Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wild About Harry Smith

On the night after Thanksgiving, American Standard Time and Columbia City Theater present a night of history and song honoring hometown counter-cultural hero Harry Smith and his celebrated Anthology of American Folk Music.

Harry Smith was a film maker, painter, ethnomusicologist and collector born in Portland and raised in the Pacific Northwest. His parents were Theosophists, who encouraged his fascination with unorthodox spirituality and philosophy. By the age of 15, Harry had spent time recording songs and rituals of the Lummi and Samish peoples and had compiled a dictionary of several Puget Sound dialects. He studied anthropology at the University of Washington between 1943 and 1944, and moved to San Francisco in the late 1940's where he began to build a reputation as a leading experimental filmmaker. His work in Non-Objective Painting led to a Solomon Guggenheim grant in 1950, at which point he moved to New York where he lived for the rest of his life. In addition to his many other accomplishments, Smith donated the largest known paper airplane collection in the world to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, was a collector of Seminole textiles and Ukrainian Easter Eggs, and was the world's leading authority on string figures, having mastered hundreds of forms from around the world.

As for the Anthology of American Folk Music, Smith's six-album anthology featured songs recorded by unknown artists for obscure record labels in the 1920's and early 1930's. Smith collected the vinyl records as a personal obsession, but in 1952, in need of money, he offered to sell his extraordinary record collection to Folkways Records. Instead, Moses Asch, the label's president, challenged Smith to cull his collection into an anthology. The records went on to become a vital compendium of American music and a touchstone for the folk music revival on the 1960's.

Inspired by Harry Smith's pivotal release, many Seattle folk musicians - including Zoe Muth, Pufferfish and Shenandoah Davis - will perform selections from all three volumes of the Anthology at the Columbia City Theater on Friday November 26. The evening is hosted by Greg Vandy, the DJ behind "The Roadhouse" on KEXP and the visionary behind American Standard Time, a new enterprise which collects and presents contemporary and historical research on Americana and Roots music.

The show begins at 8:00 and costs just $8. Tickets available here.

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