Rare Music Alert: More Than 5,500 Arhoolie Tracks Now Available on Smithsonian Folkways

Mississippi Fred McDowell, left, with Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records, circa 1970.

Back in May of this year, Smithsonian Folkways, the nonprofit label of the Smithsonian Institution, acquired Arhoolie Records, and today Folkways is making 300 albums (more than 5,500 tracks) from the beloved label available again.

Arhoolie is best known for its “down home” blues, jazz, country, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, Mexican-American, and world music, and you can view the entire collection and listen to samples on the Smithsonian website. Listen above to hear great blues stylist K.C. Douglas’ “Mercury Blues,” featured in the Arhoolie canon.


The collection features top-shelf recordings by artists such as K.C. Douglas, Bukka White, Big Mama Thornton, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Big Joe Williams, Flaco Jiménez, and Clifton Chenier.

Other releases feature titles from the Savoy Family Band, the Magnolia Sisters, and the Pine Leaf Boys. Also included is “Hear Me Howling,” a collection of many previously unreleased recordings made in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1960s, which won a Grammy in 2011.

maddoxsIn addition, Folkways unearthed a number of finds from Arhoolie’s El Cerrito warehouse, with a select number being made available on vinyl, in limited quantity. Some gems include:

Clifton Chenier, The King of Zydeco (12″)
Michael Doucet & Beausoleil, Parlez-Nouz à Boire (12″)
Strange Creek Singers, Strange Creek Singers (12″)
Uncle John Patterson, Plains, Georgia Rock (12″)
Flaco Jiménez, “Ay Te Dejo en San Antonio” (7″)
Rose Maddox (shown above with the Maddoxes), “Philadelphia Lawyer” (7″)
CJ Chenier, Check Out the Zydeco” (7″)

“Arhoolie changed American culture,” Daniel Sheehy, the curator and director of Smithsonian Folkways, told the New York Times. “The fact that we can play some role in keeping that legacy alive in the future is a dream scenario.”

Anna Pulley
Anna Pulley