The Anthology of American Folk Music is a six-album compilation released in 1952 by Folkways Records comprising eighty-four American folk, blues and country music recordings that were originally issued from 1926 to 1933. Experimental film maker Harry Smith compiled the music from his personal collection of 78 rpm records. He had begun collecting these records around 1940 when many Americans considered 78’s almost disposable and his collection grew to around 7000 recordings which he felt should be preserved and curated.
As the rights to the recordings were held by many different record labels, many of whom were still in existence, the 1952 release was, technically, a bootleg and it was not until a re-issue in 1977 that all the rights were obtained by Folkways.
The music on the compilation is generally thought to have been enormously influential on the folk & blues revival of the 1950s and 1960s, and brought the works of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt, Dick Justice and many others to the attention of musicians such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. The “Harry Smith Anthology,” as some call it, was the bible of folk music during the late 1950s and early 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene.
Moving forward from there, all the artists influenced by Dylan etc. and the artists they subsequently influenced can be traced back to some of the songs in this collection, which is one of the reasons they are so important. They are also offer an alternative snapshot of a place and time where history was usually written from a white perspective.