention is focused on a page held aloft by two central figures. What they are doing is unclear. Are they singing? Are they reading a political tract or labour agreement? This ambiguity allows the image to be read in a number of ways, reinforcing the diversity of themes and moods articulated in the songs.