The Smithsonian Folkways label is a treasure trove, for sure. It has a ton of great and historically important music. They have a lot of educational material, but not a lot of free material (alas). They are non profit, so maybe more money goes to the musician or supports their archival work. On the other hand, esp for their older stuff, it’d be great to have a large library of great work available to all. They should be optimising for access!
Alas, their free offerings are rather paltry. However, they currently have a nice “John Henry” Cephas & Wiggins available:
Ah, John Henry. A great story and great song. When we left North Carolina for Maryland, we through a farewell bash in our apartment complex’s social room. We billed it as a sort of “farewell concert/song round”. Tons of Zoe’s music buddies show up and we had a blast.
The absolute, bone shaking, heart exhilarating performance was our good friend Reagan Cole (RIP) playing John Henry. Here’s a recording that just does not remotely do justice to the performance I experienced:
I saw one of the most buttoned up people I’ve ever known pounding a table in time. I remember the vibrations of that performance. It was one of the absolutely finest musical experiences of my life.
There are a plethora of wonderful interpretations (Belefonte, Mississippi Fred McDowell <– GREAT video! among others), but for me it will always be that moment when leaving North Carolina banging on a table while saying goodbye.