Remembering Chris Strachwitz

Joe Wilson, left, and Chris Strachwitz, right. Courtesy: Barry Bergey

NCTA reflections on Chris as published May 8th, 2023

On May 5, Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, passed away.

Chris served on the board of the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) for several decades. He had a lifelong legacy with our community and colleagues, and a shared musical sensibility. Numerous Arhoolie artists graced NCTA stages, and the label issued several live recordings of NCTA programs—Masters of the Folk Violin, Masters of the Steel String Guitar, and Masters of the Banjo. This photo of Chris with then-NCTA Chairman of the Board Joe Wilson captures the spirit and dedication of their work and their camaraderie, especially as Arhoolie and NCTA journeyed those years together, exploring the country’s underappreciated musical depth and diversity.

Many words can be used to describe Chris: a pillar, a champion, a pioneer. The list can go on. He led the way for celebrating, preserving, reviving, and reigniting hundreds of voices and styles of American vernacular music for over six decades through his staunch documentation of grassroots music on Arhoolie—a label that recorded and promoted sounds that were often obscured or ignored by mainstream productions. Thanks to Chris, many of the musicians and performers we have grown to love seeing at our festivals have reached new audiences. Thanks to Chris, American roots music, defined now for its richness and diversity, from zydeco to norteño, from Cajun to blues and beyond, are more widely appreciated and heard. Thanks to Chris, we, the NCTA, have achieved greater successes. For his unyielding commitment and lifelong dedication to music, Chris earned not only the esteem of his friends and colleagues worldwide, but also numerous recognitions, including the first National Endowment for the Arts Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellowship. And still, no matter how many awards he received, none will repay the debt music fans owe him.

So, thank you Chris. Your shoes are unfillable. Your work, unforgettable. Your legacy lives on every time we hear the squeeze of an accordion, the bend of a slide guitar, the joyful energy of a brass band.

Memorial contributions: Arhoolie Foundation

Preorder Chris’ upcoming book: Arhoolie Records Down Home Music: The Stories and Photographs of Chris Strachwitz

Additional News and Stories on Chris’ passing:

A Life As Art: A reflection from board member Dan Sheehy

National Endowment of the Arts statement

Rolling Stone obituary

New York Times feature