Tiny Dust-to-Digital record label gathers big attention

In this Tuesday, May 29, 2018 photo, April Ledbetter holds a copy of "Voices of Mississippi," a box set of recordings released by Dust-To-Digital, in Atlanta. Ledbetter and her husband Lance Ledbetter operate Dust-to-Digital, a record label that digitizes and re-releases old recordings. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)

ATLANTA — When college student and roots music fan Lance Ledbetter grew frustrated at the near impossibility of buying 78 rpm gospel records from the 1920s and ’30s, he began to ponder a question: What would it take to reissue those old tunes and put them in stores?

Answering that question has become a career for Ledbetter and his wife, April, at their record label, Dust-to-Digital .

Since its first release in 2003, the tiny company run from their modest brick house in a quiet Atlanta neighborhood has become a powerhouse in the niche market of music that’s been gathering dust, waiting to find or regain an audience: antique 78 recordings of blues, gospel, jazz and other styles, along with musicologists’ field recordings of rural musicians and indigenous people all over the world.

Nine of the label’s releases have been nominated for Grammy Awards, and one actually won.

They cover an eye-popping musical territory, spanning rural American blues and gospel, traditional Moroccan songs , Sacred Harp shape-note hymns, throat singing in the Tuva region northwest of Mongolia, storytelling and a host of other genres.

A unifying theme ties them together, April Ledbetter said: “I think it’s creating context and access for things that are otherwise hard to physically hear or mentally wrap your head around.”

In the indie music magazine Pitchfork, music writer Amanda Petrusich has written that it’s “astounding how essential . Dust-to-Digital has been to the preservation of traditional American folksong.”

And Chuck Reece, editor of The Bitter Southerner online magazine wrote recently that, “Lance and April Ledbetter are perhaps the most important preservers of folk music in the modern world, and they do it all from the basement of their little brick house.”

This month brings two new releases: collections of field recordings in Mississippi and from central and eastern Africa.

The Mississippi material represents another coup for the Ledbetters, whose earlier releases “Goodbye Babylon” and “The Art of Field Recording , Vol. 1” gained widespread notice.

“Voices of Mississippi” was assembled from decades of field recordings by musicologist, academic and documentary filmmaker William Ferris. The material was drawn from his archives in the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.