Folkways Records & Service Co. was founded in 1948 in New York City by Moses Asch (1905-1986) and Marian Distler (1919-1964). Under Asch's enthusiastic and dedicated direction, Folkways sought to record and document the entire world of sound. Between 1948 and Asch's death, Folkways' tiny staff released 2,168 albums. Topics included traditional, ethnic, and contemporary music from around the world; poetry, spoken word, and instructional recordings in numerous languages; and documentary recordings of individuals, communities, current events, and natural sounds.
As one of the first record companies to offer albums of world music, and as an early exponent of the singers and songwriters who formed the core of the American folk music revival (including such giants as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Lead Belly), Asch's Folkways grew to become one of the most influential record companies in the world.
Following Asch's death in 1987, the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, D.C., acquired Folkways Recordings and the label's business papers and files in order to ensure that the sounds and genius of its artists would continue to be available to future generations.
As a condition of the acquisition, the Smithsonian agreed that virtually all of the firm's 2,168 titles would remain in print forever--a condition that Smithsonian Folkways continues to honor through its custom order service. Whether it sells 8,000 copies each year or only one copy every five years, every Folkways title remains available for purchase.
In the years since 1987, Smithsonian Folkways has continued to expand on Asch's legacy, adding several other record labels to the collections and releasing over 300 new recordings that document and celebrate the sounds of the world around us.