Introducing the Bear Family Records collection

December 6, 2016
Benjamin Lee Stone
The Carter Family, 1927

Founded by Richard Weize in 1975, the German re-issue label Bear Family Records has been a leader in reissuing lavishly produced box sets of American roots music, with a particular focus on American country music (and related genres) from the 1920s through the 1980s.   Bear Family’s box sets are impeccably curated, with recordings sourced from the best known copies, or master tapes whenever possible.  The reissued recordings are accompanied by extensively researched discographies and book-length liner notes. Bear Family recordings have been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, including 17 ARSC (Association for Record Sound Collections) Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research and 6 Grammy nominations.

Thanks to Music Librarian Jerry McBride and Assistant University Library Zachary Baker, the Braun Music Library has been able to acquire dozens of these important sets containing the works of notable artists in country, bluegrass, western swing and rockabilly music.  These sets are valuable to musicologists, but also to students and faculty in American Studies, American History, and American Literature, and allied fields.

Albums by Merle Haggard, Eddie Arnold, and Johnny Cash

Several notable examples of titles recently acquired include:

The Bristol Sessions: 1927-1928: The “Big Bang” of country music

Seminal recordings from the Bristol, Tennessee recording sessions conducted by Ralph Peer; a critical assemblage of some of the earliest commercially recorded country music (including performances by Jimmie Rogers and the Carter Family). 

The Carter Family: In the Shadow of Clinch Mountain

The complete works (on 12 CDs) of the highly influential Carter Family--recorded between 1927 and 1941 for Victor, ARC, Decca, APS, Columbia, and Bluebird Records.

Bob Wills: San Antonio Rose

Complete recordings (1932-1947) of one of the originators of Western Swing—a hybrid of country, blues and jazz highly popular in the 1930s and 1940s.

Blue moon of Kentucky: Bill Monroe, 1936-1949

The earliest recordings of Bill Monroe, Kentucky mandolinist, singer, and songwriter, who created the style of music known as bluegrass, drawing on earlier English, Scottish, and Appalachian roots.

Act Naturally: The Buck Owens recordings, 1953-1964

In the 1950s and 1960s, Bakersfield-based Buck Owens borrowed elements from rock and roll and western swing to popularize the “Bakersfield sound,” a counter to the slickly produced “Nashville Sound” of the era. 

 To be sure, Bear Family Records does not only produce country reissues; SUL has acquired other notable BF collections including topical sets (great for teaching!) on the Great Depression, the Cold War (songs about the Atomic bomb), Vietnam, and a magisterial set of pre-1927 recordings by Black performers in Europe: 

Songs of the depression
Atomic platters: Cold War music from the golden age of homeland security
Next stop is Vietnam: the war on record, 1961-2008
Black Europe - The Sounds And Images Of Black People In Europe, pre-1927

[View a list of all Bear Family Records issues in SearchWorks]

For more reading:

About Bear Family Records
Bear Family Records awards, 1986-2016
An interview with Bear Family founder, Richard Weize
Bear Family Records celebrates 40 years

Bear Family Records, album spines