Now Available: Classic African American Songsters
Smithsonian Folkways presents the 23rd installment of the award-winning “Classic” series. Classic African American Songsters traces the complicated yet rich history of the “songster,” featuring celebrated artists like Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Lead Belly, Peg Leg Sam, Mississippi John Hurt, John Cephas, and more. The collection spans seven decades, and touches on everything from ragtime, country, and Tin Pan Alley to pre-blues, blues hybrids, and old-timey string band though 21 classic tracks – including five previously unreleased.
What is a songster? Album co-producer Barry Lee Pearson, scholar of African American music at the University of Maryland, says that the term is an often contradictory one. While the designation originated in Europe over a thousand years ago, by the early 20th century in America it acquired more of a racial meaning, designating travelling African American singers with the ability to change repertoires to suit the tastes of different audiences.
As Pearson puts it, “[A songster] is both a keeper of tradition, disseminating folk materials wherever he goes, and tradition’s worst enemy, contaminating local tradition with modern popular music. He is the inventor of blues and not a blues musician at all." Classic African American Songsters aims to set the record straight and show that there has long been much more to the African American secular song tradition than just the blues.
Classic African American Songsters was co-compiled and produced by Pearson and Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place, a two-time GRAMMY Award winner who has produced more than 50 Smithsonian Folkways recordings.
As with every compilation in the Smithsonian Folkways Classic Series, Classic African American Songsters explores the breadth and depth of a genre with liner notes that offer insight into the cultural and historical contexts of each selection. During the last 10 years, Smithsonian Folkways has released “Classic” compilations of bluegrass, folk, blues, maritime, old-time, and mountain music, among others.
Classic African American Songsters tracklist:
- Warner Williams with Jay Summerour – “Bring It On Down to My House”
- Pink Anderson – “Talking Blues”
- John Jackson – “Nobody’s Business (If I Do)”
- Little Brother Montgomery – “Alabama Bound”
- Brownie McGhee – “Pallet on the Floor”
- Bill Williams – “Chicken, You Can’t Roost Too High for Me”**
- Lead Belly – “My Hula Love”
- Reverend Gary Davis – “Candy Man”
- John Cephas and Phil Wiggins – “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”
- Peg Leg Sam – “Froggy Went A-Courting”**
- Mississippi John Hurt – “Monday Morning Blues”
- Pink Anderson – “The Boys of Your Uncle Sam”
- Brownie McGhee – “Raise a Ruckus Tonight”
- Marvin Fodrell – “Reno Factory”
- John Jackson – “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down”
- Warner Williams with Jay Summerour – “Honeysuckle Rose”
- Big Bill Broonzy – “Bill Bailey”
- Bill Williams – “When the Roses Bloom Again”**
- Peg Leg Sam – “Straighten Up and Fly Right”**
- Snooks Eaglin – “Careless Love”
- Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong – “They Cut Down the Old Pine Tree”**