Obituary: Chris Strachwitz (1931-2023) | Songlines
Thursday, June 1, 2023

Obituary: Chris Strachwitz (1931-2023)

By Jeff Kaliss

Farewell to Chris Strachwitz, the founder of Arhoolie Records and a legendary chronicler and supporter of American roots music

By Mike Melnyk 2009

© Mike Melnyk

When Chris Strachwitz passed away on May 5th he left us more than 400 albums issued on his Arhoolie Records and several other labels. This collection of field, studio, and live performance recordings and reissues (many recorded by Strachwitz) chronicles a slew of roots revivals across six-plus decades, across a dazzling array of genres: blues, old timey, Creole, Cajun, zydeco, Norteño, Tejano, klezmer, sacred steel, and more.

Born to an aristocratic family in Germany, Strachwitz came to the US as a teen and fell in love with the jazz, blues and pop music he heard on radio and in the venues of Southern and Northern California, where he went through college. He established the Arhoolie label and the Down Home Music Store in the East Bay city of El Cerrito, later sharing the building and several music documentary projects with the late filmmaker Les Blank.

Like Blank, Strachwitz revelled in traveling to the sources of the music, including the small blues joints of Texas and Louisiana bayou country. “Chris likes to just come in your kitchen to make a record,” Cajun musician Ann Savoy told me in 1995. “He’s not frantic about being technically perfect, he goes for the feeling.” That same year, Strachwitz put a portion of his profits into setting up the Arhoolie Foundation, which continues to promote and archive regional and roots music. Smithsonian Folkways acquired the Arhoolie catalogue in 2016, and there will be future co-productions of unreleased material.

Asked for advice on the occasion of his 91st birthday last year, Strachwitz said, ‘Do things that you enjoy doing. I’ve been very lucky in that regard.’

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