Arts & Life

Library of Congress Unites Work of Alan Lomax

Legendary Folklorist Recorded Music and Stories of the World

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Alan Lomax recording in the Carribbean in 1962.

Alan Lomax recording in the Carribbean in 1962. Antoinette Marchand hide caption

toggle caption Antoinette Marchand

The Library of Congress unveiled today its latest acquisition: the archives of legendary folklorist Alan Lomax. The collection had been housed at a college in New York. Now — as NPR's Felix Contreras reports — it is united in Washington, D.C. with the work Lomax did with his father for the library in the 1930s and '40s.

Lomax's relationship with the library started in 1933 when he was 18 years old. He joined his father, John, for their first recording expedition under the auspices of the Library of Congress. Over the course of their travels, they recorded field workers, church singers, convicts, families — and future stars such as Leadbelly and Muddy Waters.

Recordings by Alan Lomax

Listen 'Bonaparte’s Retreat'

Played on the fiddle by W. H. Stepp, a.k.a. Fiddler Bill, recorded in Salyersville, Ky., in 1937. The song may sound familiar because Aaron Copland used it in the hoedown section of "Rodeo."

Listen 'Midnight Special'

John and Alan Lomax came across Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter in 1934 Lousiana. Leadbelly went on to live in New York City and gained an international following.

Listen 'No More Love for You Again'

Recorded in 1962 in Dominica.

Listen 'La Partenza, Italy'

Sung by longshoremen in Genoa, 1954.

Lomax left the Library in 1942, resigning his position as head of the Archive of American Folk Song to turn his attention and microphones to folk cultures in the Caribbean and Europe. Lomax said the driving force behind his lifetime of collecting was a philosophy that folklore, music and stories are windows into the human condition.

The united Lomax collection includes 5,000 hours of recordings, 400,000 feet of motion picture film, thousands of videotapes, books, journals and hundreds of photos and negatives. The library now begins the enormous task of cataloging and eventually digitizing the collection.



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