Classic Harmonica Blues' Explores The American Musical Identity, Out May 21 On Smithsonian Folkways


Popularized in the late 19th century by German clockmaker Mattias Hohner, the harmonica has shaped the personality, sound, and form of American music like few other instruments. Although adopted by various genres, the instrument became an essential part of the blues, particularly benefitting those marginalized by race, class, or geography. By manipulating the instrument in ways never originally intended, blues harmonica players create an expressiveness similar to that of the guitar, the other instrument central to the blues form.

Sneak Preview: Listen to selections from ‘Classic Harmonica Blues from Smithsonian Folkways’:

Compiled, produced, and annotated by Barry Lee Pearson and Jeff Place, ‘Classic Harmonica Blues from Smithsonian Folkways’ (out 5/21) is the 21st album in the acclaimed Classic series. The 20-track set features harmonica luminaries such as Doctor Ross, Eddie Burns, Jazz Gillum, and Sonny Terry, and blues classics such as “Good Morning Little School Girl,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” and “One Way Out.”

The collection spans six decades and encompasses several stylistic categories and geographic regions — including jug band, Piedmont, and Midwestern styles. ‘Classic Harmonica Blues’ also includes eight previously unreleased recordings from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival dating back as far as 1977.

As with every compilation in the Smithsonian Folkways Classic Series, ‘Classic Harmonica Blues’ explores the breadth and depth of a genre while the liner notes offer insight into the cultural and historical contexts of each selection. During the last 10 years, Smithsonian Folkways has released Classic compilations of bluegrass, folk, blues, maritime, old-time, and mountain music, among others. Pearson has contributed to seven previous Smithsonian Folkways recordings, most recently Classic Appalachian Blues, and Place has produced more than 50 recordings, including the GRAMMY-winning Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection.

‘Classic Harmonica Blues’ tracklist:
1. Theme Song Doctor Ross, the Harmonica Boss 2:54
2. Heart in Sorrow Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee 2:58
3. Take Your Fingers Off It Will Shade, Charlie Burse, and Gus Cannon 2:52
4. Nine Below Zero Eddie Burns 3:33
5. Bye Bye Bird Charlie Sayles 3:09
6. Gillum Blues Jazz Gillum 2:13
7. Crow Jane Blues Sonny Terry 1:58
8. Dog Days of August John Cephas and Phil Wiggins 4:09
9. Minglewood Blues John Sebastian and the J Band (with Annie Raines) 3:41
10. Good Morning Little School Girl Doctor Ross, the Harmonica Boss 3:36
11. Sweet Home Chicago Phil Wiggins and the Robert Johnson Tribute Band 4:15
12. One Way Out Eddie Burns 2:25
13. Boogie Baby Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee 2:30
14. Low Down Blues Neal Pattman 3:07
15. Hooka Tooka Chambers Brothers 2:25
16. Train Piece Charlie Sayles 5:07
17. Chicago Breakdown Doctor Ross, the Harmonica Boss 3:40
18. I Feel So Good Warner Williams and Jay Summerour 2:00
19. Barbara Allen Blues Roscoe Holcomb 1:26
20. Custard Pie Sonny Terry and unknown washboard band 2:48