Alan Lomax’s Folk Music Journey

Alan Lomax was one of the great American field collectors of folk music of the 20th century. He was also an ethnomusicologist, folklorist, archivist, writer, scholar, political activist, oral historian, and film-maker. Several books and recordings have been created to tell the story of his life’s work.

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More than fifty years ago, on a trip dubbed “the Southern Journey,” Alan Lomax visited Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee, uncovering the little-known southern back-country and blues music that we now consider uniquely American. Lomax’s camera was a constant companion, and his images of both legendary and anonymous folk musicians complement his famous field recordings.

These photographs-largely unpublished-show musicians making music with family and friends at home, with fellow worshippers at church, and alongside workers and prisoners in the fields. Discussions of Lomax’s life and career by his disciple and lauded folklorist William Ferris, and a lyrical look at Lomax’s photographs by novelist and Grammy Award-winning music writer Tom Piazza, enrich this valuable collection. CD included.

From the Alan Lomax Video Archive

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Folklorist, archivist, anthropologist, singer, political activist, talent scout, ethnomusicologist, filmmaker, concert and record producer, Alan Lomax is best remembered as the man who introduced folk music to the masses. Lomax began his career making field recordings of rural music for the Library of Congress and by the late 1930s brought his discoveries to radio, including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Burl Ives. By the 1940s he was producing concerts that brought white and black performers together, and in the 1950s he set out to record the whole world.

Lomax was also a controversial figure. When he worked for the U. S. government he was tracked by the FBI, and when he worked in Britain, MI5 continued the surveillance. In his last years he turned to digital media and developed technology that anticipated today’s breakthroughs. Featuring a cast of characters including Eleanor Roosevelt, Leadbelly, Carl Sandburg, Carl Sagan, Jelly Roll Morton, Muddy Waters, and Bob Dylan, Szwed’s fascinating biography memorably captures Lomax and provides a definitive account of an era as seen through the life of one extraordinary man.

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This history of folk music looks at musicians, collectors and other figures from around the world. The book presents an overview of international folk roots and shows the contributions of the artists and the evolution of folk music as a force for political and social change. Profiles of Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Woody Guthrie and others show how the stage was set for the American folk revival of the 1960s.

“Alan Lomax perfected the role of musicologist and it is the blueprint he set down which all others have followed. He had an unbridled enthusiams for his work, as well as a spirit that separated him from others, including his father. The folklore revivalist was instrumental in preserving the history of music on a global level.”-David Dicaire

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Concert flyer (Alan Lomax, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger), late 1940’s.

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Each of the major areas of music that Alan Lomax researched is documented on the very, very large Alan Lomax Collection series on Rounder. This sampler album has a short introduction to Lomax’s philosophy as he conveyed it to Charles Kuralt before his death. Read more at allmusic.com

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From 1933-1985, Alan Lomax (along with his father, John A. Lomax) gathered field-recorded examples of African-American song forms, most of which ended up in the expansive Library of Congress American folk music collection. Read more at allmusic.com

~JS MusicLibrarian@Central

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