Harry Smith’s Old Weird America

Harry Smith began collecting early recording of folk music in the 1940s. During the War (WWII) many old recordings were melted down so the shellac could be used for the war effort, and many old recordings were lost forever. Smith’s collection preserved a legacy of American music.

In 1952 Folkway Records released a 6-album set titled Anthology of American Folk Music. The tracks for this release came from these old shellac recordings in the collection of Harry Smith. The release contributed greatly to the folk revival of the 1960s, and continues to influence popular music even today.

Old, Weird America is a documentary film project that tells the story of Smith’s collection. The project has recently been aired on satellite tv, and includes new performances of many of these old folk tunes, by contemporary artists such as Beck, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed and Sonic Youth.

The show was aired earlier this month on Ovation TV, the Fine Arts and Entertainment channel on both Direct TV and Dish Network.

Here’s a preview clip from YouTube that will give you a taste of what the program is all about. Elvis Costello performing The Butchers Boy isn’t something you see every day. Hopefully they’ll re-air the program sometime soon.

  • Another Ovation TV item of interest is a show called Music Express, which appears to be a British show featuring interviews and videos (I haven’t gotten to watch my DVR’d episode yet) and last weekend’s episode featured Alison Krauss and appeared to be from 2006 or so.