Smithsonian Folkways Remembers Henry Jacobs (1924–2015)
Smithsonian Folkways remembers sound artist, humorist, recordist, and radio DJ Henry Sandy Jacobs, who passed away on September 25, 2015, at the age of 90. In the 1950s, Jacobs hosted the seminal radio program “Music and Folklore” on WILL in Illinois and KPFA in California. Blending ethnomusicology, satire, folklore, and a host of music recordings from Folkways Records, Jacobs’ creativity and notoriety led to the release of Radio Programme, No. 1: Henry Jacobs' “Music and Folklore” on Folkways Records in 1955. A track from Radio Programme No. 1, “Sonata for Loudspeakers,” also appears on the 1957 album Sounds of New Music alongside tracks from John Cage, Henry Cowell, Edgard Varèse, and others. Jacobs co-created the internationally acclaimed Vortex performances, which debuted at San Francisco’s Morrison Planetarium in 1957 and are widely cited as inspiring the technological innovation of surround sound. In 1959, Folkways Records released excerpts from these performances on the album Highlights of Vortex: Electronic Experiments and Music.
Later, Jacobs went on to produce a host of material for recordings, commercials, film, radio, and television. Jacobs eventually abandoned recorded electronic music in favor of live performances which, in his words, “contain an element of surprise.” He studied sitar for several years with Ali Akbar Khan at his College of Music in San Rafael, California. He also traveled with Cuban jazz musician Gonzalo Rubalcaba for five years videotaping his performances. Jacobs was responsible for the creation of the Alan Watts archives, which is primarily comprised of lecture recordings by his good friend Alan Watts. Jacobs served as the curator of the archive until his recent passing.
Read more about Henry Sandy Jacobs in his 2013 interview with Smithsonian Folkways Magazine.