Historian Unearths Rare Interview on Fellowship at the Library of Congress

Photograph of Harry Smith smoking a cigarette, ca. 1965.

While serving as a Spring 2023 Fellow at the Library of Congress’s John W. Kluge Center, Dr. Michael J. Kramer discovered a new interview with avant-garde artist, film maker, collector, ethnographer, and bohemian Harry Smith, currently the focus of an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

You can now hear it and read the transcript and an introduction by Dr. Kramer at the Harry Smith Archives website.

Archives often reveal wonders. Suddenly the voice of Harry Smith—currently the focus of an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art—entered the headphones at the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Collection as SUNY Brockport historian Dr. Michael J. Kramer conducted research there on a Spring 2023 John W. Kluge Center Fellowship.

While going through the collection of the singer, guitarist, and radical political activist Barbara Dane, Kramer discovered she had saved audio recordings of a radio show she co-hosted with her husband, Sing Out! magazine editor Irwin Silber, on WBAI-FM in New York City during the mid-1960s. One show featured Smith, an eccentric avant-garde film maker, collector, ethnographer, visual artist, and bohemian who had, among other activities, compiled the Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952 for Folkways Records.

The Anthology, a strange assemblage of commercial folk music first released commercially on 78 RPM recordings in the 1920s and 30s, became a kind of bible for the 1960s folk revival, inspiring musicians such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Jerry Garcia. Smith figures in a chapter from Kramer’s current book project, This Machine Kills Fascists: Technology and Folk Music in the USA. Listen to the audio of the radio interview and read a short introduction and transcript (transcribed with the help of Department of History intern Sam Sevor) at the Harry Smith Archives website.

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Contact:

Michael J. Kramer (mkramer@brockport.edu)

Posted: January 10, 2024