By Sally K. Albrecht

Did you know that many of the works of art included on Alfred vocal covers are hanging on our walls? My husband, Jay Althouse, and I began collecting primarily American and Haitian folk art in the mid-1980s. We feel strongly that artists should support each other, and, as a result, we have a home full of wonderful and colorful artwork that inspires us every day.

The paintings used for both American Folk Songs for Two and American Folk Songs for Solo Singers were created by Debbie “Mama” Criswell, a self-taught artist from Clinton, Tennessee. Debbie is a single mother of two girls and a boy, who has primarily sold her art on eBay since 1999. She was inspired by the rolling hills, tall farm houses, and Amish families she observed while living in a small Missouri town. We discovered her striking, clean, and attractive work in a small gallery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

We met Zernie Smith during the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, several years ago. He created a trio of pastel paintings especially for us to use in our Ready to Sing . . . Series. We love the all-red traffic light that appears on all three covers (Folk Songs, Spirituals, and Christmas). Zernie’s imagination is amazing. He uses diverse icons of many cultures, presenting them in a rich, bold palette of colors. Check out his website:

Jay was compiling a vocal collection entitled International Folk Songs for Solo Singers when we found the perfect painting by Massachusetts illustrator and artist Jacob Jaskoviak Knight (1938-1994) at a folk art show in Atlanta. The oil painting Lions Are Wonderful caught our eye, as each of the five gentlemen perched on the lion’s back has a distinctive face plus holds an item of interest, three of them musical instruments.

Barbara Gurwitz’s painting Down by the River inspired the Alfred vocal collection Ye Shall Have a Song. This fabulous painting is the focal point of our dining room. We discovered Barbara’s works during a visit to Scottsdale, Arizona. She paints primarily vibrant, colorful, and expressive landscapes that surround her Arizona home.

On the same trip, Jay fell in love with the woman in Linda Carter Holman’s painting Yellow Rose. He teased me that he’d search for that haunting woman for the rest of his life . . . unless I bought the painting for him (which hangs now just outside his office). Linda’s subject matter is frequently women in colorful, imaginative costumes. We used this lovely image for the Alfred vocal collection Nine Latin American Folk Songs. More of Linda’s art can be viewed at

Both Carols for Solo Singers and Christmas for Solo Singers feature intricate paintings by Sancilius Ismael (1940-2000), a Haitian folk painter known for his refined, meticulously detailed, and colorful works. They are truly magnificent, and often feature intricate painted “frames” along the edges, as our two paintings do.

It’s a joy and an honor to select appropriate artwork for our distinctive vocal covers. And we certainly enjoy having the opportunity to share our art with all of you and your students. We hope it’s an inspiration to you as you teach and perform the wonderful music that’s featured inside!

Alfred Vocal Covers