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Harry Smith's Anthology

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Bryant 12 Jul 99 - 03:47 PM
Jack (who is called Jack) 12 Jul 99 - 04:10 PM
CarlZen 12 Jul 99 - 07:37 PM
Rick Fielding 13 Jul 99 - 12:38 AM
Roger the zimmer 13 Jul 99 - 06:41 AM
Easy Rider 13 Jul 99 - 10:15 AM
tomtom 13 Jul 99 - 04:44 PM
Mike Billo 13 Jul 99 - 07:40 PM
Art Thieme 13 Jul 99 - 09:34 PM
Sourdough 13 Jul 99 - 09:51 PM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 13 Jul 99 - 10:11 PM
tomtom 14 Jul 99 - 02:03 PM
Art Thieme 15 Jul 99 - 06:01 PM
Joe Offer 15 Jul 99 - 07:51 PM
Joe Offer 23 May 00 - 01:38 AM
Spider Tom 23 May 00 - 07:21 AM
kendall 23 May 00 - 08:28 AM
GUEST,Mrbisok@aol 23 May 00 - 10:06 AM
KathWestra 23 May 00 - 11:42 AM
TheOldMole 23 May 00 - 11:54 AM
GUEST,Mrbisok@aol 23 May 00 - 12:41 PM
Peter T. 23 May 00 - 12:55 PM
The Shambles 02 Sep 00 - 04:45 AM
Stewie 02 Sep 00 - 06:51 AM
GUEST,simon-pierre 03 Sep 00 - 11:30 PM
Ritchie 04 Sep 00 - 07:47 AM
dick greenhaus 04 Sep 00 - 05:09 PM
Will Fly 12 Feb 09 - 06:31 AM
Folkiedave 12 Feb 09 - 09:07 AM
peregrina 12 Feb 09 - 09:17 AM
DADGBE 12 Feb 09 - 03:57 PM
Joe Offer 28 Sep 20 - 08:58 PM
Thomas Stern 15 Oct 20 - 10:20 PM
Joe Offer 16 Oct 20 - 12:24 AM
GUEST,Jerome Clark 16 Oct 20 - 08:23 PM
Bill D 16 Oct 20 - 09:57 PM
EBarnacle 17 Oct 20 - 01:18 PM
meself 17 Oct 20 - 05:16 PM
Thomas Stern 17 Oct 20 - 09:55 PM
Joe Offer 18 Oct 20 - 12:05 AM
Thomas Stern 18 Oct 20 - 11:11 PM
meself 19 Oct 20 - 12:28 AM
GUEST,matt milton 19 Oct 20 - 10:37 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 19 Oct 20 - 11:41 AM
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Lost Chicken in High Weeds 20 Oct 20 - 09:05 AM
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Lost Chicken in High Weeds 20 Oct 20 - 10:17 AM
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Subject: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Bryant
Date: 12 Jul 99 - 03:47 PM

I had a question or two for folks who are a little (or a lot) older than me.

I just discovered Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music about a half year ago and (at the risk of sounding melodramatic) it's really changed my world -- at least as far as music goes. I used to think guys like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters were the old, old foundations, the roots, but this stuff -- God, it's like listening to the soil sing. I mean not only that the recordings are 70 some odd years old but they echo with all the generations of people who sang those songs before. A choir of ghosts.

Anyway, what I was curious about was (at least in part) what the sound quality of the original LPs was like. The CD version has, from what I've read in the liner notes, been digitally cleaned up quite a bit. And sometimes it's pretty impressive -- it's hard to believe the stuff was recorded in the before the Depression. For those of you who were listening to the LPs in the 50's, what was your impression of the sound of those recordings? Was it difficult to make out the lyrics? The instrumental parts? (I've heard stories of Jerry Garcia listening to John Hurt's pieces at half speed for hours on end trying to work out the picking.) Did you get into friendly arguments with your fellow folkies about deciphering lyrics? Chord changes? Interpretations of the songs?

Anyway, the little thread that's been running about the figuring out the lyrics to "Henry Lee" has got me to thinking about this stuff, and I guess I'm trying to get a little better sense of what that scene was like. Any thoughts or reminiscences would be nice to hear.

Bryant


Click here for the Anthology Website
Click here for Volume 4
NPR Page on the Anthology


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Jack (who is called Jack)
Date: 12 Jul 99 - 04:10 PM

Welcome to the club.

Discovering The Anthology is like when Carter peeked into Tutankahmen's tomb for the first time through a small hole he'd broken through a sealed wall. The man behind him said 'Do you see anything?", Carter paused and in a whisper said 'Wonderful things'.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: CarlZen
Date: 12 Jul 99 - 07:37 PM

"Listening to the soil sing"

"A choir of ghosts"

Analogies with discovering King Tut.

You guys are amazing! As is the Anthology.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 13 Jul 99 - 12:38 AM

I first heard the anthology when I was 15 (I'm 52 now) so it naturally was on record. Funny thing, sound quality has never been an issue with me. The music comes first and good sound is a bonus. Many of the cuts were very scratchy to begin with (having been recorded off old scratchy 78s, but the music was astonishing and I just wore out the three sets - as I did with Leadbelly's Last Sessions. Jeezus, how our lives have been shaped by this gift.
Rick


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Roger the zimmer
Date: 13 Jul 99 - 06:41 AM

...one downside of digital technology cleaning up old recordings for me is that I could get away with imitating 90-year old jazz & blues singers recorded past their prime on wire recorders in field conditions without their teeth (or with wooden teeth). Now we can hear what they really sounded like, I can't come close!


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Easy Rider
Date: 13 Jul 99 - 10:15 AM

Like Rick, I found these LPs in the early sixties, when I was also fifteen or so and just learning to play folk guitar. My guitar teacher sent me out to look for them, and I found them, without jackets, in the remainder bin at a record shop, on 6th Ave and 42nd street, that had the whole Folkways catalog. I wish I had bought more records back then! I have them still AND the new CDs, but I haven't tried to compare the two.

They were a revelation! They were my first introduction to the original sources of the music I was starting to learn about. The sound was, and still is, scratchy on some of the cuts, but, as you listen to the sides, you come across these GEMs every once in a while. I discovered Mississippi John Hurt (Frankie), on this collection, and got my teacher to teach me a couple of his songs. I went to see him perform, and I talked to him, and I bought his new records. I'm still learning to play his music. I just found TAB for "Nobody Cares For Me", on the internet, and I'm busy learning it now. Check out Doc Boggs' "Country Blues"...

Thank you, Harry Smith!

EZR


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: tomtom
Date: 13 Jul 99 - 04:44 PM

When I listen to the Anthology, I can't help but think about the mind that put the thing together. Harry Smith was a truly remarkable person. He (almost single-handedly) rescued a chapter of American art and history from the scrap heap. No one was paying attention to that type of music in the 1950s . . . except Harry.

It's hard to believe that a guy nosing around used record stores could have put together such an incredible study of rural American music.

Has anyone seen any of the movies he made?


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Mike Billo
Date: 13 Jul 99 - 07:40 PM

I've seen two films of Harry Smith's. I believe he invented the technique of painting on film, which is something that doesn't seem quite so avante-garde in '99, but was quite innovative when he first did it. I've also heard the Smithsonian Field recording HS did of a Native American peyote ceremony in 1949! Quite a guy! However, I'm afraid I have to say that not everyone thinks CD's sound better than records (I know, being a curmudgeon is a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it). A lot of digital technology takes something away in my opinion. I realize that mine is a minority opinion, but if you can compare the Columbia Roots 'n Blues CD of Mississippi John Hurt's 1928 sessions to the Yazoo LP of the same session, I think you will hear what I'm referring to. I haven't purchased the CD's of the Smith Anthology. I have the records.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Art Thieme
Date: 13 Jul 99 - 09:34 PM

Bryant,

It sure is good to hear the wonder in your voice as you tell us old guys about finding the Anthology. But keep in mind, as inspiring as the ballad section of the anthology is, it is only the tip of an iceburg. At least 2/3 is there under the surface waiting for you to break through the ice and discover it. This is what I'm talking about in my posts to the "folkies vs. singer-songwriters" thread. To get to the DEPTHS of history where the real examples of root music are wating for you, you must first sweep the scum of the present (the navel-gazing pseudo-folk songs) off the top of the pond so you can get a clear view of the treasures of the hunt. Back then it was a real treasure hunt for us. We had to find out about these songs and singers slowly, incrementally----first maybe the Anthology---or a hobo Wobbly singer/fiddler. Hearing him is like taking a trip in a time machine. This necessitates a mindset where you are looking to the past for music and values like we were in the 50s and 60s. The tendency now is to lunge forward and to ignore history. But these songs are history. They are the words of the folk that came before---they are the views of their world that they left us--changed by the oral and electronic tradition but devoid of the ditractions of their times like cholera and typhoid & no air conditioning and no machines to do the work. As Kurt Vonnegut said in __From Time To Timbuktu__, "Whenever I start to feel the slightest bit self-important, I think of all the dirt that never did get a chance to sit up and look around." Our folksongs are the ones that tell real and detailed stories of the people in a given place at a certain moment---those that left us their songs so we might better understand the trails that brought us from then to now. They took the time to look around.

So the Smith Anthology is just an introduction. I envy you, Bryant. The adventure is before you. A long time ago Sandy Paton told me that the place to find the songs was out on the highways. I've been hitting those hot dusty roads that Woody sang about ever since those long ago talks with Mr. Paton. I took the songs I found to others and they gave 'em to me also. That's what it's all about. That's what Mudcat is about. Now that I'm off the road, Sandy came here (just last night) and we swapped tales of the road some more. Unlike sex, which sometimes is a diminished concept as we age, THE MUSIC is always orgasmic. Both ideas are always better when there's mutual give and take!

Enjoy!!

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Sourdough
Date: 13 Jul 99 - 09:51 PM

Briyant, Jack, CarlZen, Rick F, Roger the Z, Easy Rider, Tom Tom, Mike B and now Art T.

This thread makes terrific reading! So many of the different things that have attracted me to the music over the past nearly forty years is in here, being appreciated in this one exchange of messages.

The experience is not individual, the emotions that you all are writing about are the ones I know and treasure and that makes discovering others writing about them with such affection even better. I stumbled onto this website, I don't even remember how, but it has been wonderful experience.

Sourdough


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 13 Jul 99 - 10:11 PM

Roger, about the downside of digital technology. A real revelation to me on the new CDs is the cleaned up version of "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" by Blind Lemmon Jefferson. It completely changed my concept of his status as a guitarist. Since then I have been listening more carefully to some of his other records and I realize what a blind fool (deaf fool?) I have been. This man is where it all started. I can begin see the derivation of such diverse styles as those of Son House and of Blind Blake in those Jefferson records.

There was a book that came out in the early 70s that was meant to be a companion to the Anthology. It is called "Anthology of Americal Folk Music" by Oak Publ. Edited by Moses Asch, Hosh Dunson, and Ethel Raim. It has transcriptions some of the pieces (I would say 2/3) and a lot of good editorial stuff including an interview with Frank Walker by Mike Seeger. It was probably a lot more impressive before the superb documentation that comes with the CD set; but it still makes a good read.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: tomtom
Date: 14 Jul 99 - 02:03 PM

Unfortunately, Murray, that companion book you mention is out of print. I've done some serious looking for it (Internet searches, etc) but have come up empty, so far. Someone seems to have stolen it from the University of Virginia library, as well. If anyone knows a way to get a hold of the thing, I'd appreciate any suggestions.

They just released a book of Harry Smith interviews entitled Think of the Self Speaking. I'm anxious to check it out. There's an interesting website at www.harrysmitharchives.com.

tomtom


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Art Thieme
Date: 15 Jul 99 - 06:01 PM

In recent times (last year I think), PAT CONTE put out a world historic anthology for us to peruse. I think it was called something like THE MUSEUM OF MANKIND. I hear that if you come to it with an open mind it's like nothing else ever issued in any format. Unbelievable sonds from 78s in Mr. Conte's massive collection of world-wide esoterica. If anyone has listened to these I'd love to hear about it. For monetary reasons, I'm limiting my CD purchases lately.

Art


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Joe Offer
Date: 15 Jul 99 - 07:51 PM

The "Anthology" book is listed at the UTK song Index, so the book should be in the library at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Joe Offer
Date: 23 May 00 - 01:38 AM

The Smithsonian Folksways Website has extensive notes on the songs in the Harry Smith Anthology - click here. The way the site is designed, it's easy to lose track of the notes pages and end up on identical pages that don't have links to the song notes. Go back to the link I've posted here, and you'll get back to the song notes.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Spider Tom
Date: 23 May 00 - 07:21 AM

I had read about the set for years, and only got to buy it about 18 months ago.
It has real appeal and a rawness which wouldn't be aloud to be recorded these days, at least not commercially.
After listening to the set I can now hear its influence in a multitude of singers, who have had a ride or two on its coat tails.
It is like an uncut diamond, even on C.D. a treasure.
Spider Tom


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: kendall
Date: 23 May 00 - 08:28 AM

Very interesting..Put me to wondering who else has old records which they can no longer play. My stereo wont play 78's.
Among others, I have, The Death of Floyd Collins, The letter Edged in Black and After the Ball all by Vernon Dalhart. I also have one titled Pickinneys Paradise.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,Mrbisok@aol
Date: 23 May 00 - 10:06 AM

Art Thieme (4 messages ago) mentioned Pat Conte. Pat's CD has the same title as his radio show: "The Secret Museum of the Air." This radio show broadcasts weekly in the NYC area: Radio Station WFMU: 91.1 fm, Tuesday, 6-7pm. This show, which I've been listening to for 4 years, focuses on folk music field recordings released on 78 rpm and cylinders from the dawn of recording to about l940. Ten percent of the shows are about English language recordings. 90% are non English performers and music: Greece and Africa are heavily represented. I taped his show of "Cowboy Songs" (USA)about 2 years ago and have played it again and again. I get impatient with the heavy concentration on non-English language stuff, but Pat Conte is doing a wonderful job. Maybe this topic (Pat Conte) should become a separate thread. -- Harold from Hawthorne.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: KathWestra
Date: 23 May 00 - 11:42 AM

Does this station broadcast over the internet??? Sounds like a really interesting show!


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: TheOldMole
Date: 23 May 00 - 11:54 AM

An interesting thing about the HS approach - as compared to the Lomax apporach - is that HS was interested in commercial recordings, not in going out into the field. Clearly, bot approaches have value.

The Harry Smith approach is puit into action every day in New York's Hudson Valley, by a little commercial radio station, WHVW, 950 AM. The station's owner/chief DJ, "Pirate Joe," plays primarily from his own seemingly inexhaustible collection of roots music 78s. I don't know if there's anything like him elsewhere in America, although I hope there are people like him all over. He's a national treasure on a par with Harry Smith.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,Mrbisok@aol
Date: 23 May 00 - 12:41 PM

Reply to KathWestra: yes, the station (WFMU) broadcasts 24-7 over the internet. But I don't yet have the savvy to explain where to go. Next time they explain it on the station, I'll pay attention. BTW (I hate computer-eze talk) R U of the Netherlands persuasion either by birth or marriage, perhaps a Michigander?
Click here for WFMU


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Peter T.
Date: 23 May 00 - 12:55 PM

Bryant, you should run out and get a copy of Greil Marcus' book, Invisible Republic, on Bob Dylan's use of Harry Smith in his "Basement Tapes". It is a profound meditation on what that 20's-30's music meant -- not perhaps to the originators, but to the latter day. Voices from "another America" he calls them -- the shocking, National Enquirer world of train crashes, drowned babies, the dirt poor, the wierd, and the marginal.

In a recent interview he said (I copied this at the time when I read it):

"My wife would sometimes say, "Well Invisible Republic is your '60s book." And I'd say, "This is not my '60s book. This book isn't about Dylan and the '60s. This book's about the '20s. This book is about when Doc Boggs and Clarence Ashley and Frank Hutchison and Blind Lemon Jefferson and Richard "Rabbit" Brown, when they were recording, when the original body of traditional American music was first put onto records. And that was something really the opposite of rock 'n' roll, but it also had this similar galvanizing quality. We were talking earlier about how rock 'n' roll, when it began, it sounded to so many people as if it came out of nowhere. And that experience of music seeming to come out of nowhere, when it really has deep roots, what does that mean? This was music that in the 1920s, when it was first recorded and city people began to listen to it, to some people was the strangest music they'd ever heard, the old American folk music and so it sounded as if it came out of nowhere. But it was also music that was already very, very old. The real country was in this old, old music. And that's the sense that I began to get out of it when I went back listening to it. That's a lot of what this book is about. Where is the real country?
yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: The Shambles
Date: 02 Sep 00 - 04:45 AM

refresh


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Stewie
Date: 02 Sep 00 - 06:51 AM

For those who may not know, John Fahey's Revenant label has released a wonderful 2-CD set - Volume IV of the Anthology exactly as Smith had planned. As Harry said, 'There were supposed to be four volumes, you know, like for earth, air, fire and water; red, blue, yellow and green'. The red, blue and green editions constituted the first three volumes, issued in 1952. Volume IV is described in the Revenant issue as: 'being a compendium of musical sound recordings compiled by Harry Smith of Bellingham, Washington, with accompanying descriptive texts supplied by several noteworthy persons - Ed Sanders, John Cohen, Dick Spottswood, Greil Marcus, John Fahey'. The catalogue number is Revenant CD RVN 211. The Revenant set is beautifully presented as a CD-sized hardcover book and is essential for anyone who loves the original sets.

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,simon-pierre
Date: 03 Sep 00 - 11:30 PM

I was about to start a thread when I listened to the anthology for the first time this summer and I'm glad to see that you folks already shared their impressions about this amazing music. As the liner notes on the reedition says, these songs gathered together gives a so STRANGE result...

I was surprise that I already knew about fifteen songs or tunes - they were sung by others artists. Since then, it seems that the musical field is unlimited and remains for a big part unknown, that an whole side of the history was hidden and I just begin to discover it. I listen every morning to the fiddle tunes on the second volume - they sounds so melancholic... and then I listen le vieux soulard et sa femme and lough out loud when the old drunkard says Je m'en vais me souler! (I'm going to get drunk!)...

SP


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Ritchie
Date: 04 Sep 00 - 07:47 AM

A very interesting and informative thread, I picked up on it from 'The Bob Dylan' one. I've just been listening to a track by David Johansen & the Harry Smiths called 'James Alley Blues' which was included on free CD with the Aug/Sept edition of Froots magazine.Froots no.15. This was played a couple of months ago on 'Saturday night with Charlie Gillett' and he also played 'Le Vieux Soulard' by Cleoma Breaux & Joseph Falkener recorded in 1928 from the anthology of American folk music..excellent stuff.I'll have to look out for more.

I implore people to try and listen to Charlie's show on wen.com. He has arguably the best playlist that I've seen.

regards Ritchie


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 04 Sep 00 - 05:09 PM

Neddless to say, Volume 4 is available from Camsco Music, as is The CD verwion of Volumes 1 - 3 (available only as a set).


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Will Fly
Date: 12 Feb 09 - 06:31 AM

Well - the box set of the Harry Smith/Folkways "Anthology of American Folk Music" I ordered has just arrived through the post - a Vinyl album-shaped box with 6 CDs, a small booklet containing the numerical listing of the tunes, plus a large booklet of "Essays, Appreciations and Annotations...". I don't know what to look at first. I'm (as they say) in hog heaven.

Now - my main problem is that I really must resist the temptation to do anything with it this minute. Once I start, the whole day will be gone - but the booklets and the CDs are looking at me, saying, "Just one little peek...just one track...".

How could I, after 40+ years of playing, have missed this feast?


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Folkiedave
Date: 12 Feb 09 - 09:07 AM

Not to worry you are not the only one.

Look Harry up on the web and read everything you can about him.

One thing you might question - was it legal? Certainly the legalities of copywrite never bothered Harry!


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: peregrina
Date: 12 Feb 09 - 09:17 AM

Enjoy it... great stuff. And the original booklet, so idiosyncratic...


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: DADGBE
Date: 12 Feb 09 - 03:57 PM

I discovered the Smith work at Izzy Young's Folklore Center in the late 1950's. Rocked my world too. Harry used to frequent Izzy's shop, especially when he wanted to borrow money. Harry was a cantankerous, wonderful, contradictory sort of artist/beatnik - a friend of Allen Ginsberg.

I suspect that his Anthology (which was the first to make no distinction between white and black artists) was one of the factors which kick started the folk revival in the US.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Joe Offer
Date: 28 Sep 20 - 08:58 PM

Harry Smith’s Musical Catalogue of Human Experience
“The Anthology of American Folk Music” is probably the most signi?cant example of how a particular collector’s preferences can shape a canon.


By Amanda Petrusich
The New Yorker
September 28, 2020

In 1951, the record collector Harry Smith met with Moe Asch, a co-founder of Folkways Records, to see if Asch would buy all or part of his collection. Smith, who was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1923, and died in 1991, was an eccentric polymath. He painted, made experimental films, practiced occult alchemy (he was ordained in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, a spiritual group affiliated with the magician and self-appointed prophet Aleister Crowley), and believed that the careful accumulation and ordering of things could bring about new knowledge. “All my projects are only attempts to build up a series of objects that allow some sort of generalizations to be made,” he said, in 1968. Smith collected all sorts of stuff: paper airplanes, Ukrainian Easter eggs, figures he made by looping or weaving lengths of string, anything shaped like a hamburger, and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of 78-r.p.m. records, ten-inch platters introduced around the beginning of the twentieth century that contain about three minutes of music on each side. The first 78 Smith bought was by the Mississippi-born blues guitarist Tommy McClennan. “It sounded strange—and I looked for others,” he said.

Like many serious collectors of arcane but precious objects, Smith could be irascible, mean, and single-minded to the point of psychopathy. There are stories of his thieving, particularly when he believed that an item would be better off in his care. He never married, drank to unconsciousness, went absolutely nuts if anyone talked while he was playing a record, and, according to his friend Allen Ginsberg, kept “several years’ deposits of his semen” in the back of his freezer for “alchemical purposes.”

In addition to buying records from Smith, Asch tasked him with compiling “The Anthology of American Folk Music,” a six-LP compendium of vernacular songs recorded in the United States between 1926 and 1934. In an interview with the magazine Sing Out!, from 1972, Asch said that Smith “understood the content of the records. He knew their relationship to folk music, their relationship to English Literature, and their relationship to the world.” Smith’s “Anthology” was derived from his personal collection, and made up of eighty-four tracks, broken into three groups: social music, ballads, and songs. Within those categories, Smith relished the juxtaposition of regional styles. A single LP might contain an Acadian one-step, a Delta blues, a lonesome Appalachian ballad, and a Sacred Harp hymn. Each of the three sleeves was printed in a different color and featured a drawing of a celestial monochord—a single-stringed dulcimer, tuned by the hand of God—taken from “De Musica Mundana,” a book by the Elizabethan alchemist Robert Fludd, from 1618.

“The Anthology of American Folk Music” is probably the most significant example of how a particular collector’s preferences can guide (if not dictate) a historical canon. Obscure records tend to survive only when there are collectors willing to seek out and preserve them. Most early recording masters were either destroyed or melted down for reuse, so the pressed and sold records became the only material evidence of these performances. If a record is lost to time or circumstance—78s are made from a shellac compound that is brittle and shatters easily—the performance is effectively erased.

It makes many people anxious that record collectors have come to be the default custodians of this music. (The question of who owns the music, and how the descendants of the performers should be compensated if a reissue generates revenue, is also complicated. Many of these songs are variations on traditional compositions with no single author, and many rural musicians signed their rights over to the recording company or to the record executive who recruited them.) Yet Smith’s singular vision for the “Anthology”—his particular and irregular cosmology—is part of what makes it such a fascinating artifact.

The set ultimately became one of the central texts of the folk revival, guiding artists including Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. “I’d match the ‘Anthology’ up against any other single compendium of important information ever assembled,” the guitarist John Fahey once wrote. Despite its title, the “Anthology” is not comprehensive. It did not contain any music from Native Americans or recent European immigrants, and there are no Spanish-language songs, although they were popular along the southern border. Some folklorists and musicologists found the “Anthology” inherently faulty, because Smith used commercial recordings, and it was believed that only field recordings could represent authentic folk music. Yet the songs on the “Anthology” still work as a dizzying catalogue of human experience. Love, lust, rage, determination, malice, envy, heartache, exhaustion, joy—it’s hard to think of a feeling that is not represented here. Sixty-eight years on, the “Anthology” remains powerful evidence of the depth and fury of early American folk songs.

Serious fans of the set tend to discuss it in ecstatic terms. I’ve often cited it as foundational in the development of my own taste—a work that unlocks other works. Once, in a strange fury of obsession, I spent several months on the lower level of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, trying to track down Smith’s own 78s, some of which he had sold to the library before he died. Smith believed that objects have power; I thought there might be something to learn from holding those records in my hands. I came up short, in the end—they may have been pilfered from the archives, or simply been mixed in with the general collection.

During the 1991 Grammys telecast, the Recording Academy gave Smith a Chairman’s Merit Award, for his “ongoing insight into the relationship between artistry and society, and his deep commitment to presenting folk music as a vehicle for social change.” At the time, Smith was working as the “shaman-in-residence” at Naropa University, in Colorado. In a video of his short acceptance speech, his scraggly gray hair is gathered into a ponytail. He seems vaguely amused but happy. “My dreams came true,” Smith says. “I saw America changed through music.”

This fall, the “Anthology” is being revisited twice. Dust-to-Digital, an Atlanta-based label that specializes in the meticulous resuscitation and repackaging of historical recordings, is releasing “The Harry Smith B-Sides,” a boxed set containing the flip sides of every 78 Smith used for the “Anthology.” In addition, the Harry Smith Archives is rereleasing two films, both from 2006: “The Old, Weird America,” a documentary about the legacy of Smith’s work, and “The Harry Smith Project Live,” which includes highlights from five tribute concerts, featuring artists such as Beck, Sonic Youth, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, and Kate and Anna McGarrigle, all playing songs from the “Anthology.”

In a filmed introduction to “The Harry Smith Project Live,” the producer and curator Hal Willner, who died earlier this year of complications from covid-19, describes the five shows as “happenings,” an allusion to Fluxus and other avant-garde art movements that emphasized process above all else. Willner is sitting in a recording studio, holding a battered banjo and a marionette. “I’m sure you’ll love some of it, I’m sure you’ll hate some of it,” he says. “But you’ll be a different person once this is over.” One of my favorite appearances is by Lou Reed, who covers “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” a blues song recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1928. Many country-blues songs already have a mesmeric, almost ghostly quality; Reed adds dissonance and drone, turning the song into a meandering dirge. The performance lasts for more than seven minutes, growing deeper and more hypnotic as it goes on. By the time Reed arrives at Jefferson’s fifth verse—“Have you ever heard a coffin sound?”—I start to feel as if my own soul has departed my body. The release also contains a minute or so of footage of Smith, speaking on an enormous portable phone and declaring, in a nasal lilt, a kind of mission statement: “Perfection may be perfect, but to hell with it.”

“The Harry Smith B-Sides,” which was produced by Eli Smith, Lance Ledbetter, April Ledbetter, and John Cohen, was first conceived of by the collector Robert Nobley, who was known for his ability to revive cracked 78s with, as Lance Ledbetter writes in the set’s introduction, “nothing more than a tube of model airplane glue and a toothpick.” In 2004, Nobley self-released, on CD-R, two compilations of some of the B-sides from the “Anthology,” titled “Anthology of American Folk Music, Other Sides Vol. 1 and 2,” and sold them via mail order. Ledbetter was intrigued. “If the featured recordings are so remarkable, there’s an excellent chance that the song on the other side by the same artist probably isn’t half bad,” he writes.

Nobley died in 2005; in 2013, Eli Smith and Cohen got in touch with Ledbetter, the founder of Dust-to-Digital, about issuing a more complete version of the project. It took them several years to secure permissions from copyright holders, and even now the music can exist only on compact disk and vinyl—the licenses do not allow for streaming or downloads. In June, the producers chose to omit three tracks, because they use racist language. The set was already finished, and the decision required the remanufacturing of three of the four disks. “In our seventeen-year history, we have never published tracks with racist lyrics,” April Ledbetter, a co-director of Dust-to-Digital, told me. “Our intent to adhere to the concept for the project is what led to the recordings being included in the first place. I am thankful that we had the time to realize what a mistake that would have been, and the ability to do something about it.”

In a way, “The Harry Smith B-Sides” is a thought experiment. The “Anthology” is potent mostly because of Smith’s vision—his taste, his aesthetic, his fussy sequencing—which makes a mirror-image compilation of the sides he rejected a novelty of sorts. But I have found it to be just as moving, haunting, and profound as the original. In some cases, the producers were able to acquire cleaner source copies, resulting in especially rich audio. Smith chose Henry Thomas’s “Old Country Stomp” for the “Anthology,” but its flip side, “Bull Doze Blues,” is uncommonly beautiful—lonesome and giddy at the same time. Lance Ledbetter described it to me as “one of the very finest recordings ever made.” Most 78s exist in varying stages of degradation, but when a clean copy is properly engineered and transferred there’s something uncanny about how intimate it feels. I’ve never heard Thomas—who recorded twenty-four songs between 1927 and 1929, and who probably died in 1930—sound quite so close.

Some selections have changed the way I think about the original side. Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s rendition of the folk song “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground” is one of the most confounding and fascinating tracks on the “Anthology.” Its narrator expresses a deep desire to be turned into a mole, or maybe a lizard. “He wants to be delivered from his life and to be changed into a creature insignificant and despised,” the critic Greil Marcus wrote, in “Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century.” “He wants to see nothing and to be seen by no one. He wants to destroy the world and to survive it.” The record’s flip side, “Mountain Dew,” is an earnest appreciation of bootleg liquor. Lunsford—who was born in Mars Hill, North Carolina, in 1882, and performed in formal dress to combat stereotypes about Appalachia—also worked as a lawyer, and during Prohibition he frequently defended moonshiners. “They call it that old mountain dew, and those who refuse it are few,” Lunsford sings, strumming a banjo. There’s a narrative consonance between the two sides of the record—a hungering for oblivion. Smith loved these simple points of communion. He believed in interconnectedness—that every piece of art contains every piece of art.

Over the years, critics have famously described Smith’s collection as “old” and “weird,” which is not exactly inaccurate. Yet many of the performers included on the “Anthology” (Mississippi John Hurt, Dock Boggs, the Carter Family) were still alive and working when it was released, and, although some of the tracks may initially be inscrutable to modern ears (the lyrics can be idiomatic, the recording technology imprecise), they open up over time. There’s a lot of bleating, croaking, hollering, screeching, and moaning, which might goad a new listener into reëxamining her notions of what constitutes professional singing. As Eli Smith writes, these performers “by necessity had a very different relationship to nature, family, work, play, food, consumerism, money, et cetera. . . . It does not feel alienated.” He goes on to describe the set as “an esoteric beacon, broadcasting outside of our dysfunctional culture system.”

The liner notes for the “Anthology,” written by Harry Smith, included punchy, all-caps summaries of each track’s narrative arc, presented as newspaper headlines. The notes can be as indecipherable and compelling as the songs themselves. For “The Harry Smith B-Sides,” the producers enlisted a crew of musicians and writers (including me) to compose similar notes. The set also includes an essay by Cohen, a folklorist, photographer, filmmaker, and member of the New Lost City Ramblers, who died of cancer in September, 2019. Cohen first met Harry Smith in 1962, at New York’s Folklore Center. In a conversation at the Chelsea Hotel, in 1968, Smith told Cohen, “I intuitively decided I wanted to collect records. After that had been determined, what was then decided to be good or bad was based on a comparison of that record to other records.” How many 78s did Smith listen to before he chose the eighty-four songs that make up the “Anthology”? Based on the enduring resonance of the collection—the way these songs, played in this order, still seem able to rearrange a person’s entire world view—one gets the sense that it was probably a lot.

Afew years before Moe Asch’s death, he asked the Smithsonian Institution if it might be interested in acquiring the Folkways catalogue. Asch’s best and most audacious requirement was that all of the label’s more than two thousand releases—which range from seminal albums by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Leadbelly to a recording of insects chewing, walking, and flying—remain in print indefinitely. The Smithsonian agreed, and, in 1987, the Folkways archive became part of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, in Washington, D.C.

The “Anthology” was first released on compact disk in 1997. Prior to that, a person could mail a check to the Folkways office and request that an archivist transfer it to CD or cassette. Or one could attempt to hunt down the original LPs in used-record shops or at flea markets. The set’s rarity somehow felt congruous with its self-styled mythology. It was talismanic; you had to put in some work before you got to hear it. When I finally got my hands on a copy, in the late nineties, I found that listening to it was a metaphysical experience, insofar as it seemed to bend the rules of space and time. Discovering new music often feels like that—it’s as if you have come upon a secret room in a house that you have occupied for years.

Because the “Anthology” was literally encased in an occult symbol—the single string of the celestial monochord is meant to connect Heaven and earth—it seemed possible that others might feel the otherworldly trance I often fell into while listening to the collection. Maybe Smith was giving us permission to be rhapsodic about the experience—to finally submit to what Ginsberg once called “burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo.” To accept music as magic. ?


Published in the print edition of the October 5, 2020, issue, with the headline “Inventing the Tradition.”

Amanda Petrusich is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/10/05/harry-smiths-musical-catalogue-of-human-experience


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 15 Oct 20 - 10:20 PM

about to be released by DUST TO DIGITAL
The HARRY SMITH B-SIDES 4-cd, book


Dust to Digital - Harry Smith B sides
https://dust-digital.com/shop/harry-smith-b-sides

there are numerous threads on MUDCAT relating to the
HARRY SMITH ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC.

Cheers, Thomas.

Tracklist
CD 1
1. Dick Justice – “One Cold December Day”
2. Nelstone's Hawaiians – “Village School”
3. Clarence Ashley – “Old John Hardy”
4. Coley Jones – “The Elder He’s My Man”
*5. Bill & Belle Reed – “You Shall Be Free”
6. Buell Kazee – "The Wagoner's Lad"
7. Buell Kazee – "The Butcher's Boy"
8. Chubby Parker & His Old-Time Banjo – “Down on the Farm”
9. Uncle Eck Dunford – “Angeline, the Baker”
10. Burnett and Rutherford – “All Night Long Blues”
11. Buster Carter and Preston Young – “It Won’t Hurt No More”
12. Carolina Tar Heels – “You Are a Little Too Small”
13. G.B. Grayson – “Rose Conley”
14. Kelly Harrell – “My Wife, She Has Gone and Left Me”
15. Edward L. Crain – “Cowboy’s Home Sweet Home”
16. Kelly Harrell – “Henry Clay Beattie”
17. Carter Family – “Bring Me Back My Blue-Eyed Boy”
18. Williamson Brothers & Curry – “Warfield”
19. Frank Hutchison – “Stackalee”
20. Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers – “Monkey on a String”
21. Mississippi John Hurt – “Nobody’s Dirty Business”

CD 2
1. William & Versey Smith – “Everybody Help the Boys Come Home”
2. Carter Family – “I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes”
3. Furry Lewis – “Kassie Jones”
*4. The Bentley Boys – “Henhouse Blues”
5. The Masked Marvel – “Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues”
6. Carolina Tar Heels – “Back to Mexico”
7. Uncle Bunt Stephens – “Louisburg Blues”
8. J.W. Day – “Marthis Campbell”
9. Prince Albert Hunt's Texas Ramblers – “Waltz of Roses”
10. Delma Lachney and Blind Uncle Gaspard – “Le Bebe et le Gambleur (The Baby and the Gambler)”
11. Andrew & Jim Baxter – “Forty Drops”
12. A.C “Eck” Robertson and Family – “Amarillo Waltz”
13. Hoyt Ming and His Pep-Steppers – “Old Red”
14. Henry Thomas – “Bull-Doze Blues”
15. Jim Jackson – “I Heard the Voice of a Pork Chop”
16. Columbus Fruge – “Bayou Teche”
17. Joseph Falcon – “Aimer et Perdre (To Love and Lose)”
18. Breaux Freres – “T’As Vole Mon Chapeau (You Have Stolen My Hat)”
19. Cincinnati Jug Band – “George Street Stomp”
20. Frank Cloutier and the Victoria Cafe Orchestra – “Moonshiner's Dance Part Two”
21. Rev. J. M. Gates – “Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting”
22. Rev. J. M. Gates – “Must Be Born Again”

CD 3
1. Alabama Sacred Harp Singers – “Present Joys”
2. Alabama Sacred Harp Singers – “Rocky Road”
3. Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1 – “I Am Going Home”
4. Sister Mary Nelson – “The Royal Telephone”
5. Memphis Sanctified Singers – “The Great Reaping Day”
6. Elders McIntorsh and Edwards –“The Latter Rain Is Fall”
7. Rev. Moses Mason – “Go Wash in the Beautiful Stream”
8. Bascom Lamar Lunsford – “Stepstone”
9. Blind Willie Johnson – “You’re Going to Need Someone on Your Bond”
10. Carter Family – “God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign”
11. Ernest Phipps & His Holiness Singers – “A Little Talk with Jesus”
12. Rev. F.W. McGee – “Nothing to Do in Hell”
13. Rev. D.C. Rice and His Sanctified Congregation –“He’s Got His Eyes on You”
14. Clarence Ashley – “Dark Holler Blues”
15. Buell Kazee – “Darling Cora”
16. Cannon's Jug Stompers – “Madison Street Rag”
17. E. Segura & D. Herbert – “Far Away from Home Blues”
18. Richard "Rabbit" Brown – “I’m Not Jealous”
19. Dock Boggs – “Down South Blues”
20. Bascom Lamar Lunsford – “Mountain Dew”

CD 4
1. Mr. & Mrs. Ernest V. Stoneman – “The Road to Washington”
2. Stoneman Family – “Too Late”
3. Memphis Jug Band – “I Packed My Suitcase, Started to the Train”
4. Carter Family – “The Storms Are on the Ocean”
5. Joseph Falcon & Cleoma Breaux – “Fe Fe Ponchaux”
6. Blind Lemon Jefferson – “Shuckin’ Sugar Blues”
7. Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell – “Sweet Mama”
8. Ramblin' Thomas – “Ramblin’ Man”
9. Cannon's Jug Stompers – “Riley’s Wagon”
10. Dock Boggs – “Sammie, Where Have You Been So Long”
11. Julius Daniels – “My Mamma Was a Sailor”
12. Blind Lemon Jefferson – “Lemon’s Worried Blues”
13. Blind Lemon Jefferson – “’Lectric Chair Blues”
14. Joseph Falcon & Cleoma Breaux – “Elle M’A Oublie (She Has Forgotten Me)”
15. Uncle Dave Macon – “Rise When the Rooster Crows”
*16. Uncle Dave Macon – “I’m the Child to Fight”
17. Mississippi John Hurt – “Blue Harvest Blues”
18. Memphis Jug Band – “Memphis Yo Yo Blues”
19. J.P. Nestor – “Black-Eyed Susie”
20. Ken Manyard – “The Cowboy’s Lament”
21. Henry Thomas – “Texas Worried Blues”


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Oct 20 - 12:24 AM

Interesting article in the New York Times about the Dust-to-Digital reissue of the Harry Smith B-sides:

How to Handle the Hate in America’s Musical Heritage
A companion to the “Anthology of American Folk Music” had already been pressed when Lance and April Ledbetter realized they couldn’t live with releasing racist songs.


By Grayson Haver Currin
Oct. 14, 2020

ATLANTA — Lance Ledbetter was buying sweet Georgia peaches near downtown Atlanta on a sweltering June morning when he realized he was about to make a potentially catastrophic mistake: His record label, the Grammy-winning archival bastion Dust-to-Digital, would soon release its first racist songs.

In fits and starts for the previous 16 years, Ledbetter had worked on a companion to the “Anthology of American Folk Music,” the pioneering 1952 trove masterminded by the idiosyncratic collector, filmmaker and Beat philosopher-mystic Harry Smith. The six-LP series famously helped propel the folk revival of the 1950s and ’60s, and returned to prominence after it was reissued on CD in 1997. That’s the version that sparked Ledbetter’s plan to start Dust-to-Digital when he was a business student at Georgia State University.

“Dust-to-Digital doesn’t exist without it,” Ledbetter, 44, said recently, smiling in the sunny living room of the Atlanta home he shares with his wife and fellow Dust-to-Digital director, April, 41. The night he bought the “Anthology” in 1997, he stayed awake until 3 a.m., devouring six discs in one sitting.

“It changed my molecules, melted my brain,” he said. “It was an access point to a world I had seen growing up in Georgia but didn’t know.”

The concept for Dust-to-Digital’s latest project — “The Harry Smith B-Sides,” due Friday — seemed simple enough. Every song on Smith’s meticulously sequenced “Anthology” was taken from a 78-RPM single recorded between 1926 and 1934, an incomparable boom time in the history of American music, when blues, country and gospel were rapidly evolving. How would the “Anthology” sound if Dust-to-Digital flipped each record to its other side? The answer, however, has reinvigorated a long-lingering debate about how to handle the hate within the country’s early musical heritage.

Atlanta, like much of the country, seemed a live wire the morning the Ledbetters drove to the busy Grant Park market for peaches. The weekend before, protests had erupted across the city after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Ledbetters had not left home for days; they’d focused on finishing the four-disc “B-Sides,” listening to all 84 songs for the first time in five years. During a season marked by the fight for racial justice, though, a trio of old-time tunes with repeated racial slurs newly shook the couple. On the set’s fifth track, a former minstrel number transformed into a country jaunt called “You Shall Be Free,” the Appalachian pair Bill and Belle Reed sang a racial slur five times and jubilantly harmonized about a lynching.

“I had headphones on, listening very close, and it made me feel sick,” April remembered. “How can we do this?”

In 2015, when the set was initially completed, the Ledbetters and their partners for the project — Eli Smith and John Cohen, New York folk aficionados and bandmates 50 years apart — grappled with that question. They opted to address the songs through pointed essays in the liner notes. For the next five years, as Dust-to-Digital struggled to license the 84 tracks from four companies including Sony and Universal Music Group, the world — and their own opinion — shifted. After Floyd’s death, they decided to affix a warning label to the box and insert another alongside the discs.

At the farmers’ market, the Ledbetters’ longtime peach vendor wondered what they had been working on during quarantine. When they told him, he strolled behind the counter and put on his morning soundtrack: the “Anthology.” Behind their masks, the Ledbetters quietly panicked. What if it would have been their set blaring from the speakers, broadcasting century-old racist songs?

“I didn’t want people washing dishes or having a dinner party when those songs came on,” Lance said. “If somebody turns up the volume, no one is going to say, ‘Oh, here’s a sticker! We’re supposed to skip this song!’ The world doesn’t work that way.”

The tracks had to go. The Ledbetters raced home and paused their order of 5,000 finished boxed sets, already on pallets and ready to board a ship in Shenzhen, China. Three of the four discs were re-pressed, unboxed, swapped and boxed again. The decision increased production costs by 10 percent. For the Ledbetters, the extra expense bought peace of mind.

Some listeners didn’t agree. Lance expected the cuts to produce a few academic papers. But in recent years, Dust-to-Digital has fostered an outsized and allegiant social media audience by sharing daily videos of legends like B.B. King or Sonny Rollins and international exotica, like gamelan ensembles conjuring heavy metal or a Russian man playing glass bottles.

On Facebook, commenters pounced. Some called the move “revisionist history” and “cancel culture,” others “sad” and “lame.” Emails were harsher still, accusing Dust-to-Digital of succumbing to “wimpy PC culture” or embracing censorship. “Do you think hearing a pejorative word will convert someone to Racism?” one read. “Are you that weak-minded?”

Traditional music has long struggled with issues of racial and class equity. In the United States, “folk music” has often been reduced to a lily-white realm despite foundational contributions by people of color in the blues, banjo music, zydeco and jug bands, to name just a few. Paying or crediting artists has been a perennial woe; when Smith first issued the “Anthology” on Folkways Records, the label didn’t license a single song.

Folklorists and historians, meanwhile, continue to tease out the sources of such materials, correcting names, stories and struggles previously left out of the history. Since the late ’70s, the Library of Congress has returned wax cylinder recordings of Native Americans to their descendants, a process called repatriation. The Association for Cultural Equity, launched by the field recording scion Alan Lomax, is still doing the same with materials from the Deep South.

Folk singers have long bowdlerized troubling words in standards, dropping racial slurs or rewriting violent sagas to modernize their musical inheritance. The question of outright omission, however, is a more nebulous one in an age of instant online access. (It takes seconds to find the missing “B-Sides.”)

Steve Weiss, the longtime curator of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Southern Folklife Collection, said his staff has become more proactive about labeling “hurtful content.” Not presenting it, though, frames an incomplete picture. “These tracks are an ugly truth,” Weiss said. “If you’re going to have a real conversation, those songs have to be a part of it.”

But for the musician Dom Flemons, that’s not the point of a set like Smith’s, which he calls his “Rosetta Stone.” Flemons, who is Black and Mexican-American, has long subverted stereotypes of traditional music and the people who play it. He co-founded the Carolina Chocolate Drops and, as the self-proclaimed “American Songster,” commands a dizzying array of sources, styles and instruments. For him, Smith’s decision 70 years ago to omit each performer’s race — and the songs with racist epithets — suggested that “music is open-ended, a highway.”

“Especially for a box set that may serve as an introduction, you want to be very cautious to not make people feel excluded,” Flemons said. “You don’t want people to feel they can’t be involved.”

Dust-to-Digital followed Smith’s lead. The label’s 2003 debut — a six-CD compendium of the United States’ earliest gospel recordings, called “Goodbye, Babylon” — offered a similarly integrated interpretation of the country’s music. Mahalia Jackson’s towering “Amazing Grace” shared space with the Carter Family’s bucolic “Keep on the Sunny Side,” the Texas blues titan Blind Lemon Jefferson with the Appalachian lawyer Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

A former college radio D.J., Lance started assembling “Goodbye, Babylon” when he realized that most reissue compilations overlooked sacred music. He and April began dating as he began four years of painstaking work on the project. A Georgia State film student who loved deep research, she volunteered, transcribing fire-and-brimstone songs and sermons from scratchy recordings. April was charmed by Lance’s obsession; he was taken by her organizational charge.

The label defines their shared life. Even now, their dual offices occupy the bedrooms on their cozy house’s main floor; the living room’s centerpiece is a pair of customized LP shelves, flanking a window-framed record player and crowned by the triptych of their Grammys. The basement houses their shipping-and-storage operations and a bulky scanner. The Ledbetters sleep in the attic, in a small lofted bedroom.

“Trying to work together and be a couple was challenging,” April said, holding their cat, Louie, for Louis Armstrong. “It’s something we still navigate. Lance could work all day and all night, but I stop working, start thinking about dinner.”

“Goodbye, Babylon” became a surprise hit, selling more than 20,000 copies despite an initial pressing of 1,000. Bob Dylan gave one to Neil Young, who dubbed it “the original wealth of our recorded music.” The success allowed the Ledbetters to pursue more audacious projects, united by an ecumenical approach to what “traditional music” might mean. They have issued the work songs Alan Lomax recorded at Mississippi’s infamous prison, Parchman Farm, and several lavish collections of early African recordings. They have released archival blues from Black laborers in Florida and the Depression-era hillbilly laments of Blind Alfred Reed, a fiddler who sang of hard times in West Virginia.

Still, the “B-Sides” wasn’t the first time Dust-to-Digital confronted the revisionist romanticism inherent to their niche. In 2004, not long after “Goodbye, Babylon” arrived, the Ledbetters visited fellow collectors in Baltimore. They met Gabriel Jermaine Vanlandingham-Dunn, one of the few Black managers in the city’s network of independent record stores.

The grandson of native Southerners, Vanlandingham-Dunn wanted to buy “Goodbye, Babylon.” But when he slid open its cedar box, twin rows of raw cotton balls surrounding the discs infuriated him, a tone-deaf symbol of the racist South his ancestors endured. He asked Lance to justify the design and balked at the simplistic explanation — cotton was a thread between poor people across the South, Lance offered, much like the music itself.

“I remember telling him, ‘If my grandfather would have seen that, he would have shot you,’” Vanlandingham-Dunn said from Philadelphia, where he is a writer. “I reminded Lance that white people weren’t enslaved or denigrated the same way Black people were. It’s fine to enjoy this music, but if you’re not paying attention to the situation of the people who created it, that’s a real problem.”

Years later, Lance admitted he made a naïve mistake. His pride in his concept and self-absorption with the new label, he reckoned, didn’t allow him to understand its impact on someone else.

Similar devotion to Smith and his “Anthology” almost prevented the Ledbetters from cutting the three racist tracks. Indeed, “B-Sides” feels like a reliquary for Smith: The box’s cover is a linoleum floor tile he designed, the book cover a riff on his typewriter art. The song descriptions emulate his incisive humor — “Pork Chop Speaks to Hungry Man, Offering Respite and Carnal Satisfaction,” reads one.

“We were beholden to this concept. We wanted to be historically accurate,” Lance said, sighing. “That was wrong.”

The critic Greil Marcus encapsulated Smith’s “Anthology” as a document of “Old, Weird America,” a wild and hardscrabble landscape that largely disappeared through cultural homogenization. But the most bracing thing about it and “B-Sides” might be how germane many of their songs seem. “Ever woke up in the mornin’, jinx all around your bed?” Charley Patton moans on the “B-Sides” track “Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues,” signaling the immortality of these situations. A president’s health fails during “The Road to Washington,” while the poor consistently pine for heavenly relief. People party, lust, repent and repeat. Addiction, depression and suicide abound. Had they not been cut, those racist tracks would only serve as insulting reminders of what else hasn’t changed in an American century.

Five seconds tick by for each of the missing songs on “B-Sides.” The gaps recall the empty pedestals and vacant spaces that now dot the landscape where Confederate statues once stood, many erected around the time these tunes were recorded. The silence is hard to ignore. As Nathan Salsburg, a guitarist and the curator of the Alan Lomax Archive put it, “You don’t need those tracks to unpack their historical baggage.” The decision to cut them says more about the world the Ledbetters hope to help shape than any history they’re ignoring.

“Racism exists, of course. You have to make the choice to take a stand,” April said, leaning against wall-to-wall basement shelves stuffed with books about the South and music. “We create meaning through selection and choice. We like libraries, but we don’t work at one.”

A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 18, 2020, Section AR, Page 10 of the New York edition with the headline: Untracking Our Heritage of Hate.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,Jerome Clark
Date: 16 Oct 20 - 08:23 PM

I've been listening to the Harry Smith B-Sides box all week (most recently as I type). I've heard many reissues of old 78s of traditional music over the decades, the first of them probably around 1970. My shelves groan with collections of old-time string bands, blues, Hawaiian, Cajun, bluegrass, cowboy, early honkytonk, and the like. I am struck, however, by how much on HSB-S I haven't heard before, amid some familiar (yet always welcome) numbers. I mean, how can you get sick of "Bull Doze Blues" or "The Storms Are on the Ocean" or ... well, you can find out for yourself.

The notes are entertaining, the sound quality is excellent, the songs even better. A masterly job all around, and definitely worth adding to your collection.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Bill D
Date: 16 Oct 20 - 09:57 PM

Well.. something else to look forward to.
I have the 1st Anthology, and didn't realize it was just a partial assortment of the collection. We shall see......


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Subject: BS: When isit wrong to include racist lyrics
From: EBarnacle
Date: 17 Oct 20 - 01:18 PM

I saw this on on Art Daily today.

https://artdaily.cc/news/129257/How-to-handle-the-hate-in-America-s-musical-heritage#.X4si6-aSnIU


This new topic was moved to an existing thread on the same topic.


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Subject: RE: BS: When isit wrong to include racist lyrics
From: meself
Date: 17 Oct 20 - 05:16 PM

The article is half blocked by pop-ups - for me, anyway.

    I posted the text of the article above (click) yesterday. -Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 17 Oct 20 - 09:55 PM

FWIW:

The HARRY SMITH Anthology of American Folk Music
original FOLKWAYS issue THREE 2-LP albums FP 251/252/253 1952
renumbered as FA 2951/2952/2953
Smithsonian Folkways SFW40090 6-CD 1997

the notes for the album, pdf format, are available at the Smithsonian Folkways website.


DOXY (Italy) has reissued the LP's DOY 625, 626, 627 3 - 2-LP sets
                                  DOY 004LP   8-LP


JUNEBERRY CD 101, CD 102
Other Sides of the Anthology of American Folk Music V1, V2
THESE MAY BE CD-R, year ????


SMITHSONIAN-FOLKWAYS SFW 40085                CD 1998
THE HARRY SMITH CONNECTION
Recorded live in October, 1997.
Includes liner notes by Anthony Seeger, Amy Horowitz, Jeff Place
and Bob Santelli.


REVENANT RVN 211CD             3-LP, 2-CD 2000 (Re 2007)
Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, Volume Four


SHOUT FACTORY 10041             2-CD, 2-DVD 2006
Harry Smith Project: Anthology Of American Folk Music Revisited


DUST TO DIGITAL DTD-051 CD    4-CD, book   10/16/2020
THE HARRY SMITH B-SIDES



Cheers, Thomas.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Joe Offer
Date: 18 Oct 20 - 12:05 AM

I'm sure there a lot of good songs on these B-Sides, but I think it's incorrect to attribute them to Harry Smith. Harry Smith chose the other sides for his anthology, and so many of the recordings in his anthology are absolute classics.

I enjoy listening through old recordings from the 1920s and 1930s, especially recordings from the Deep South. Some of the songs are classics; and some are overtly, hatefully racist. I'm pretty strong on the anti-censorship side, and I sometimes get flak about that from my more "liberal" friends. I don't want to see these hateful songs suppressed - I think they should be available so people can see the reality of racism. But on the other hand, I don't want these recordings presented in ways that make it easy for people to take pleasure in them - or worse yet, in a way that people will use them to promote racism.

It's a valid question, and I think there are many valid answers. But I hate to see anything be suppressed.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Thomas Stern
Date: 18 Oct 20 - 11:11 PM

addendum to list of HARRY SMITH related albums:

the DOXY Lp's were issued 2011

MISSISSIPPI RECORDS also reissued the Lp's in 2014 (four 2-LP sets)
v1-3 from Folkways, v.4 from Revenant.
MRP-070 v.1 Ballads
MRP 071 v.2 Social Music
MRP-072 v.3 Songs
MRP-073 v.4 Rhythmic Changes


Regarding the suppression of the 3 racist songs - I am dismayed by
this choice. Archeophone has a magnificent series of CD reissues
of early recordings- they include some racist material, with
a warning to potential listeners.

Does anyone have access to a magazine, IIRC The Listener (US, not the BBC publication) - it was published in newspaper size, ran for a few issues then was merged with one of the standard music magazines perhaps High Fidelity or HiFi).
They published an article about "COON SONGS" which was eye opening.
Would love to see that again to see how they treated the subject...


Thomas.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: meself
Date: 19 Oct 20 - 12:28 AM

Thanks for posting that article, Joe.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 19 Oct 20 - 10:37 AM

Hi Joe. I appreciate where you're coming from. But lots of things should be suppressed: racism, fascism, paedophilia. I don't think anyone should be promoting racist art.

There is a stronger case, I believe, for maintaining racist art in some kind of archive. Nobody's suggesting that we should melt down or destroy copies of all racist art. But the Harry Smith Anthology was and is supposed to be a work of entertainment; it is NOT a work of museum-style historical documentation.

Perhaps it is important to keep examples of racist entertainment stored and accessible in archives such as the British Library audio servies, or their Smithsonian equivalent - for historical reference or research purposes.

But choosing not to include such songs in an album of music for people's listening pleasure is not even 'suppression', it's simply choosing not to condone racism. We shouldn't confuse entertainment with a history lesson. Would you allow a racist song onto a new compilation of mudcat contributors? No you wouldn't. Would that be 'suppression'?


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 19 Oct 20 - 11:41 AM

Matt,
Are you sure that Smith's compilation was a work meant for entertainment?

I have always thought of it like most if not all other Folkways issues as being educational and informative and yes historical documentation.

If it was purely for entertainment then surely there would be no need for all the notes that were included.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 19 Oct 20 - 12:28 PM

I dont' want to get bogged down in the precise motivations of Harry Smith in compiling his original Anthology (which are ultimately unknowable). That's not what I was getting at.

What I meant was that there's a qualitative difference between someone selectively curating from among his record collection and making that commercially available; and the kind of ethnographic scrupulousness that a folklorist would have in depositing warts'n'all field recordings in an archive.

Harry Smith was under no obligation to include anything on the Anthology that he didn't like, whether that was for musical or ideological reasons. I think his own taste in music runs through the Anthology pretty clearly in a way that is not the case on plenty of 'ethnographic' compilations I've heard. I'd be very surprised if he included any music on the Anthology that he didn't actually like.

All by the by really, as of course it's not Harry Smith compiling the new one: it's Dust to Digital. Who are quite correctly choosing to omit 3 tracks because they are repugnant while simultaneously pointing out there are places to hear them if you really want to. Seems sensible to me.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Lost Chicken in High Weeds
Date: 19 Oct 20 - 02:46 PM

I have, from the beginning of my own knowledge/experience of/with the Anthology, considered it very much a museum like preservation of arrays of aspects of human cultural history/doings. There is far more information on those songs than just enjoying the surface of the sounds/lyrics for it's own sake. It is an encapsulation of incalculable sums of information/data/knowledge far beyond any expressible words.

Anyway, before finally breaking down and requesting membership in order to join in on Mudcat (I've never guest posted, but been checking in to read from time to time over a couple of months), I noticed and read this thread I think yesterday morning. I was particularly struck by some things that Art Thieme (RIP) said above. I'm not sure what the proper way to quote others here is, but below is a CITE tagged quatation:

But these songs are history. They are the words of the folk that came before---they are the views of their world that they left us--changed by the oral and electronic tradition but devoid of the ditractions of their times like cholera and typhoid & no air conditioning and no machines to do the work. As Kurt Vonnegut said in __From Time To Timbuktu__, "Whenever I start to feel the slightest bit self-important, I think of all the dirt that never did get a chance to sit up and look around." Our folksongs are the ones that tell real and detailed stories of the people in a given place at a certain moment---those that left us their songs so we might better understand the trails that brought us from then to now. They took the time to look around.

Man, what a lot of worthwhile perspective he packed into that! I was struck by this *before* the immediately above parts of the conversation began into whether or not it is history or entertainment, and had already intended to recognize my appreciation for those comments from Art. I Googled him at the time and discovered him to have since passed. Heck, the first time I came and really did some reading here a couple of months ago it was from an Origins thread Google sent me to that featured Jean Ritchie providing some insights on a song ("Swing and Turn, Jubilee") before she had passed. What an incredible place Mudcat is!


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,Hootennanny
Date: 19 Oct 20 - 05:37 PM

Matt,

Don't you think that hiding something because some people find it offensive and then telling where they can find it is somewhat hard to accept?

I haven't and won't be buying the product but I am led to believe that the full text of the songs including the words that the PC world find offensive have been printed in the accompanying book. Is that correct?????? If so the whole thing is ridiculous.

BUT as some people say "there's no such thing as bad publicity".


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Lost Chicken in High Weeds
Date: 19 Oct 20 - 05:58 PM

>"there's no such thing as bad publicity"

That was exactly my thought. As far as I know I only heard about the set at all due to the publicity surrounding the omissions. Heck, that's what caused me to discover their 'Goodbye, Babylon' set from some years back. I'm surprised, from a marketing standpoint, that they weren't able to make me aware of that one well before then via some method or another.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,Matt milton
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 03:24 AM

You’re implying that they omitted them in order to drum up publicity.

As stated above I think not re-publishing the song itself seems by far the best compromise between not wishing to include material they didn’t like (material no non-racist would be comfortable listening to) while simultaneously not disguising how things were.

Yet to hear a single black person complain about this. Funny that.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 06:05 AM

It is possible believe it or not to listen to this material and understand that it is of it's time. Listening to it does not turn us into racists.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 06:49 AM

Of course listening to it doesn't turn us into racists.
But who wants to listen to racist stuff? What's the point in re-publishing racist material rather than just pointing them to the libraries where it is already documented? Why is that insufficient?

"It is possible believe it or not to listen to this material and understand that it is of it's time."

I'm glad you used the word 'listen' there and not 'enjoy', because I don't think it is possible to enjoy white people harmonising the word 'n****r'.

'Of its time' has some validity sometimes, but it is a dangerous concept. It has never been morally right for white people to use the n word. The most generous interpretation of those white singers is that some were sympathetic to black people but still thought there was nothing wrong with using the pejorative term "n****r" in an otherwise non-racist song.
But they were wrong to do so; they shouldn't have done so. They knew it was a pejorative term and didn't think twice about using it.

Again (and again and again) why is it so essential that such songs be published on commercial compilations of otherwise enjoyable songs? They are already available to people who are determined to listen to them.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Lost Chicken in High Weeds
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 09:05 AM

>material no non-racist would be comfortable listening to

Traditional Folk is *filled* with uncomfortable content of all kinds that if you're "comfortable", you're not *really listening*. I think you're trying to project your own manner/style of listening/enjoying/etc. onto everyone else and assuming that others can't/don't take entirely differing arrays of experiences from the pursuit, not to mention implying that there must/should be only one way to study/interpret the music. There is far too much depth and complexity inherent and encapsulated within it for such restraints.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 10:08 AM

What differing arrays of experience should a listener take from the following words, sung by two white singers?

"Some folks say that a n****r won't steal
I caught three in my cornfield
One had a bushel, one had a peck
One had a rope around his neck"

What depth and complexity inherent and encapsulated by these lines am I missing?

There's a huge difference between a folk narrative that leaves you unsettled and feeling uncomfortable - something like 'Willie's Lady' or 'The White Fisher' for instance - and something that's basically barroom racist jokes. This is the 1930s equivalent of Bernard Manning or something (except I doubt Bernard Manning made jokes about the hanging of black people)


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Lost Chicken in High Weeds
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 10:17 AM

I refer you again to the post I made previously in which I said:

>There is far more information on those songs than just enjoying the surface of the sounds/lyrics for it's own sake.

Though I meant to say *in* rather than "on" those songs. If you are unable to see beyond/deeper/more than just the sounds/lyrics themselves then I am afraid I am unable to help, each human seems to have their own capacities/capabilities, but there again, you, and the producers, it seems, would like to limit everyone to their own or perhaps to some arbitrary "common denominator" or such.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 02:16 PM

I'm sure that many of us have listened many times with pleasure to the songs on the Harry Smith Anthology. I don't find any of the songs in the Anthology to be racially unacceptable, and it's important to remember that these are the songs Harry chose, not the B-Sides. I'm sure I will enjoy the Dust-to-Digital collection, as I have enjoyed many other collections they have published. I want to have easy access to racist songs for the purpose of study, but I don't want to listen to them for entertainment. I don't want that sort of stuff going 'round in my head, although I want the opportunity to study them.
So, I applaud Dust-to-Digital for their decision to omit these songs.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Lost Chicken in High Weeds
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 03:20 PM

>I don't want to listen to them for entertainment

I can easily understand that POV, I wouldn't listen to them for pure entertainment either.

>*these* are the songs Harry chose

Though by that same token, *these* are the B sides to the songs Harry chose, and the notion of creating a set based on that is a *very* good one, on multiple levels, including historical and "museum" like, a *documentation*, so it truly, literally, takes away from that accomplishment.

But, at the same time, I also have a certain appreciation for the fact that it being as it is is also a fitting document of *our* time, which is when it's being published retrospectively. I saw it mentioned, perhaps in a link above or somewhere, can't recall, that there are 5 seconds of silence where each of the 3 tracks would have been that somewhat stand metaphorically as an empty spot where a removed statue ones was. I think that in and of itself is pretty fascinating contemplation material, and can't even say for sure which way I would ultimately prefer.

And another thing regarding the publicity this has brought, I also consider it a net positive if all the talk about it results in new people discovering the Anthology itself.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Lost Chicken in High Weeds
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 04:10 PM

I was just thinking on this some more and have decided that while I do have a significant part of me that thinks they should be included, and do not like that historical things are removed without consideration that most adults of sound mind can handle such things from a "proper" perspective, relatively and ultimately I think it's best as is for the reasons I outlined just above.

While contemplating what I'd said it occurred to me to look at it from a future perspective, decades from now, and perhaps even 100s or 1000s of years from now.

First of all, I hope that there will still be at least *some* people keeping the chain alive into such times. If so, it would be interesting to see how it becomes presented to them, the entire saga, not only of the Anthology itself, which this new set is essentially a part and extension of, but what and how they tell us of their contexts within humanity.

So those future people would hopefully still be being taught of slavery, post slavery, the civil rights movement, how all of that leads into the events of 2020, etc., and who knows what all is to come from that particular lineage of issues, and if all of that is being looked at from the perspective of someone studying these sets then it would include these tracks having been removed, which would tell them something about us in these times.

And hopefully the synopsis would include the essences of this debate (which I've seen happening in a few spots, not only here at Mudcat). Perhaps it would say something in the order of "At the time the B Sides set was released, this and that was happening in these regards, and the producers decided to omit 3 tracks on such grounds. Some people felt that the tracks should stay for this and that reason, others agreed with their removal" etc.

The whole thing is quite fascinating, really, and ultimately I'm just grateful to see the Anthology still being talked about, still being relevant, still being important enough for such projects to spring from it, still being a part of living history. What an incredible testament to what it was to begin with! At least to the by far relative few who know anything of any of this. I mean, "we all" know of it and this new extension, but I know no one ese in the Away from Keyboard world who does.


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Subject: RE: Harry Smith's Anthology
From: Jeri
Date: 20 Oct 20 - 05:20 PM

Wow.

American music used to contain racist stuff that is now socially unacceptable!?

I never would have imagined our society had changed so drastically.

What a shock.

And we'ver never discussed it before!?

I need to go lie down.


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