Asch Collection

SSI Director Dr. Mary Ingraham with the Moses and Frances Asch Collection of Folkways Records.

The Moses and Frances Asch Collection of Folkways Records (Asch Collection) was donated to the University of Alberta in 1985 and is an unparalleled addition to the University’s sonic resources. This collection, now fully digitized (including the extensive liner notes for each recording), provides inspiration for ongoing research, creative performance and teaching projects. Performances, critical and creative research and public outreach programs associated with the Asch Collection continue to draw audiences from across our communities. These include our Winter Roots Festival, course offerings at the university in Art & Design and Music, and ongoing public talks, interviews, music samplers, and visiting artist presentations that take place in SSI on a weekly basis during the academic term.

Under the umbrella of the Sound Studies Initiative, projects inspired by the Asch Collection seek to connect people and cultures through sound by identifying, preserving and investigating the relationships of cultures through their visual, aural and material practices. These projects focus on increasing mutual understanding across cultural communities through the creation, preservation and dissemination of knowledge about their musical cultural heritages and sonic environments.

The Legacy of Moses Asch and Folkways Records

Folkways Records began recording and selling albums in a small New York City office in 1948. Owned, operated and financed by recording engineer Moses Asch (1905-1986), the label deliberately set out to document and preserve “people’s music” from around the world.

When asked to define the meaning of ”Folkways”, Asch replied that it was “anything that is sound, from Indonesian folk music to James Joyce reading his own poetry.” Keeping in mind this populist view of “music as a means of expression for the people,” Asch refused to remove any album from the catalogue, no matter how poor its sales. At the time of his death in 1986, Moe’s labour of love had resulted in an astonishingly diverse collection of over 2,100 records encompassing folk, roots, blues, bluegrass, jazz, spoken-word pieces, and ethnic performance traditions from around the globe.

Complying with Moses Asch’s wishes, the Asch family transferred Folkways and its satellite labels to the Smithsonian Institution in 1987 with the proviso that all albums remain in print in perpetuity. At the Smithsonian, the process of collecting and disseminating recordings in the Folkways tradition continues to this day.

For more information, please visit the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website.