Alan Lomax

January 31, 1915 - July 19, 2002
Alan Lomax portrait

Musicologist, writer, and producer Alan Lomax (b. Austin, Texas, 1915) spent over six decades working to promote knowledge and appreciation of the world’s folk music. He began his career in 1933 alongside his father, the pioneering folklorist John Avery Lomax, author of the best-selling Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (1910). In 1934, the two launched an effort to expand the holdings of recorded folk music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress (established 1928), gathering thousands of field recordings of folk musicians throughout the American South, Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast, as well as in Haiti and the Bahamas. Their collecting resulted in several popular and influential anthologies of American folk songs, including American Ballads and Folk Songs (New York: Macmillan, 1934); Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly (New York: Macmillan, 1936), the first in depth biographical study of an American folk musician; Our Singing Country (with Ruth Crawford Seeger) (New York: Macmillian, 1941); and Folk Song USA (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pierce 1947).

After completing a philosophy degree at the University of Texas in 1936, Lomax conducted field research in Haiti with his wife, Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold. The next year, Lomax was appointed Assistant in Charge of the Archive of American Folk Song. In 1939, while doing graduate work in anthropology at Columbia University, he produced the first of several radio series for CBS. American Folk SongsWellsprings of Music, and the prime-time series, Back Where I Come From, exposed national audiences to regional American music and such homegrown talents as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Aunt Molly Jackson, Josh White, the Golden Gate Quartet, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger.

A joint field trip conducted by the Library of Congress and Fisk University in 1941 and 1942, and described in Lomax’s 1993 memoir, The Land Where the Blues Began, took him even deeper into the musical and cultural world of the African American South. In the hill country of Mississippi, he documented styles of fife-and-drum and quills (panpipes) music, ground-hugging dance, and hocketing song that had kept remarkably close to their African roots. In the Delta he interviewed and made the first recordings of 29-year-old singer and guitarist McKinley Morganfield, later known as Muddy Waters. In 1947, for the fifth time, Lomax returned to Mississippi with the first portable tape recorder to make high-fidelity recordings of Delta church services and of the prisoners’ work songs at Parchman Farm (the notorious state penitentiary), which he ranked among the world’s great music.

In the 1950s, Lomax compiled and edited an 18-volume LP series for Columbia Records anthologizing world folk music (a project which anticipated a similar UNESCO world music series by several years). His collecting and his collaborations for this project — with Diego Carpitella in Italy, Seamus Ennis in Ireland, Peter Kennedy in England, and Hamish Henderson in Scotland — laid the foundations for folk song revivals in those countries. Lomax, Kennedy, and their colleagues introduced scores of listeners to British and world folk music through BBC radio and television.

Returning to the United States in 1958, Lomax set out on two more long field trips through the American South. His stereo Southern Journey recordings resulted in nineteen albums issued on the Atlantic and Prestige International labels in the early 1960s. In 1962 he made an extensive survey of traditional music in the Eastern Caribbean, also in stereo, under the auspices of the University of the West Indies. Together with his Haitian and Bahamian recordings of the 1930s, and recordings made in Santo Domingo in 1967, Lomax’s Caribbean corpus amounts to some 150 hours of music, interviews, and konts (story-songs).

While in his sixties, Lomax embarked on a final series of field trips to the American South and Southwest, this time with a film crew and script ideas for exploring several fertile regional and ethnic American musical cultures. This resulted in American Patchwork, a prize-winning five-hour television series, which aired on PBS in 1990. Also in 1990, Blues in the Mississippi Night was reissued on Rykodisc, and Sounds of the South, a four-CD set of Lomax’s 1959 Southern recordings, was reissued by Atlantic Records in 1993. The Alan Lomax Collection (1997–2007), a CD series anthologizing Lomax’s six-decade recording career, numbers over a hundred volumes.

Associated with:
LC Name Source: LC Name Authority File
Appears in 16062 items.
Title Contributor(s) Date Track
Joe Savage, Walter Brown, and friends: Take This Hammer (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug , 1978 79
Stanley & Hattie Hicks: Fox Chase (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Hicks, Stanley; Performer: Hicks, Hattie Sep 8, 1982
Tommy Jarrell: Sally Anne (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Chatfield, Ray; Performer: Bodie, Frank Jun 23, 1983
Tommy Jarrell: I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground (Tempy) (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Chatfield, Ray; Performer: Bodie, Frank Jul 23, 1983
Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Glass House: Bongo Beep (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: David, Greg; Performer: Marshall, Jennell May 16, 1982
Flat-footing with John Dee Holeman and Algia Mae Hinton (5 of 9) (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Hinton, Algia Mae; Performer: Holeman, John Dee Jul 29, 1983
Tommy Jarrell: Let Me Fall (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Chatfield, Ray; Performer: Bodie, Frank Jul , 1983
Othar Turner and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band: The Call (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug , 1978 127
Part 7 of 11: Picnic with Napoleon Strickland & Como Drum Corps (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 25, 1978 15
Sensational Friendly Brothers: Where Shall I Be... (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 11, 1978 77
Sam Chatmon: How Long (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug , 1978 73
Boyd Rivers & Ruth May Rivers: Fire In My Bones (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 30, 1978 42
Iona Raybon and Beatrice Austin on Treme, second lining, and funeral parades (1/2) (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Austin, Beatrice; Performer: Raybon, Iona May 16, 1982
Kid Thomas Band at Preservation Hall: I'm Alone Because I Love You (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Humphrey, Willie; Performer: Paul, Emmanuel May 17, 1982
Belton Sutherland's field holler (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Sep 3, 1978 56
Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers: Give Me Just A Little More Time (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Harvey, Bernice; Performer: Griggs, Pauline Jul , 1983
Joe Savage's field holler: I woke up soon one morning (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 22, 1978 86
Martha Woodard: Murillo's Lesson, #358 (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Woodard, Martha Jun , 1982
Greenville levee-camp conversation (part 10 of 12) (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 22, 1978 170
Southern Appalachian Cloggers at the Georgia Mountain Fair (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Southern Mountain Cloggers Aug , 1983
White Eagles Mardi Gras Indians: My Big Chief's Got the Golden Crown #2 (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Millon, Jake; Performer: White Eagle Mardi Gras… May , 1982
Jack Owens: Give Me Your Money, Baby (I) (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 12, 1978 136
Kid Thomas Band at Preservation Hall: When the Saints Go Marching In (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Valentine, Kid Thomas; Performer: Humphrey, Willie May 17, 1982
R.L. Burnside's wood-chopping holler (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 28, 1978 41
Michael Doucet & BeauSoleil: Bonsoir Moreau (1985) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Breaux, Pat; Performer: Alesi, Tommy Feb , 1985
Dennis McGee: Adieu Rosa (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: McGee, Dennis Aug , 1983
Janie Hunter and the Moving Star Hall Singers: Jonah (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Pinckney, Mary; Performer: Bligen, Benjy Aug , 1983
Girls dancing in New Orleans (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan May , 1982
Greenville levee-camp conversation (part 2 of 12) (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 22, 1978 6
Leatha Eller: The Heavenly Light Is Shining On Me (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Eller, Lawrence; Performer: Eller, Vaughn Sep , 1982
White Eagles Mardi Gras Indians: Shallow Water O Mama, camera A (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Millon, Jake; Performer: White Eagle Mardi Gras… May , 1982
Lucius Smith: Beaver Dam (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 28, 1978 113
Jack Owens: When the Saints Go Marching In (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Dec 8, 1978 172
Ernie K-Doe: T'aint It the Truth (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: K-Doe, Ernie May , 1982
Part 6 of 9: Rising Star Fife & Drum Band at Othar Turner's farm (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug , 1978 95
Sam Chatmon: Hollandale Blues (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug , 1978 128
Bill Russell's violin improvisation and New Orleans jazz archive (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Russel, William (Bill) May , 1982
Napoleon Strickland: Rock Me All Night Long (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 29, 1978 130
Sam Chatmon: Bumblebee Blues (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug , 1978 57
White Eagles Mardi Gras Indians: To-Way-Bac-A-Way #2, camera A (1982) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Millon, Jake; Performer: White Eagle Mardi Gras… Jun , 1982
Sam Chatmon: Trouble In Mind (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug , 1978 81
Bertha Smith and the Moving Star Hall Singers: Eli, Eli (Somebody Call Eli) (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Bligen, Benjy; Performer: Pinckney, Mary Aug , 1983
Accent: music and dance of the Georgia Sea Islands (1962) Recordist: CBS; Performer: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Armstrong, Joe 1962
Part 9 of 11: Picnic with Napoleon Strickland & Como Drum Corps (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 25, 1978 26
Joe Savage: Peace In the Valley (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 22, 1978 97
Nimrod Workman does the crab-walk (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Workman, Nimrod Jul 26, 1983
Joe Thompson, Odell Thompson, and friends: Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Thompson, Odell; Performer: Thompson, Joe Aug , 1983
Part 11 of 11: Picnic with Napoleon Strickland & Como Drum Corps (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Aug 25, 1978 11
Dennis McGee & Sady Courville: La Valse du Vacher (Cowboy Waltz) (1983) Recordist: Lomax, Alan; Performer: Courville, Sady; Performer: McGee, Dennis Aug , 1983
Belton Sutherland: I Got Trouble (1978) Recordist: Bishop, John; Recordist: Long, Worth; Recordist: Lomax, Alan Sep 3, 1978 70