The following is an excerpt from Pitchfork contributor Amanda Petrusich's forthcoming book Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records, which is due out July 8 via Scribner. The chapter details the twisted myths surrounding legendary collector Harry Smith and his Anthology of American Folk Music, which was recently reissued on vinyl by Mississippi Records. So as music lovers flock to their favorite shops for this Saturday's Record Store Day, here's the tale of one of the earliest and most influential box set artifacts.
I Saw America Changed Through Music
In 1952, a twenty-nine-year-old record collector named Harry Everett Smith squirreled himself away in a two-room office at 111 West Forty-Seventh Street, chewing on peyote buttons and compiling a six-LP compendium for Folkways Records. The Anthology of American Folk Music, which was released by Folkways in 1952 and reissued on CD by the Smithsonian in 1997, was culled exclusively from Smith’s 78 collection and contains only songs issued between 1927 and 1932, that fruitful five-year span between the advent of electrical recording and the apex of the Great Depression.