In the late 1940s, avant-garde filmmaker, artist, and mystic Harry Smith scoured his massive collection of 78 rpm blues, country, cajun, jazz, and gospel records to compile what would become one of the most important collections of recorded music in history. The Anthology of American Folk Music, a six-album set with extensive liner notes was released in 1952 by Folkways Records. It was essentially a bootleg and the complete licensing of all the tracks wouldn't be worked out until 1997 when Smithsonian Folkways Recordings reissued the material on CD. The original LPs were kindling for the mid-century folk and blues revival and brought artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt, The Memphis Jug Band (above), and countless other pioneering roots musicians to the ears of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Dave Van Ronk, Jerry Garcia and so many more.
"We all knew every word of every song on it, including the ones we hated," Van Ronk has said.
The 1997 CD box set is fantastic, but now, after decades out of print, the vinyl has been reissued in four limited volumes by Mississippi Records, a glorious tiny record label (and store!) in Portland, Oregon. If you dig wax (200 gram, baby!), this is an absolutely essential addition to your collection.
I purchased mine directly from Mississippi Records but they may be out of stock already. If so, try your local independent record shop or perhaps one of the Amazon third party sellers. And if you really search, you might still locate one of the complete sets that comes in a wood slipcase!