Arhoolie Records Go’s To Smithsonian

Since 1960  Arhoolie Records boss Chris Strachwitz has been one of the music world’s best known collectors and record producers of US music styles including blues, country, cajun music, Tex-Mex and and other music styles.

Since 1960, Arhoolie has released hundreds of albums and nowm aged 84, Chris has found a new home for Arhoolie Records – Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, which has acquired the Arhoolie catalogue and will be adding more than 350 Arhoolie albums to its collection. In keeping with the longstanding policy at Smithsonian Folkways, the nonprofit label associated with the Smithsonian Institution, the catalogue is to be kept accessible in a variety of formats.

“Arhoolie changed American culture,” said Daniel Sheehy, the curator and director of Smithsonian Folkways. “The fact that we can play some role in keeping that legacy alive in the future is a dream scenario.”

The acquisition was made as a result of a donation from Laura and Ed Littlefield of the Sage Foundation; terms of the deal were not announced, but Strachwitz said that the Littlefields essentially bought the label and donated it to Smithsonian Folkways. A 40 percent share of the label was held by Tom Diamant, Chris’ longtime business partner.

Chris Strachwitz, born in Germany and arrived in the USA cafter World War II. In the 1950s, he joined the loose network of collectors and sleuths who tracked down and recorded blues musicians who had made their first recordings decades before.

Arhoolie’s first release was by Mance Lipscomb, a blues singer and guitarist, whom Chris and his fellow researcher Mack McCormick located in Texas.

Partly inspired by Folkways Records the label run by Mo Asch that released records by Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie and the landmark 1952 “Anthology of American Folk Music,” Strachwitz took a scholarly approach to releasing records. Beside contemporary recordings Arhoolie released albums of rare blues discs, mostly from 78’s.

The Smithsonian acquired Folkways in 1987, a year after Asch’s death, and in an interview this week Strachwitz said that it was Asch who once gave him advice about setting up his legacy.

“It was the late Moe Asch of Folkways Records who told me, ‘Chris, when you kick the bucket you’ve got to think about what you’re going to with all your stuff,’” Mr. Strachwitz recalled.

Over the years, Chris has also built a voluminous collection of old records and other memorabilia like ethnic record label catalogues, pieces of which can be viewed on the website for the Arhoolie Foundation, a separate organization whose advisory board includes figures like Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and T Bone Burnett.

That material is not included in the acquisition, nor, Chris said, are the music publishing rights that he controls.

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