First Impressions: a virtual exhibit of “first records” from independent record labels in the Southern Folklife Collection

We love all of our sound recordings at the Southern Folklife Collection, and of course we especially love our 12″ LPs. Library staff are always working to make more of our records discoverable in the UNC Libraries online catalog, but first we need to sort through new accessions and do some inspection and quality control to get them ready for our Wilson Special Collections Library Technical Services team.

Through this process, we began to notice several “first records.” These albums, the first full-length releases by independent record labels, were fascinating and downright good listens in their own right. Collectively, however, they offer a valuable point of entry into the overwhelming catalogs of the many labels in the archive. The SFC holds a growing collection of tens of thousands LPs, spread across far too many labels to list here. Some of these labels are familiar, from early giants like Columbia and Victor, to folk music mainstays like Folkways. Still others are virtually unknown, like the often short-lived local, one-artist, or one-album ventures that appeared from time to time. For the most part, the labels presented here exist in a middle ground between these two extremes, releasing what could be broadly defined as vernacular music from a variety of traditions (folk music, blues, cajun music, zydeco, bluegrass, country, conjunto, etc.).

From off-shoots of non-profits to international operations, these labels and their founders were united by a common goal: to share the music they felt passionately about with as many people as possible. In some cases, recording the specific musicians on these first albums was the primary motivation for a label’s founding. Many of these labels are still releasing music, while others folded after only a few releases. Still others formed sub-labels, or were bought by or merged with like-minded collaborators, forming a sort of tangled family tree. The aim of this series is to provide a starting point for research, adding context to these recordings, the artists, the music, and the labels that formed with their release. Most of all, we hope you enjoy the music.

The first installment of “First Impressions”: Arhoolie publishes tomorrow, Thursday, November 15. We’ll put up a new post in the series every couple of weeks. Follow alongĀ here.