Some Resources That Guided Harry Smith’s Record Collecting

Prominent media outlets have been publishing in depth discussions of the new collection of Harry Smith B-sides. These are songs that appeared on the flip side of commerically released 78RPM records who’s other sides wound up on Smith’s epochal Anthology of American Folk Music – which he considered a talisman intended to change American society. Many of these recordings were of songs that had been preserved and circulated in rural communities for centuries and in turn were survivals of English and Scottish traditional songs.

One of the sources that informed Harry’s collecting was the five volumes of “The English And Scottish Popular Ballads” edited by Francis James Child. These books collected the lyrics and Child’s studies of them – which many of these song lyrics being from variants then current in Appalachia. Child largely worked from published lyrics. Smith stated outright that one of the songs selected for the Anthology was chosen because that lyric was the “first Child ballad.”

While Harry never cited it, English Folks Songs From The Southern Appalachians, collected in person by Cecil Sharp was another major repository of centuries old songs, that, like the songs on Anthology, became the foundation of the 60’s Folk Revival. Harry’s compilation was canonical in the U.S. while Sharp’s collection turned up in the works of British artists like Richard Thompson’s first important band Fairport Convention, Pentangle, etc. Both Fairport and Pentangle were much beloved of Led Zeppelin. A digital version of EFSFTSA is available here:



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