Harry Everett Smith was born in 1923, in Portland, Oregon. Smith studied anthropology at the University of Washington from 1943-44. Soon after, in San Francisco, Smith began to build a reputation as one of the leading American experimental filmmakers. He showed frequently in the "Art in Cinema" screenings organized by Frank Stauffacher at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Smith received a Solomon Guggenheim grant in 1950. In 1952, Folkways Records issued Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Released in three volumes of two discs each, the 84 tracks of the anthology are recognized as having been a seminal inspiration for the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s. The 1997 reissue by the Smithsonian was embraced with critical acclaim and two Grammy awards. Smith spent his last years as "shaman in residence" at Naropa Institute, where he offered a series of lectures, worked on sound projects, and continued collecting and researching. In 1991 he received a Chairman's Merit Award at the Grammy Awards ceremony for his contribution to American Folk Music. Smith died at the Chelsea Hotel in 1991.
Excerpted from “Harry Smith: The Avant-Garde in the American Vernacular (Issues & Debates)” by Andrew Perchuk and Rani Singh, published by Getty Research Institute in 2010.
Harry Smith is featured in Edition: Guest Editor, Bryan Leitgeb