December 2, 1905
|Died||October 19, 1986
New York City
|Known for||Folkways Records|
Moses ("Moe") Asch (December 2, 1905 – October 19, 1986) was the founder of Asch Records and then changed the name to Folkways Records, when the music changed from 78 RPM recordings to LP recordings. Asch ran the label from 1948, when the LP was invented, until his death in 1986. Many of the early Asch Records recordings were made available through Folkways LP's. Folkways was instrumental in bringing folk music into the American cultural mainstream. Some of America's greatest folk songs were originally recorded for, and originally published by Asch, including "This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land" by Woody Guthrie among many others. Many of his commercial recordings he sold to Verve Records, and the culturally ethnic American records he freely donated to the Smithsonian Institution, as Smithsonian-Folkways Archival Records.
Life and work
Asch recorded and published LP records by such famous folk and blues singers as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Cisco Houston, and Ella Jenkins. In 1952, Asch's label issued the Anthology of American Folk Music, compiled by Harry Smith, which brought a wider awareness of traditional American folk and blues to a new generation. As well as rarer American, African, Asian and European folk music, such as the LP's "Religious Folk Music of India", "Sounds and Dances of Haiti", "Folk Music of Ethiopia", "The Old Folksongs of Vermont", "The Folk Music of France" as well as original (American) Negro slave spirituals, such as the "Negro Folk Music of Alabama" originally collected in 1952 by Harold Courlander an associate of Asch, or "Negro Folk Songs" redone by the Folk Masters, an African American band in 1952, as well "Mormon Folk Songs" and Yiddish, Ladino, and Hebrew-Aramaic, Cantorial synagogue music from the 1940s such as a rare pre-Holocaust liturgy from Moshe Koussevitzky.
Folk Singer Dave Van Ronk said of Asch, "Moe Asch could be an exasperating man, and he would never pay you ten cents if he could get away with five, but he really loved the music." Filmmaker Harry Smith who was a hobbyist musicologist, edited for Asch "The Anthology of American Folk Music", a collection of indigenous southern and mid-western US folk songs, which was the first record to conscientiously not differentiate between black and white folk singers upon Smith's request. Said of Asch in an interview on the WBAI radio's "The Sing Out! Radio Show", and repeated the story in an interview with John Cohen in Sing out! Magazine (circa mid-1960's): He had shipped most of the most dear records of his collection to Asch from San Francisco to New York. Records Smith deemed very valuable. Asch angrily refused to pay the COD charges for the package. Only after days of cajoling Asch to pay the COD charges, was the package paid for by The Folkways Corporation. As it turned out, this became 'the most important collection of its type', to Asch.
Asch had a significant recording relationship with James P. Johnson, the so-called Father of Stride Piano. Johnson made a significant series of recordings for several labels controlled by Asch, including Asch, Stinson, Disc, and Folkways. On the Stinson album, New York Jazz, Johnson recorded 5 numbers which he stated could be heard in New York in the 1910s, in addition to the first recorded piano solo of Scott Joplin's, Euphonic Sounds. This established the link between the stride piano of Johnson, and the ragtime of Joplin, from which stride is descended.
One principle behind Asch's direction of the Folkways label was that he never deleted a single title from the Folkways catalogue. As he said, "Just because the letter J is less popular than the letter S, you don't take it out of the dictionary." After his death, the Folkways recordings were acquired by the Smithsonian Institution, and Asch stipulated in his will that no titles were to be deleted, and that the unexplored master tapes in the Folkways archive should also be explored.
- Taken from, among many others listed, the original catalog of Folkways Records first and Service Company copyright 1952, first page
- Van Ronk, Dave (2006). The Mayor of MacDougal Street. p. 91.
- "Smithsonian Folkways Legacy". folkways.si.edu. January 3, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2011.
- American National Biography, vol. 1, pp. 661–662.
- Carlin, Richard. Worlds of Sound: The Story of Smithsonian Folkways. New York: Smithsonian Books/Collins, 2008. ISBN 0-06-156355-2
- Goldsmith, Peter D. Making People's Music: Moe Asch and Folkways Records. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998. ISBN 1-56098-812-6
- Olmsted, Tony. Folkways Records: Moses Asch and His Encyclopedia of Sound. New York,NY: Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-415-93709-4
- Van Ronk, Dave. The Mayor of MacDougal Stree. Da Capo Press, 2006. ISBN 0-306-81479-X