Now Available: Classic Harmonica Blues from Smithsonian Folkways
Popularized in the late 19th century by German clockmaker Matthias Hohner, the harmonica has shaped the personality, sound, and form of American music like few other instruments. Although adopted by various genres, the instrument became an essential part of the blues, particularly benefitting those marginalized by race, class, or geography. By manipulating the instrument in ways never originally intended, blues harmonica players create an expressiveness similar to that of the guitar, the other instrument central to the blues form.
Compiled, produced, and annotated by Barry Lee Pearson and Jeff Place, Classic Harmonica Blues from Smithsonian Folkways is the 21st album in the acclaimed Classic series. The 20-track set features harmonica luminaries such as Doctor Ross, Eddie Burns, Jazz Gillum, and Sonny Terry, and blues classics such as “Good Morning Little School Girl,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” and “One Way Out.”
The collection spans six decades and encompasses several stylistic categories and geographic regions — including jug band, Piedmont, and Midwestern styles. Classic Harmonica Blues also includes eight previously unreleased recordings from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival dating back as far as 1977.
As with every compilation in the Smithsonian Folkways Classic Series, Classic Harmonica Blues explores the breadth and depth of a genre while the liner notes 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. Pearson has contributed to seven previous Smithsonian Folkways recordings, most recently Classic Appalachian Blues, and Place has produced more than 50 recordings, including the GRAMMY-winning Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection.