Chris Strachwitz, Founder of Arhoolie Records, dies at 91

Monday 08 May 2023

Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records and a dedicated musicologist, passed away at the age of 91 due to complications from congestive heart failure. Just hours after the 2023 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival celebrated his legacy, he died at an assisted care facility in Marin County, California.

Born in Germany, Strachwitz moved to the United States and made a lifelong career and passion out of his love for traditional, regional music and the musicians who create it. He helped introduce Cajun and zydeco music to a larger audience and discovered zydeco king Clifton Chenier and bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins. He released more than 400 albums on Arhoolie Records, many by Louisiana roots music artists. He was also an early supporter of community radio station WWOZ 90.7 FM and was instrumental in nurturing the careers of south Louisiana artists such as Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet and Marc and Ann Savoy.

Jazz Fest’s Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage opened with a session celebrating Strachwitz and Arhoolie's legacy, featuring participants such as Jazz Fest producer/director Quint Davis, Jazz & Heritage Foundation archivist Rachel Lyons, zydeco musician C.J. Chenier, and jazz musician Lars Edegran. An exhibit in the Fair Grounds grandstand during the festival displays dozens of photographs of musicians taken by Strachwitz over the decades.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Strachwitz a National Heritage Fellowship in 2000, and the Recording Academy gave him its Trustees Award in 2016. The Smithsonian Folkways acquired the Arhoolie Records catalog in 2016, and the Arhoolie Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Strachwitz in 1995, will continue its work of preserving and documenting traditional music.

Bonnie Raitt wrote in "Arhoolie Records' Down Home Music: The Photographs and Stories of Chris Strachwitz," a book to be published by Chronicle Books this October, "No one has meant more to the preservation and appreciation of Americana roots music than Chris Strachwitz."