The Smithsonian to Release Cache of Folklorist Robert “Mack” McCormick’s Collection

The Smithsonian to Release Cache of Folklorist Robert “Mack” McCormick’s Collection

Photo by Chris Strachwtiz

The first releases from the illustrious collection of folklorist Robert “Mack” McCormick are set to make their way to the Smithsonian with the help of Folkways. The material includes a new biography of Robert Johnson and a new box set of unheard field recordings.

The Smithsonian’s Museum of American History shared they acquired McCormick’s collection last November. The works, made by the self-trained folklorist, began to amass in the 1950s and included nearly 600 reels of sound recordings and a trove of unpublished research notes, manuscripts, photographs negatives, interviews and more.

The book on Johnson is titled Biography of a Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey and will be released on April 4, while the box set titled Playing for the Man at the Door will be shared four months later on Aug. 4. The The National Museum of American History will also show items from McCormick’s collection on June 23 with the exhibit running for two years. More releases and events from McCormick’s collection are expected to be announced soon.

The upcoming biography is expected to offer new insights into the legend and life of Johnson. McCormick spent much of his life researching Johnson, starting in the late 1960s. However, he never shared any of his findings, and the biography remained unpublished and unfinished when McCormick passed away in 2015. The book will also include 40 never before seen black-and-white photos showcasing McCormick conducting his work over the years.

The box set is a three CD/six vinyl LP collection with 66 never-before-heard blues renditions of songs from a vast array of Black artists, including Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins. They were captured between 1958 and 1971 in what McCormick called “Greater Texas,” which encompassed included Western Louisiana, East Texas, and parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas. The songs will be joined by liner notes by scholars and musicians Don Flemons and Mark Puryear, who dig into the communities McCormick spent his life documenting, many of which were marginalized, along with essays from producers Jeff Place and John Troutman, as well as McCormick’s daughter Susannah Nix. 

Listen to “Train Roll Up” by Leroy “Country” Johnson and Edwin “Buster” Pickens shared by Folkways below.

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