When Moses Asch (1905-1986) founded a tiny record label called Folkways with Marian Distler (1919-1964) in 1948, he wanted to be a resource for musicians to document the "entire world of sound."
And by that, he really did mean the entire world. Between the label's founding and Asch's death in 1986, Folkways released 2,168 albums, ranging from contemporary, traditional and ethnic music; documentary recordings of people, communities, natural sounds and current events; and poetry and spoken word in a number of different languages. Asch, a Polish immigrant, also helped the label become an important part of the American folk music revival, helping artists like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Ella Jenkins, Bernice Johnson Reagon and the pioneering bluegrass duo Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard launch or enrich their careers.
Today, the Folkways label, now owned by the Smithsonian, continues to produce records that honor Asch's globally-minded spirit. Since 1987, they've added more than 300 new albums—including some of the most comprehensive albums on American bluegrass and jazz—while keeping all 2,168 albums of Asch's in print.
This Saturday, the Folklife Festival will celebrate Asch's dedication and vision at the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert, an annual series that honors the founder of the festival's colleagues and traditions. Starting at 6 p.m., Dickens, Gerard, and Reagon, all of whom recorded with Asch during his lifetime, will perform.
Dickens and Gerrard broke the generational boundaries of bluegrass music, a genre that was traditionally dominated by men. They recorded 26 tracks with Asch in the mid-1960s, which were also included in the 1996 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings release of Pioneering Women of Bluegrass.
Reagon got her start with Asch—she recorded her first solo album, Folk Songs: The South, with Folkways in 1965. Reagon, also a civil rights activist and scholar, will perform with the group the Freedom Singers.
Come down to The Mall this weekend to hear the groundbreaking artists, whose careers, in part, were helped along by a man who wanted the world to hear every kind of music.
The Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert will begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday on the Asian Fusions stage