People's Picks: Sound Introductions - Meet the National Heritage Fellows through Folkways
The first Folkways record I remember holding in my hands was Pete Seeger and Sonny Terry at Carnegie Hall (1958). I was a high school kid rummaging through my stepfather’s record collection when I came across it. I was also an aspiring rock musician, and most of my music listening up until that point involved stuff that had been multi-tracked in recording studios. But the Folkways stuff sounded unmediated by producers—the feel of these recordings was much closer to what I experienced when I was actually making live music with my friends.
Life, like music, is inherently interruptible, and what I heard on Folkways—while masterful and beautiful—sounded like someone might walk in the room at any moment and break up the fun like a well-intended parent.
These recordings created a sonic trail of breadcrumbs for me, a trail that eventually led to my working as an ethnomusicologist and folklorist. As the director of Folk & Traditional Arts at the National Endowment for the Arts, where my colleagues and I administer the National Heritage Fellowships, I find it significant that my first conscious encounter with the sounds of American folklife began with Sonny Terry, a recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship in its inaugural year of 1982.
What follows are a few of my favorite recordings by National Heritage Fellows on Smithsonian Folkways.