Three Surprising Finds from the New Alan Lomax Archive

April 2016
Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, and others

Alan Lomax (seated center) and Pete Seeger (seated right). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, © John Cohen, courtesy Deborah Bell, New York

By Jason Daley
This article originally appeared on the Smithsonian Magazine website. 

Between 1933 and 1942, musicologist Alan Lomax traveled through Appalachia and the South, collecting folk songs for the Library of Congress. His work preserved national treasures: rare Appalachian folk ballads, recordings of Jelly Roll Morton and Muddy Waters, as well as prison and field songs that would have simply disappeared if he had not been there to document them. Most of his work from that period is available to the public, but after his project, Lomax kept on collecting for the next 50 years, building up a massive private collection of folk and indigenous music. He always hoped that technology would allow him to share his recordings with the world, but he died in 2002 before he could fully digitize and share his life's work. Now his heirs and the organization he founded, The Association for Cultural Equity, have realized Lomax’s dream—putting more than 17,400 digital audio files on the web for anyone to listen to.

The archive is vast, and covers music from his trips to the Dominican Republic, Scotland, Italy, Morocco, as well as the Southern U.S. It also contains collections of his photos, videos, radio programs and recordings of lectures and discussions he participated in. “For the first time, everything that we've digitized of Alan’s field recording trips are online, on our website,” Don Fleming executive director of the Association for Cultural Equity tells NPR. “It's every take, all the way through. False takes, interviews, music. We err on the side of doing the maximum amount possible.”

To continue reading about three of the collection's most interesting finds, click here to visit the Smithsonian Magazine website...