Popular Music

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‘Must Be Born Again’: resurrecting the Anthology of American Folk Music


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Since the 1997 reissue of the 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, journalists, scholars and musicians have promoted this collection as the ‘founding document’ (Marcus 1997) and ‘musical constitution’ (Cantwell 1996) of the urban folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. This reception differs markedly from that of its original issue, which sold few copies and attracted only minor critical attention. This article provides an account of the transformation in the Anthology's cultural status – showing that the canonisation of the Anthology stems not just from its content, but from the interplay of its content and its sociohistorical context. I identify some of the factors that influenced the retrospective consecration of the Anthology, including the important work of key people, the growth of a new field (‘Americana’ music) and changes in the organisational structures of the recording industry.

(Published Online February 17 2006)