How Did Chris Strachwitz Die? Remembering the Legendary ‘Song Catcher’

chris strachwitx recieving an award
Photograph of 2000 National Heritage Fellowship winner Chris Strachwitz. Image was taken by Tom Pinch but is in the public domain.

Last updated on September 7th, 2023 at 01:46 am

Chris Strachwitz founded influential Arhoolie Records in 1960. The pioneering independent label was well-known for its reissues of classic blues, folk, cajun music, and many other genres. Without its existence, it’s doubtful that the Folk Revival of the 1960s would have gotten off the ground. He was also a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement.  

Recently, Strachwitz passed on to his eternal reward. How did Chris Strachwitz die? Find out below, in addition to some fascinating facts about his life. 

How did Chris Strachwitz die? 

According to an official statement by Arhoolie Records, Strachwitz “died peacefully at home in Marin County, CA, surrounded in his last days by dear friends and family.” 

Strachwitz was living in an assisted living home in Marin County, located in San Francisco, when he died of natural causes. 


When did Chris Strachwitz die? 

Chris Strachwitz died on May 5, 2023. 

How old was Chris Strachwitz when he died? 

This titan of the industry died at age 91. 

Who Was Chris Strachwitz? 

Chris Strachwitz was a producer and record executive best known for founding Arhoolie Records in 1960.  

He was instrumental in promoting traditional American music often overlooked by major labels, especially folk, blues, and Zydeco.

Related: Come Gather ‘Round: The 30 Best Folk Songs of All Time

When Was Chris Strachwitz Born? 

Chris Strachwitz was born on July 1, 1931.

Where Was Chris Strachwitz Born? 

The Arhoolie Records founder was born in Berlin, Germany. 

What Was Chris Strachwitz’s Real Name? 

Strachwitz’s real name is very German and quite the mouthful: Christian Alexander Maria Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz. 

Chris Strachwitz’s Early Life 

Strachwitz was born in 1931, right when what would become known as World War II began to heat up.  

His family was forced to re-settle in eastern Germany due to the war, and they finally emigrated to America in 1947. 

Strachwitz and his family arrived in Reno, Nevada but soon moved to Santa Barbara, California, where he attended nearby Cate School in Carpinteria. 

Though his interest in swing music began when he listened to Armed Forces Radio when his family was in eastern Germany, Strachwitz fell in love with jazz during his time at Cate. 

This was largely due to discovering the Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday movie New Orleans. He found the hot jazz in the film especially moving, calling it “absolutely the most wonderful thing I had ever heard.” 

Strachwitz also had memories of watching music with his father, showing quickly that he was becoming an iconoclast. 

“I remember when I was listening to Bunk Johnson, my father said in German, ‘They are playing off key,'” he remembered in a 2020 interview with the Guardian. “And I said, ‘Doesn’t matter to me – it’s got soul, it’s got feeling.’ So I was always going against the mainstream.” 

Related: 27 Fascinating Facts About Bob Dylan

image of a bunch of CDs with headphones on top
Image by Zyanya Bmo on Unsplash

Chris Strachwitz’s Early Career

The legendary producer began deepening his musical palette, and acquiring skills he’d later utilize at Arhoolie, when he attended Panoma College in Claremont, California.  

It was here that he began frequenting jazz and R&B clubs, which introduced him to country blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf, Lightning Hopkins, and Muddy Waters.  

He also began recording radio broadcasts and live shows. 

Strachwitz was called to the U.S. Military in 1954, and afterward he earned degrees in political science and secondary education from Berkley. 

His career as a producer began during this time, as he recorded blues legend Jesse Fuller and other blues musicians. 

Arhoolie Records 

In the late 1950s, the Folk Revival was sweeping across America.  

Thousands of young Americans were diving deep into American folk, blues, jazz, and more. Live performances from living legends like Pete Seeger, Big Bill Broonzy, and Odetta were immensely popular at folk clubs nationwide. 

The biggest independent folk label around this time was Folkways, founded by Moses Asch, which recorded everything from gospel choirs to field hands.  

Inspired by the label, Stracwhitz founded Arhoolie in 1960. He found immediate success in recording legendary bluesman Mance Lipscomb, whose Texas Sharecropper and Songster was Arhoolie’s first release in 1960. 

That only began a decades-long run of Arhoolie coming out with some of the best blues and folk music. Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thorton, Charlie Musslewhite, and Elizabeth Cotton released albums on the label during its heyday in the 1960s and 70s.  

Arhoolie was also known for re-releasing classic material from the 30s-50s, including field recordings, jug bands, hymns from churches, spirituals, mountain music, banjo and other instrumental recordings, and all sorts of other acoustic music and traditional folk songs. 

Related: The 30 Best Blues Songs: Where to Start When Discovering the Blues

Mississippi Fred McDowell and Country Joe McDonald 

While they released many legendary recordings, Strachwitz and Arhoolie are best known for two of their artists: guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell and singer-songwriter Country Joe McDonald.  

Though he had recorded with renowned folklorist Alan Lomax in the late 50s, hill country bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell gained the notoriety he deserved in his two mid-60s albums with Arhoolie, Volume One and Volume Two

The hypnotic recordings featured just McDowell and his guitar and were recorded on his farm with a single microphone. 

They made a huge impact, leading him to tour across the country, teach Bonnie Raitt how to play slide guitar, and provide the Rolling Stones with “You’ve Got to Move,” which they covered on their 1971 album Sticky Fingers.  

Country Joe McDonald is best known for his performance of “I Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die” from Woodstock, which appeared predominantly in the documentary about the festival.  

Many don’t know that Chris Strachwitz originally recorded the anti-Vietnam protest song for Arhoolie. The song’s introductory chant of “fish” was memorably replaced with another word that starts with ‘f’ at Woodstock. 

Strachwitz would use the royalties from McDonald’s appearance in the Woodstock movie and the Rolling Stones’ cover of “You’ve Got To Move,” to fund Arhoolie throughout the 1970s. 

Chris Strachwitz’s Legacy 

Strachwitz received many well-deserved awards, including an induction into the Blues Hall of Fame, a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, and a Grammy Trustees Award.  

Remembering and honoring Chris Strachwitz is important. He may not be the flashiest of celebrity deaths, but his place in folk history is secure because of all he did for folk artists across many genres.

As long as the history of American music is told, he’ll be remembered as one of the most important figures of the folk revival. If it wasn’t for his influence, artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and others might not have had an audience to play to at all.  

You Might Also Like:

Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





2023 music festivals

2023 Music Festivals: The Complete Guide

tom petty songs how did tom petty die tom petty playing guitar on stage

42 Best Tom Petty Songs: The Ultimate Ranking