Folkways' Greatest Hits, compiled by Jonathan Williger
By Smithsonian Folkways
Illustration by Three Ring Studio
With such a diverse archive to pull from, and such a rich musical landscape at large, the act of constructing a “Greatest Hits” compilation is no easy feat. Though we know you will enjoy some of our tried and trues, such as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” we hope this short list is able to strike a balance between the tunes and talents OA readers know best and a few new gems you’ll grow to love. Of these seventeen selections from the Folkways catalog, the work of both Pete and Peggy Seeger, blues legend Big Mama Thornton, Mary Lou Williams, and the New Lost City Ramblers will walk you through musical history, arriving with the 2019 release of “I Knew I Could Fly,” from Our Native Daughters. Peppered throughout this playlist: a deep cut from Ola Belle Reed, a folk classic from New York native Dave Van Ronk, and a track from Lucinda Williams’s 1980 Folkways debut. Though all of these tracks are folk-centric, we encourage any eager listeners to take a sonic stroll through the Folkways catalog. You’ll find anything from whale sounds in the arctic circle to poetry read by Langston Hughes and Leonard Cohen—and so much more.