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University of East Anglia celebrates 60th anniversary of the Anthology of American Folk Music

Fri, 15 Jun 2012

The 60th anniversary of one of folk music's most influential compilations will be celebrated in September at an event organised by the University of East Anglia.

The 'Anthology of American Folk Music' was released in 1952 as a six-album collection of American folk, blues and country recordings that were originally issued between 1927 and 1932.

The 84 tracks were compiled by the experimental filmmaker and notable eccentric Harry Smith from his personal record collection. The anthology went on to become the cornerstone of the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 60s, influencing artists including Bob Dylan.

The America Changed Through Music conference will see speakers and musicians from around the world come together to explore the impact and legacy of this extraordinary cultural artefact.

Some Crazy Magic: Meeting Harry Smith from Drew Christie on Vimeo.

The conference has been organised by Dr Ross Hair and Dr Thomas Ruys Smith from UEA's school of American Studies and takes place on September 15 at the university's London campus near Liverpool St Station.

Dr Thomas Ruys Smith said: "The Anthology played such a vital role in the shaping of American musical history that it's almost impossible to imagine how things would have looked without it.

"The Anthology was the key document of the American folk revival, a significant statement of twentieth century American modernism, and a profound inspiration on Bob Dylan as well as many others.

"It's rightly been described as 'the missing link in rock's official history', and we think that it deserves far more attention than it has received to date.

"Harry Smith himself was an eccentric figure who, as well as putting together the Anthology, was an avant garde artist, filmmaker and all-round bohemian, so we'll also be paying proper tribute to a true American original.

"One of the things we're going to be looking at is the way that the Anthology continues to exert a remarkable influence on today's musicians - on both sides of the Atlantic.

"And it's not just in the musical world that this collection continues to inspire - we'll be considering its ongoing influence on a wide variety of poets, writers and artists. Even in the digital age, where music of all kinds is immediately accessible, there is something about Smith's particular concoction of music, design and mysticism which continues to beguile and surprise those who discover it."

Speakers include Prof Geoff Ward from Royal Holloway (University of London), who has written extensively about the Anthology and will deliver the keynote speech.

Acclaimed modern folk acts Rapunzel & Sedayne and Ewan D. Rodgers will put their own spin on selections from the Anthology and talk about its influence on their own music.

Meanwhile short films by visual artists inspired by the Anthology will also be screened, including a piece by acclaimed artist and animator Drew Christie (featured above).

Conference sponsors include the US Embassy in London, the British Association for American Studies and Folk Police Recordings.

'America Changed Through Music: Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music at 60' takes place at UEA London on Middlesex Street, London, on Saturday, September 15. Visit the website for more information or to book a place.