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Young Artists Refresh The Mission

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Wednesday November 07, 2018

From WMOT Roots Radio

Young Artists Refresh The Mission of 70-Year-Old Smithsonian Folkways
By: Craig Havighurst

A WWI-era Jewish emigree from Poland named Moses Asch failed in his first attempt to form a record company in the US. But his second go, a 1948 partnership with his assistant Marian Distler, thrived. Folkways Records became a history-changing outlet for Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The New Lost City Ramblers and a range of indigenous musicians from the US and the world at large. Its 1952 release of the Anthology of American Folk Music, compiled by Harry Smith, catalyzed the folk revival.

Before he died, Asch left the Folkways catalog to the Smithsonian Center for Folklife, which to this day pursues the original mission of documenting the “people’s music” under the name Smithsonian Folkways. And lately, in its 70th anniversary year, the label has been on a creative tear, signing a raft of young, emerging artists who are well positioned to dispel the misconception that Smithsonian Folkways only puts out antique or defiantly obscure music.

Anna & Elizabeth
One of the most head-turning and acclaim-grabbing acoustic duos to come along in quite some time, Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle manage to split the difference, where few saw one to split, between Appalachian heritage music and the downtown avant-garde. LaPrelle is from rural Virginia, Roberts-Gevalt from Vermont. Their journeys into roots music intersected and today they are the closest thing we have to the iconic duo of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. They’ve burrowed into song and recording archives famous and obscure to develop a repertoire and they’ve befriended visual artists and puppeteers to fashion dazzling neo-primitive visuals that elevate their already gorgeous and spectral vocals into something theatrical and unique. Their label debut The Invisible Comes To Us is cyber-folk for the alienated city dweller or the rural esthete.

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