Harry Smith

Harry Smith in front of a selection of his “brain drawings” (ca. 1950). Photo: Hy Hirsh, courtesy of Harry Smith Archives

It’s thirty years, three decades, now since the death of Harry Smith. The magnitude of his achievement (in a variety of fields) is still hard (arguably, impossible) to properly fathom. The Harry Smith Archives under the guidance of Rani Singh continues to hold the torch – and for that we are grateful. Recent activity (this year) includes the publication of the remarkable study of Harry’s early Pacific Northwest Roots, Sounding For Harry Smith by Bret Lunsford (see here) and “Delineators”, Raymond Foye‘s examination of “the two mavericks”, Jordan Belson and Harry Smith, that appeared this past Spring in the Gagosian Quarterly (Singh and Foye can be seen discussing these two and others in a video made for the Gagosian Quarterlyhere)

Then this past July, from American Routes, “Who Was Harry Smith..? – a two-hour exploration, compered by the ever-informative Nick Spitzer – “Who was Harry Smith? The short answer about the 20th century polymath and hustler might be divined in his legendary 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, an LP collection of mostly Southern US folk songs from 78rpm records. “The Anthology” established a cult of listening and influenced popular and folk revival artists from John Sebastian and the New Lost City Ramblers to rockers like Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and Beck. We’ll talk with Smith biographer John Szwed about Harry’s life as an artist, record collector and 1950’s bohemian. Then, old and new covers of the Anthology and its B-sides from Gillian Welch, Bob Dylan, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Amythyst Kiah

Listen to the whole two-hour program – here

The focus here, of course, only on the music-curator Harry.

Yes, John Szwed, esteemed biographer of Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Jelly Roll Morton, and, significantly, Alan Lomax – and, soon-to-be biographer of Harry Smith!
(we await with eagerness and anticipation John’s forthcoming book)

Harry on The Allen Ginsberg Project.  Too many to list all the postings but here’s a few:

On Harry Smith’s birthday – here, here, here, here, here, here, and here,
On Harry Smith’s death-day – herehere and here
Ed Sanders Remembers Harry Smith
Gerd Stern Remembers Harry Smith 
Hal Willner interviews Allen Ginsberg on Harry Smith 
Paola Igliori interviews Allen Ginsberg on Harry Smith

We look forward to the reissue of a revised and expanded edition of Paola Igliori’s groundbreaking compendium, American Magus  (due out from Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents series in May)

and big news (also for May) –The Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s eagerly-awaited opening is set for May 2021 – May 10th, to be precise –  One recent acquisition is the 4,200-piece collection of books, albums, journals and pamphlets owned by Harry, (volumes devoted to anthropology, music, art, folklore, religion, literature, math and science, the occult, astrology, and astronomy – LP’s, choice recordings, featuring blues, jazz, folk, rock, classical, and ethnographic field-recordings) – His papers remain at The Getty Research Institute  (what a trove that is!), but soon, you’ll be able to go visit his books and his records. every one of them a jewel,  in The Harry Smith Library.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *