Alan without his father, armed with a camera

Alan Lomax was born in Austin, Texas in 1915 to John Lomax and Bess Brown (a). John was a folklorist himself, and became head of the Archive of American Folk Song by the Library of Congress in 1933. With the job came the duty of managing and eventually, expanding the collection (b). Alan, 18 at the time, worked with his father to expand the collection and became the Assistant In Charge for the Archive three years later, the same year he graduated from University of Texas with a philosophy degree (b). The father and son’s shared goal was to expand the collection of recorded folk music from the entire American continent, eventually ending up all the way in Haiti and the Bahamas (a). Alan traveled America, sometimes without his father, armed with a camera and a disk recorder. Later in his tours, he traveled with giant tape recorders, powered by car batteries, to remote locations to record and preserve history (c). He was one of the first to document traditional Louisiana and cajun music, European ethic songs from Michigan and the Midwest, and ballads of the south (b). Alan continued his education at Columbia University, and produced many radio series for CBS, which brought audience exposure to regional music from across America and previously unknown artists of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Aunt Molly Jackson, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger. Pete Seeger worked with Alan at the Archive, eventually becoming an unofficial intern (b). Seeger described Alan as, “The man who is more responsible than any other person for the twentieth-century folk song revival” (d).  Lomax’s first project was to record what is considered the first extended biography of American folk musician Lead Belly. This experience made him that recording the stories that were inherently intertwined with the music was just as important as the music itself. In 1938, he recorded 8 hours of music and spoken stories from Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton about the history of jazz, four hours with Woody Guthrie in 1940, and many other folk singers after (c; b). He was also the first to interview people on the street, spurred by the attack on Pearl Harbor (b).The Library of Congress and Fisk University combined their efforts and sent Lomax into the South to record African American culture and heritage. His first journey through the south would eventually be published as Blues In The Mississippi Night in 1947, a deep history of African American social and music history (a). Due to World War II, Lomax left the Library of Congress in 1942 to work for the Office of War Information and the Armed Forces Radio Service, and continued to produce folk music radio programming (b). Together with Douglas Bridson, one project, Transatlantic Call: People to People, used interviews on both sides of the Atlantic from all over Britain and the U.S. One week would be filmed from Britain, one from America, so both sides of the pond could glimpse into the other. (b)In 1933 and 1947, Alan visited Parchman Farm. Parchman Farm operated as a for-profit cotton plantation, and prisoners were completely on their own to produce food and clothing. The Lomax duo found it to be a rich resource of preserved musical traditions, as prisoners had little access to radio. They recorded blues, work songs, spirituals, and personal interviews with inmates, and the recordings are described as the best recordings of how blues originally sounded (e). Due to his leftist views and connections to suspected communists in the 1950s, Lomax relocated to England to record traditional music. Working with BBC, he brought American, British, and European folk music to the British audiences, still recovering from the war (b).He returned to America in 1958, and took two more trips to the south. His stereo Southern Journey recordings resulted in nineteen albums published (a). Blues, gospel, traditional spoken verses, dance music, and many other recordings comprised the albumns (b). In 1962, with the University of the West Indies, he made a massive amount of stereo recordings of traditional music in the Eastern Caribbean, bringing his total Caribbean recordings to over 150 hours (a).Working with the Newport Folk Festival in the early 1960s, Alan enlisted Ralph Rinzler to conduct field research on traditional music. (d) In the 1970s, Lomax took one final trip to the American South and Southwest, this time with a film crew. American Patchwork aired on PBS in 1990 (a). Alan retired in 1996 (b).Alan Lomax received the National Medal of Arts from President Reagan in 1984; the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for Nonfiction for The Land Where the Blues Began (1993); the Folk Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award (1995); an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from Tulane University (2001); and a posthumous Grammy Trustees’ Award in 2003. In 2000 he was made a Library of Congress Living Legend. He retired in 1996 to live in Florida, and died on July 19, 2002. (A) In 2004, through the generosity of an anonymous donor, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress acquired his recording collection. (b) Most of Lomax’s original recordings and notes are now stored at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (c)