Harry Smith 1955

Harry Smith in 1955.


Harry Smith was an eccentric Composer, anthropologist, artist, poet, mystic, alchemist, shaman, music producer, linguist, quilt-maker, musicologist, field recorder, and record collector. Among other things worth mentioning, he conceived, compiled, annotated, and edited The Anthology Of American Folk Music.


Harry Everett Smith was born on May 29, 1923 in Portland, Oregon, his parents were Mary Louise and Robert Smith, both were active Free Masons and followers of
Harry Smith 1943

Harry Smith in 1943 making field recordings of the rituals of the Swinomish Indians.

Harry Smith 1950

Harry Smith in 1950 in front of some of his 'brain drawings'.

Aleister Crowley. His parents didn't get along and lived in separate
Harry Smith 1965

Harry Smith in 1965.

houses only to meet during dinner time. He started experimenting with Alchemy as on his 12th birthday
Harry Smith 1985

"Harry Smith, painter, archivist, anthropologist, film-maker & hermetic alchemist, his last week at Breslin Hotel Manhattan January 12, 1985, transforming milk into milk." -Allen Ginsberg

when his dad gave him a blacksmith's shop, in this shop he attempted to turn lead into gold. He went to high school in Bellingham, Washington from 1940-1942. During this time he started collecting records and made his first films. and documenting the rituals of the Swinomish Indians at the nearby reservation, he even made a few field recordings, but these were unfortunately lost. After he finished High School, he went to College at The University of Washington in Seattle from 1942-1945, where he studied anthropology. He also found most of his records during this time. He met Sara Carter of The Carter Family at Seattle in 1945. During World War II, the U.S. government began taking 78s that no one wanted anymore, and melt them down, so they could make the shellac that the military needed much more cheaply. Because of this, piles of 78s were all over the place waiting to be taken by the government, Harry Smith and other record collectors saved many folk music 78s from being melted. The day after World War II ended, he moved to Berkley, California were he became a vital part of the "Berkley Renaissance", he would continue to collect records from wherever he could find them until he gave them all away in 1951. He moved to San Francisco in 1948, the only important thing in his life story that happened here was that he began making sound paintings, a style he invented, he would play songs by Dizzy Gillespie and painted a visual representation of the feeling in each part of the song. He moved to New York in 1950, were he was to live for most of his life. He went to Folkways Records to talk Moses Asch, its founder, about releasing The Anthology Of American Folk Music on his label, Asch agreed and paid him 35 cents per disc used in the album. Volumes I-III were released in 1952. He had made master tapes and annotation for a fourth volume, but it was never released during his lifetime and the notebook(s) with the annotations were lost, (for more information see: The Anthology Of American Folk Music, Vol. IV) however, it was finally released in 2000 by Revenant Records. In 1951, he stopped collecting 78s and gave half of them away to The New York Performing Arts Library at The Lincoln Center, (A branch of The New York Public Library) where they remain to this day. He sold the other half to Moses Asch, these are now probably in the Folkways archives at Washington, DC. He lived in New York for 14 years, were he did many paintings, poems, and films. He moved to Anadarko, Oklahoma in 1964, where he documented the culture of the Kiowa Indians, especially their Peyote rituals, his field recording were released by Folkways in 1973 as an album called Kiowa Peyote Meeting. In 1965, he came back to New York, this time to live there for 23 years, during this time, he produced The Fugs' albums, made more films, collected and researched string figures, produced Allen Ginsberg's First Blues, Rags, Ballads And Harmonium Songs 1971-1974, and practiced alchemy for the first time in about 50 years. In 1988 he became the 'Shaman-In-Residence' at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He continued to make films there until he moved back to New York in 1991. Later that year, he got a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys for his work in The Anthology Of American Folk Music. He died at The Chelsea Hotel on November 27th, 1991. Most of his work has been lost.

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