Monday, June 5, 2023
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At 91, Arhoolie label founder Chris Strachwitz passes away

Opinionated article:

Farewell to Chris Strachwitz, the man who made it his life’s mission to preserve American vernacular music. Strachwitz, who died at the age of 91, was a producer, musicologist, and preservationist whose record label, Arhoolie Records, released thousands of songs by regional performers, which became one of the biggest archives of American music worldwide.

For someone who was not an American by birth, Strachwitz’s love for the country’s music was intense and admirable. He used his privilege to travel across various states, including Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana, to document little-known artists in their natural habitats, be it a dance hall, a front porch, a beer joint, or a backyard.

Strachwitz’s approach was straightforward and unfiltered, “My stuff isn’t produced. I just catch it as it is,” he explained. He amassed an extensive collection of blues, Tejano, folk, jazz, gospel, and Zydeco, among many others, making him an unlikely champion of the American vernacular. Strachwitz recorded artists like Clifton Chenier and Grammy winners Flaco Jimenez, among others, who attracted a more comprehensive following later on.

The name Arhoolie, suggested by fellow musicologist Mack McCormick, is allegedly a regional expression for field holler, which only proves Strachwitz’s commitment to American vernacular music. He was a passionate true believer, as Ry Cooder would call him “El Fanatico,” which made him travel hundreds of miles to find musicians worth hearing. Like the time he sought out bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins in Houston, he was determined to preserve the American vernacular music.

While Strachwitz despised most commercial music, he did have enough success to keep Arhoolie Records going. In the mid-1960s, he recorded an album in his living room for Berkeley-based folk performer Joe McDonald and granted the publishing rights to Arhoolie. This move would later pay off, with McDonald’s “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” turning into an anti-war anthem that was a highlight of the Woodstock festival.

Arhoolie releases gained popularity with blues fans in England, including Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Strachwitz’s recording of more than a dozen songs by bluesman “Mississippi” Fred McDowell, including McDowell’s version of the old spiritual “You Gotta Move,” was later covered by the Stones on their acclaimed 1971 album, “Sticky Fingers.” Strachwitz used his persistence to ensure that royalties were given to McDowell, who was dying of cancer.

Amidst Strachwitz’s success, he established the Arhoolie Foundation in 1995 to “document, preserve, present, and disseminate authentic traditional and regional vernacular music,” with advisers like Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, and Bob Dylan. He would later sell his majority interest in the record label to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, a part of the national museum in Washington, D.C.

The ripple effect of Strachwitz’s preservation of American vernacular music is immeasurable. His contribution has been recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the Blues Symposium and induction into the Blues Hall of Fame as a non-performing member. His legacy is in his archive, which documents the diversity and breadth of American music with care and respect.

Related Facts:

– Chris Strachwitz was born Count Christian Alexander Maria Strachwitz in the German region of Silesia, now part of Poland.
– His family moved to the United States in 1947, eventually settling in Santa Barbara, California.
– Strachwitz had already been exposed to swing music through Armed Forces Radio before moving to the US.

Key Takeaway:

Chris Strachwitz’s death is a significant loss to the preservation of American vernacular music. His unfiltered approach to preserving the country’s music in its diverse and natural habitats ensures that American music will live on beyond modern soundscapes. His contribution to preserving the country’s music diversity is immeasurable and deserves recognition.


The American music industry has lost a passionate and committed preservationist in Chris Strachwitz. His approach to documenting and preserving the diversity and breadth of American music with care and respect ensured that the American vernacular’s legacy would live on beyond its contemporary soundscapes. It is only appropriate that his efforts should be recognized and celebrated with induction into the Blues Hall of Fame. Chris Strachwitz’s legacy lives on in his archive, which showcases American music’s richness and depth, ensuring that it will always be heard, respected, and admired.

Denk Liu
Denk Liu
Denk Liu is an honest person who always tells it like it is. He's also very objective, seeing the situation for what it is and not getting wrapped up in emotion. He's a regular guy - witty and smart but not pretentious. He loves playing video games and watching action movies in his free time.

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