Alan Lomax Collection
The Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004) contains approximately 650 linear feet of manuscripts, 6400 sound recordings, 5500 graphic images, and 6000 moving images of ethnographic material created and collected by Alan Lomax and others in their work documenting song, music, dance, and body movement from many cultures. The collection includes field recordings and photographs Lomax made in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, England, France, Georgia, Haiti, Ireland, Italy, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, the United States, and Wales, 1930s-2004.
All of the material in the collection has been indexed and is available for research at the American Folklife Center. For more information contact the Folklife Reading Room. Many of the sound recordings, photographs, and videos may be accessed online through the Association for Cultural Equity, founded by Alan Lomax in 1983.
In March 2004, the American
Folklife Center in the Library of Congress acquired the
Alan Lomax Collection, which comprises the unparalleled ethnographic
documentation collected by the legendary folklorist over a period of
sixty years. The acquisition was made possible through a cooperative
agreement between the American Folklife Center (AFC) and the Association
for Cultural Equity, and the generosity of an anonymous
donor. The Alan Lomax Collection joins the material Alan
Lomax collected during the 1930s and early 1940s for the
Library's Archive of American Folk Song, and its acquisition brings
the entire seventy years of Alan Lomax's work together under one roof
at the Library of Congress, where it has found a permanent home.
"The Alan Lomax Collection contains pioneering documentation of traditional
music, dance, tales, and other forms of grassroots creativity in the United
States and abroad," said James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress. "We
are extremely pleased that this collection has come to our American national
library, where its creator did such important work in the 1930s."
Sonny Terry (obscured), Woody Guthrie, Lilly
Mae Ledford, Alan Lomax, New York, 1944. Photographer unknown.
From the time he left his position as head of the Archive of American
Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1942 through the end of his long
and productive career as an internationally known folklorist, author, radio
broadcaster, filmmaker, concert and record producer, and television host,
Alan Lomax amassed one of the most important collections of ethnographic
material in the world.
The collection has been housed in several large rooms at Hunter College
in New York City. It includes more than 5,000 hours of sound recordings,
400,000 feet of motion picture film, 2,450 videotapes, 2,000 scholarly
books and journals, hundreds of photographic prints and negatives, several
databases concerning portions of the archive, and over 120 linear feet
of manuscript such
as correspondence, fieldnotes,
research files, program scripts, indexes, and book and article manuscripts.
Fishermen from Calabria, Italy, 1954. Photo
by Alan Lomax.
Included in the collection are sound recordings of traditional singers,
instrumentalists, and storytellers made by Lomax during numerous field
trips to the American
South, the Caribbean, Britain,
Scotland, Ireland, Spain,
original video footage, shot in the South and Southwest, Washington, D.C.,
and New York City, that was used as the basis of Lomax's American Patchwork
television series, as well as videotapes of all the programs in the series;
16mm footage of performances by Howling Wolf, Son House, and others during
the Newport Folk Festival in 1966; videotape of folk dance performances;
and work elements and originals of numerous films made by Lomax.
Alan Lomax believed that folklore and expressive culture are essential
to human continuity and adaptation, and his lifelong goal was to create
a public platform for their continued use and enjoyment as well as a scientific
framework for their further understanding. His desire to document, preserve,
recognize, and foster the distinctive voices of oral tradition led him
to establish the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), based in New York
City and now directed by his daughter, Anna Lomax Wood.
ACE will continue to produce the Alan Lomax Collection compact-disc series
on Rounder Records and to administer rights to repertoire contained in
the collection, working from digital copies of original materials that
the Library of Congress will be housing. ACE plans to donate CD and DVD
copies of hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings to regional libraries
in the United States and abroad. Over the next few years, ACE will work
closely with the American Folklife Center to create databases for the audio,
video, and film collections, to raise funds for preservation and for fellowships,
and to make Lomax's ethnology of performance style available to researchers.
Unknown Fiddler from Southern US Field Trip,
1959. Photo by Alan Lomax.
The Lomax family has a long history of collaboration with the Library
of Congress. Alan's father, John Avery Lomax, began a ten-year relationship
with the Library in June 1933, when he set out with Alan, then eighteen,
on their first folksong gathering expedition under the Library's auspices.
Together they visited Texas farms, prisons, and rural communities, recording
work songs, reels, ballads, and blues. John Lomax was named "Honorary Consultant
and Curator of the Archive of American Folk Song," which had been created
in the Library's Music Division in 1928. Alan became the Archive's "Assistant
in Charge" in 1937, and he continued to make field trips and supply recordings
to the Archive of American Folk Song until 1942. He was the first to record
such legendary musicians as Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, McKinley "Muddy
Waters" Morganfield, and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, as well
as an enormous number of other significant traditional musicians. He also
recorded eight hours of music and spoken recollection with Ferdinand "Jelly
Roll" Morton in 1938, and four hours of the same format with Woody
Guthrie in 1940.
After he left the Library of Congress, Alan Lomax continued his work
to document, analyze, and present traditional music, dance, and narrative
through projects of various kinds throughout the world. With his father
and on his own he published many books, including American Ballads and
Folk Songs (1934) and Our Singing Country (1941). He received many honors
and awards, including the National Medal of the Arts, the National Book
Critics Circle award for his book The Land Where the Blues Began,
and a "Living Legend" award from the Library of Congress. According to
folklorist Roger Abrahams, he is "the person most responsible for the great
explosion of interest in American folksong throughout the mid-twentieth
Musicians playing in the street, Caffiano,
Campania, 1955. Photo by Alan Lomax.
The Association for Cultural Equity administers the rights to the use
of materials in the Alan Lomax Collection, and carries on Lomax's mission
through the cataloging and dissemination of materials. In partnership with
the American Folklife Center, ACE seeks to ensure that Alan Lomax's legendary
collection remains accessible to general and specialized audiences.
"We are delighted that our agreement with ACE makes it possible to combine
Alan Lomax's earliest documentary material, which he collected during his
time at the Library of Congress, with the material he collected during
the rest of his life, " said American Folklife Center director Peggy Bulger. "His
entire collection will now be in available in one place. The collection
is simultaneously a monument to one of the greatest cultural documenters
of the twentieth century and a priceless storehouse of traditional artistry." The
collection has served as the basis for many publications, films and videos,
commercial recordings, broadcasts, multi-media products (notably Lomax's "Global
Jukebox"), and major research endeavors (such as his Choreometrics, Cantometrics,
and Parlametrics projects).
According to Michael Taft, head of the Center's Archive of Folk Culture, "the
Alan Lomax collection may be the largest single collection we have ever
received, and we are committed to fulfilling Alan Lomax's dream of making
his unparalleled collection widely available to the world."