Moses Asch, Harry Smith, and the Anthology of American Folk Music




A dreamer and an eccentric, working together, turned the American music industry on its ear. They issued a revolutionary recorded anthology. In the first half of the twentieth century, so-called Tin Pan Alley composers, who mostly lived in New York, produced the bulk of America’s popular music. Their sophisticated, urban music did not satisfy all the musical needs of the entire country. The singing and fiddling of rural musicians made no impression on the country’s city and town dwellers until the appearance of the Anthology of American Folk Music. Moses Asch, the dreamer, had made it his life’s goal to … Continue reading

Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music




The history of recording has gone through several phases, including cylinders (the first commercial format) and early discs (a less expensive format that opened the market to a wider cross-section of people, perfected in 1888). Electronic recording, which enabled far more accurate reproduction of sound than earlier technologies, appeared in 1927. According to Harry Smith, important recordings of folk songs were issued in both formats at the end of the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth. Shortly after the First World War, Ralph Peer of Okeh Records took some recording equipment from New York to Atlanta. There, a record … Continue reading

Popular song in America, part 1: from colonial times to ca. 1825




It never ceases to amaze me how many books on American popular song begin their coverage somewhere in the twentieth century, as if nothing of interest came before. Popular music is essentially a business that requires constantly updated products. It is an older business than perhaps many people imagine. The first ballad operas heard in Britain’s American colonies were performed as early as the 1730s. American cities began to establish pleasure gardens, likely as not named for one of the major gardens in London, as early as the 1760. For most of the rest of the eighteenth century, the colonies … Continue reading