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The Folkways 75

The Folkways 75
The Folkways 75 | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Read more about some of the iconic Folkways artists included in this playlist in our 5 Stories.

Since the label opened its studio doors 75 years ago, Folkways Records has released a vast array of recordings, including music, sounds of nature and the built environment, and spoken-word.

Folkways Records is replete with historic, genre-defining artists and albums. The Anthology of American Folk Music played a pivotal role in defining '60s counterculture. The ecstatic swing of Mary Lou Williams predicted spiritual jazz. The music of Ella Jenkins and Woody Guthrie has nurtured generations of children to adulthood. Jon Appleton's recorded sound experiments led him to produce one of the earliest digital synthesizers. We heard the first refrains of Lucinda Williams' genius on record. The list goes on.


Folkways records are documents—and artistic interpretations—of their times. Documentary albums that may once have registered as novel have resurfaced to chronicle the soundscapes of our past. Sounds of North American Frogs, the now-classic record of biological fieldwork and natural sound recordings, reanimates the swamps, lakes, woods, creeks, and roadside ditches of mid-century North America. Tony Schwartz's 1, 2, 3 and a Zing Zing Zing preserves the summer soundscape of West Midtown Manhattan. Over the years, label artists have also responded creatively to contemporary social and political demands. "Celebration of No from Beyond Violence," Sorrel Hays' recorded modulations of the multi-lingual verbal refusals of 28 women, is a striking window into the second wave of the American feminist movement. Sonia Sanchez and the late Sarah Webster Fabio, two Black feminists, educators, poets, and indispensable voices of the Black Arts Movement, recorded their era-defining poetry on Folkways Records. Among other notable writers, Susan Sontag registered her dissent against the American war on Vietnam in The Original Read-In for Peace in Vietnam.

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Folkways Records steadfastly worked to document sound and music around the world, with hundreds of recordings from every populated continent. Across field recordings, concert recordings, and studio sessions, performers skillfully interpreted the material of their lives. Kora virtuoso Foday Musa Suso plays kora music from the Gambia, performing from the traditional repertoire and composing his own unique, contemporary pieces. Ewe musicians from Ghana perform a variety of music for recordist and producer Seth Kobla Ladzekpo, himself a renowned Ghanaian music and dance teacher, performer, and community leader. Similarly, cultural luminaries from around the world play and reinvent the traditional musics they grew up with. Some take up this mantle as artists and as teachers. Prolific songwriter Phạm Duy, guitarist David Nzomo, dulcimer player and balladeer Jean Ritchie, and groundbreaking artist of nueva canción (new song) Suni Paz are just a few of the many brilliant Folkways artists whose project is educational, historical, and contemporary.


While the Folkways 75 playlist attempts to represent the scope and dynamism of the label's first 75 years, it's in no way complete. In particular, there are two elisions in the track list, representing the two years that Folkways Records issued no recordings. Lead Belly's last sessions were recorded in 1948, the same year Moses Asch and Marian Distler founded the label, but were not released until 1953 (and not issued in full until 1994). Asch and Distler didn't press the first Folkways record until 1949. Asch died in 1986; no records were released on the label in 1987. (In 1988, the first album to be released under Smithsonian Folkways Recordings—the label's successor following its acquisition by the Smithsonian Institution—was Musics of the Soviet Union on cassette.)


Today, Smithsonian Folkways continues to expand on the legacy of Folkways Records and the label's over 2,100 albums. On Smithsonian Folkways, Afghan rebâb musician Ustad Mohammad Omar used his deep knowledge of the Indian raga system and Afghan instrumentation to collaborate with then-rising, now world-renowned tabla artist Zakir Hussain in one of the label's many remarkable live recordings. From the Andean indigenous flute tradition of Otavalo, Ecuador, to the masterful San Antonio-based Tejano conjunto group Los Texmaniacs, Smithsonian Folkways has spent decades building on nearly 200 historic Latino albums from the Folkways catalog. In our current moment, musicians like Our Native Daughters beautifully situate Black artistry at the heart of American folk tradition. Smithsonian Folkways continues to embrace new artists and produce historical recordings that build and grow this world of sound.

The Folkways 75 playlist draws together these genres, locales, artists, movements, and moments, offered here as a paean to what Asch called "the people's music." We hope you'll listen in!


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Track List:

1948 - Lead Belly, "Midnight Special" (from Lead Belly's Last Sessions (originally released in 1953 & 1994)

1949 - Three male drummers, "Baboule Dance (Three Drums)" (from Music of Haiti: Vol. 2, Drums of Haiti)

1950 - Woody Guthrie, "Riding in my car (Car song)" (from Nursery Days, expanded and reissued as Nursery Days, 1992)

1951 - D. K. Pattammal, "Theruva Theppo" (from Music of India: Traditional & Classical)

1952 - Cleoma Breaux and Joseph Falcon, "Le Vieux Soulard et Sa Femme (The Old Drunkard and His Wife)" (from Anthology of American Folk Music)

1953 - Group of children, ages 8-10, "Ring Games" (from 1, 2, 3 and a Zing Zing Zing, recorded and annotated by Tony Schwartz)

1954 - Ras Tafari Youth Group, "We Are Going Home" (from Jamaican Cult Music)

1955 - Langston Hughes, "African Dance; Dream Variation; The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (from The Dream Keeper and Other Poems of Langston Hughes)

1956 - Marita Günter, "Lend Me Your Ears!: Phonation of Words" (from Vox Humana: Alfred Wolfsohn's Experiments In Extension of Human Vocal Range- recorded and edited by Alfred Wolfsohn)

1957 - Pete Seeger and Ruth Rubin, "Michalku" (from Jewish Children's Songs and Games)

1958 - "Warning Croak of the Sonoran Desert Toad (Bufo Alvarius)" (from Sounds of North American Frogs, conceived, narrated, and documented by Charles Bogert)

1959 - Lightnin' Hopkins, "Come Go Home With Me" (from Lightnin' Hopkins)

1960 - Michiko Toyama, "Waka (Part 1)" (from Waka and Other Compositions: Contemporary Music of Japan)

1961 - Dave Van Ronk, "Tell Old Bill" (from Dave Van Ronk Sings)

1962 - Jean Ritchie, "The Most Fair Beauty Bright" (from Precious Memories)

1963 - Marian Anderson, "A Little Black Kitten / The Motherly Dark of the Night / Such an Inquisitive Kitty / Snoopy's Music Box / Snoopy's Lullaby / Follow the Moon / Barrels and Boxes / Listen to the Clatter / Poor Forgotten Snoopy" (from Snoopycat)

1964 - Michael Hurley, "The Werewolf Song" (from First Songs)

1965 - Roscoe Holcomb, "Hook and Line" (from The High Lonesome Sound)

1966 - Barbara Dane with the Chambers Brothers, "It Isn't Nice" (from Barbara Dane with the Chambers Brothers)

1967 - Susan Sontag, "Read-In for Peace Statement" (from The Original Read-In For Peace In Vietnam- edited by Louis Menashe and Rosalind Wells)

1968 - Pham Duy, "Ly Che Huong" (from Folk Songs of Vietnam)

1969 - Ewe musicians, dancers, "Kpegisu" (from Ewe Music of Ghana - Recorded & Edited by S.K. Ladzekpo )

1970 - Nancy Dupree, "Docta King" (from Ghetto Reality)

1971 - Sonia Sanchez, "A Black/Woman/Speaks" (from A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry)

1972 - Hawaiian dancers, male singer, "Hoi Kealoha I Niahau (Dance)" (from Hawaiian Chants, Hula and Love Dance Songs - Recorded in Hawaii by Jacob Feuerring with Tom Hiona)

1973 - Entourage Theater and Music Ensemble, "Jattle Boxes..." (from Entourage Theater and Music Ensemble)

1974 - John Appleton, "Chef d'Oeuvre" (from The World Music Theater)

1975 - Mary Lou Williams, "Gemini" (from Zodiac Suite)

1976 - David Nzomo, "Utonii na Wui" (from Gospel Songs from Kenya: Kikamba Hymns)

1977 - Sarah Webster Fabio, "A Black Girl's Mean Ol'Low Down Blues" (from Together to the Tune of Coltrane's 'Equinox')

1978 - Foday Musa Suso, "Jula Jekere (Hardino Tuning)" (from Kora Music from the Gambia, recorded by Verna Gillis)

1979 - Peggy Seeger, "I'm Gonna Be an Engineer" (from Different Therefore Equal)

1980 - Lucinda Williams, "I Lost It" (from Happy Woman Blues)

1981 - Periwinkle, "Straight Talk" (from The Promised Land)

1982 - Suni Paz, "Cançao da Partida (Song of Departure)" (from Earth and Ocean Songs)

1983 - Sorrel Hays, "Celebration of No from Beyond Violence" (from Voicings for Tape/Soprano/Piano)

1984 - Le Patiola, "Ua lata mai le aso fa'amasino" (from Western Samoa from Conch Shell to Disco)

1985 - Howard Finster, "John, John the Piper's Son" (from Man of Many Voices)

1986 - Ann McMillan, "Part I, Whale I" (from Whale - Wail, in Peace, En Paix)

1988 - S.B. Manchakai, "Tuvan Folk Melody" (from Musics of the Soviet Union)

1989 - Los Guepos, "Malditos Besos" (from Puerto Rican Music in Hawaii)

1990 - Medgar Wiley Evers, "Medgar Evers Speaking" (from Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs)

1991 - The Country Gentlemen, "Red Rocking Chair" (from The Country Gentlemen Sing and Play Folk Songs and Bluegrass (originally released in 1961))

1992 - Joseph Spence, "Brownskin gal" (from Joseph Spence: The Complete Folkways Recordings, 1958)

1993 - Alan Maralung with Peter Manaberu, "Bushfire" (from The World's Musical Traditions, Vol. 4: Bunggridj-Bunggridj: Wangga Songs: Northern Australia)

1994 - Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, "The Coo-Coo Bird" (from Original Folkways Recordings of Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, 1960-1962)

1995 - Ulali, "Mother" (from Heartbeat: Voices of First Nations Women)

1996 - Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, "Coal Miner's Blues" (from Pioneering Women of Bluegrass: The Definitive Edition)

1997 - Lee Cremo Trio, "Jig Medley" (from Wood That Sings: Indian Fiddle Music of the Americas)

1998 - Norskedalen Trio, "Fylke Dans" (from Deep Polka: Dance Music from the Midwest)

1999 - Grup Bamba Puang, "Kemayoran" (from Music of Indonesia, Vol. 20: Guitars)

2000 - Lord Invader, "New York Subway" (from Calypso in New York)

2001 - Lus Mangi Grin Neks String Band, "Really Hungry!" (from Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea)

2002 - Ustad Mohammad Omar, "Tabla solo in the rhythmic cycle of jhaptal (10-beat cycle)" (from Ustad Mohammad Omar: Virtuoso from Afghanistan)

2003 - Abayudaya congregation, led by J.J. Keki, "Psalm 136" (from Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda)

2004 - Elizabeth Cotten and Brenda Evans, "Shake Sugaree" (from Shake Sugaree)

2005 - Los Pleneros de la 21, "Isla Nena (Little Girl Island)" (from Para Todos Ustedes)

2006 - Grupo Naidy, "Pango" (from ¡Arriba Suena Marimba! Currulao Marimba Music from Colombia by Grupo Naidy)

2007 - Latife Cheshmeli, "Dila Dushdü (Everybody is talking)" (from Music of Central Asia, Vol. 4: Bardic Divas: Women's Voices in Central Asia)

2008 - Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, "Alma Mía (My Soul)" (from Amor, Dolor y Lagrimas: Música Ranchera)

2009 - Los Texmaniacs, "A Mover el bote (Shake Your Booty) - cumbia" (from Borders y Bailes)

2010 - Ola Belle Reed, "I've Endured" (from Rising Sun Melodies)

2011 - Ella Jenkins, "Black Royalty" (from A Life of Song)

2012 - Elizabeth Mitchell, "The Little Bird" (from Blue Clouds)

2013 - Hatun Kotama, "Hatun Yaku (Gran Río "Great River")" (from ¡Así Kotama! : The Flutes of Otavalo, Ecuador)

2014 - Hot 8 Brass Band, "Keepin' It Funky" (from New Orleans Brass Bands: Through the Streets of the City)

2015 - José-Luis Orozco, "Chocolate" (from ¡Come bien! = Eat right!)

2016 - Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights, "LaBega Carousel" (from Quelbe! Music of the U.S. Virgin Islands)

2017 - Rahim Alhaj, "Letter 8. Voices to Remember - Zainab" (from Letters from Iraq: Oud and String Quintet)

2018 - Dom Flemons, "Steel Pony Blues" (from Black Cowboys)

2019 - Our Native Daughters (Amythyst Kiah, Rhiannon Giddens), "Polly Ann's Hammer" (from Songs of Our Native Daughters)

2020 - Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn, "Water is Wide / Wusuli Boat Song (乌苏里船歌)" (from Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn)

2021 - Charlie Parr, "Last of the Better Days Ahead" (from Last of the Better Days Ahead)

2022 - He Jinhua, "Labeq gguqqil (Gguqqil song from Labeq) - 拉伯谷气 (Version 2)" (from Songs Of The Naxi of Southwest China)

2023 - Matmos, "Why?" (ft. Evicshen, from Return to Archive)