Alan Lomax archives set to stream for free

Alan Lomax was an anthropologist, and a portable audio recorder was his pith helmet. With his father, John Lomax, he set out to record the songs of prisoners and fieldhands, bar brawlers and hobos, in the American South before the Depression.

Alan Lomax was an anthropologist, and a portable audio recorder was his pith helmet. With his father, John Lomax, he set out to record the songs of prisoners and fieldhands, bar brawlers and hobos, in the American South before the Depression.

He went to Harvard to discover philosophy, but returned to the road, microphone in hand, because he realized that nobody else was doing it and that the music would die and be forgotten if somebody like him didn't take the job. He spent decades recording folk and blues music all over the land and interviewing the people who created it. As a special assistant for the Library of Congress, he helped insure that the music of the American people would not be lost for future generations. Without Lomax our awareness of icons like Lead Belly, Jelly Roll Morton and even Woody Guthrie would be much diminished.

His entire collection of recordings -- encompassing some 5,000 hours of music and 400,000 feet of film stock (to go along with more than 5,000 photographs and piles of written manuscripts -- is now slowly being digitized, and more than 17,000 songs will soon be made freely available online through the Library of Congress's American Folklife Center, which acquired his entire collection in 2004.

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Alan Lomax

"As an archivist you kind of think like Johnny Appleseed," musician and record producer Don Fleming told the New York Times; Fleming is involved with the Association for Cultural Equity, which is working with the American Folklife Center to bring the Lomax material online. "You ask yourself, 'How do I get digital copies of this everywhere?'"

On Tuesday, to commemorate what would have been Lomax's 97th birthday (he died in 2002), the Global Jukebox label released "The Alan Lomax Collection From the American Folklife Center," a 16-song digital sampler of Lomax's field recordings.

The Lomax collection is set to begin streaming by the end of February, according to the Times.

 

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