Cassandra Jenkins Dives into Vast Smithsonian Folkways Catalog for “People’s Picks” Series

American singer-songwriter Cassandra Jenkins is the latest artist to dive into the legendarily deep and historic Smithsonian Folkways Records catalog for the label’s “People’s Picks” series, where notable musicians assemble their own personal playlist, hand-picked from Folkways’ musically dizzying 60,000+ song collection.

Jenkins’ latest album, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, was described by Stereogum as “one of 2021’s most extraordinary albums” and was featured on year-end lists from Pitchfork, The Guardian, and many more. Going into the new year, she is headed on a cross-country tour before going abroad to Europe this summer. More info here, with tour dates below:

Inspired by the different ways humans understand and interact with nature, Jenkins’ playlist seeks to connect and inspire others through sound.

The Smithsonian Folkways catalog includes a broad range of historical and modern works that showcase global culture and challenge mainstream history. Over the past 70 years, Smithsonian Folkways has cultivated a “world of sound” that brings unique perspectives to the kaleidoscopic vision of music. For the “People’s Picks” series, artists are brought in to browse the expansive catalog and construct a narrative that speaks to them.

In the following passage, Jenkins delves into her thought process behind assembling her playlist, including the inspiration she drew from nature, particularly the Lyre Bird:

Grasping the Lyrebird’s Tail

Voices mimicking instruments mimicking animals mimicking instruments mimicking voices. Transmutation, Cloud relaxation, heart beat, beat poet, bird songs, cow boys.

I immersed myself in the World of Sound Catalog and gravitated towards the scientific, sacred, psychological, and spoken word corners of the collection. What emerged from my wanderings is a string of recordings that speak to our need to interpret, interact with, and immerse ourselves in nature, and occasionally aim to empower the listener with their innate inclination towards healing. Once I began listening, I found myself following one recording to the next, curious about each character I met along the way. The experience felt like a walk through a museum of natural history, because the individuals capturing the world around them became just as fascinating as the subjects they aim to put on display. The whole experience led me to the question, why do we sing?

My chosen mascot for this collection revealed themselves when I came across an album of recordings of the Lyre Bird, a large peacock-like ground-dweller from Australia, known for it’s uncanny ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from their environment. We have come to understand the calls to be part of an elaborate mating ritual (during which they sing for up to four hours a day), and the scientist suggests that there remains much mystery around the bird’s behaviors, likening their reception of another’s call to telepathy. So while we struggle to understand the world around us, perhaps nature too is seeking the songs, sounds, and language that allow us to connect with one another as well as the worlds that extend just beyond our grasp.

Cassandra Jenkins — 2022 Tour Dates
1/20/22 – Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theater *
1/22/22 – Minneapolis, MN – Palace Theater *
1/23/22 – Chicago. IL – Chicago Theater *
1/25/22 – Detroit, MI – Masonic Temple Theater *
1/26/22 – Columbus, OH – Express Live *
1/28/22 – Nasvhille, TN – Ryman Auditorium *
1/29/22 – Atlanta, GA – The Eastern *
2/4/22 – Nashville, TN – The Basement East ^
2/5/22 – Oxford, MS – Proud Larry’s ^
2/7/22 – Dallas, TX – Club Dada ^
2/8/22 – Austin, TX – 3ten ACL Live ^
2/12/22 – Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour ^
2/13/22 – San Francisco, CA – The Independent ^
2/15/22 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios ^
2/17/22 – Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern ^
* – with Courtney Barnett
^ – with The Weather Station