“…with the formation of Folkways Records I started the more intense catalog of protest songs, workers songs, protest poetry, documentation, etcetera.”
Passion and Populism
Songs of Struggle and Protest
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.
Dust Bowl Ballads
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.
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.
Songs of the Spanish Civil War, Vol. 2
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.
Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti (front cover)
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.
Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti (back cover)
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.
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.
Langston Hughes' Jerico-Jim Crow
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.
Let's Put the Axe to the Axis
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.
Songs and Dances of Honduras
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.
Folk Songs of Vietnam
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.
L'Honneur des Poetes
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.
No More Nukes
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.
The Psychedelic Experience
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.
Entre Hermanas / Between Sisters
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).
Music Down Home
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.
The Glory of Negro History
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.
Whale-Wail, in Peace, en Paix
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.
Mexico: Imagenes Cotidianas
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.