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Down-Home Music: The Story of Arhoolie Records

New exhibition traces the story of Arhoolie Records, a Bay Area-based label that celebrates and preserves American traditional music

Chris Strachwitz (b. 1931) grew up in the German province of Lower Silesia, which became part of Poland following World War II. Towards the end of the war, Strachwitz and his family fled the advancing Russian army, eventually settling in the United States in 1947. Newly emigrated, Strachwitz quickly developed a passion for American vernacular music. In the summer of 1959, he traveled by bus to Houston, Texas, where he met and saw blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins perform in a small beer joint. Struck by his improvised lyrics and spontaneous exchange with the audience, Strachwitz was inspired to start his own record label. In November of 1960, Strachwitz released the first LP on his Arhoolie label featuring Mance Lipscomb, a Texas sharecropper skilled at performing a variety of folk songs, ballads, dance tunes, and blues.

Boldly ignoring commercial trends, for more than fifty years, Strachwitz has recorded the music that moves him. Strachwitz’s records continue to introduce generations of fans to vernacular musicians who might otherwise remain unknown. He has recorded several important blues singers, and his Cajun, Creole, and zydeco releases—including the “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier—helped popularize these genres. Strachwitz’s numerous Mexican-American recordings include master Tejano accordionist Flaco Jiménez and the great Norteño singer-guitarist Lydia Mendoza. In 2016, Strachwitz won the Grammy’s Trustees Award, which parallels a Lifetime Achievement Award. The same year, Ed Littlefield’s Sage Foundation purchased the Arhoolie label and gifted it to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in order to preserve Strachwitz’s important contributions to the history of American traditional music in perpetuity.

Visit https://www.flysfo.com/museum/exhibitions/down-home-music-story-arhoolie-records for more information about the exhibition.

Down-Home Music: The Story of Arhoolie Records is located post-security in Terminal 2, Departures Level, San Francisco International Airport.  This exhibition is accessible to ticketed passengers from September 15, 2018, to June 3, 2019.