On Wednesday, May 6, 2015, a film and discussion event, “This Ain’t No Mouse Music: The Story of Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records,” was co-organized by the German Historical Institute and the Goethe-Institut Washington and hosted by the Goethe-Institut. The event featured the showing of the documentary film of the same name and a lively audience discussion with the film’s subject, immigrant entrepreneur Chris Strachwitz, facilitated by Smithsonian curator and archivist Jeff Place.
Chris Strachwitz, the founder of roots music publisher Arhoolie Records, was born in Gross Reichenau, Lower Silesia, Germany in 1931 (now Bogaczów, Poland) to an aristocratic family that was forced to emigrate in the wake of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Poland in the wake of World War II. Arriving in Nevada as a teenager, Strachwitz went on to attend high school and college in California and became fascinated by the United States’ rich and varied regional music genres, eventually becoming an entrepreneur devoted to tracking down, recording, and publishing a wide array of roots music in order to bring it to the attention of the broader public.
The documentary, produced and directed by Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling, traces Strachwitz’s career from his first journeys in the early 1960s to the deep South to meet and record renowned local blues performers through his forays into Louisiana to investigate Cajun music and New Orleans jazz, hillbilly and bluegrass music in Appalachia, norteño and conjunto music in south Texas, and many other genres. In the discussion that followed the film, Strachwitz described in further detail some of his experiences as a “detective” of sound and his continuing search for interesting music that reveals the continuing breadth and depth of the American experience, from Croatian-American family bands to “sacred steel”—gospel music performed on lap steel guitars. More information about the film can be found at thisaintnomousemusic.com.