Man walking down a dirt road, seen from behind and holding a guitar

Treasures and Trouble

Looking Inside a Legendary Blues Archive

On View 1 West

This exhibit explores the many treasures and troubles found within a recently acquired, one-of-a-kind music archive compiled by Robert “Mack” McCormick. McCormick (1930-2015), who worked during the 1960s and early 1970s on the Smithsonianʻs annual summer Folklife Festivals, was a white, Houston-based, self-trained folklorist who built (and famously guarded from others) one of the world’s largest and most significant archives on the blues and other southern musical traditions. The display includes examples from the archive of McCormickʻs interview transcripts with Black blues artists, his writings, original photographs, recording contracts, instruments, correspondence and more. It also raises questions from troubling revelations discovered within the archive—about how history has been told, and who has done the telling.

This exhibition is made possible through generous support from Ted and Marian Craver.