Texas Originals

Alan Lomax

January 31, 1915–July 19, 2002

Alan Lomax believed every culture has a "right . . . to equal time on the air and equal time in the classroom." As director of the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Song and as a radio and television host, Lomax introduced folksong to popular audiences and promoted it among students and scholars.

His interest in traditional song started when Lomax was a teenager. In the 1930s, Alan accompanied his father, the prominent folklorist John Lomax, on trips to collect folk songs from prisoners, laborers, and cowboys.

As he matured and developed his own professional identity, Alan Lomax also collected oral histories about the stories behind the songs.

Lomax believed that oral traditions are critical to a nation’s literary and cultural heritage. He feared that modern technology and the commercial music industry would erode traditional practices and deplete musical diversity. Lomax's work to preserve folksong also provided individuals and communities with opportunities to share their creative traditions with a wider audience.

When Alan Lomax died in 2002, his collection included tens of thousands of musical recordings, preserved for future generations. A contemporary wrote, Alan "was in it for the music, not the money. His gift to all of us was to capture voice after voice, song after song that would have vanished into thin air otherwise."

For More about Alan Lomax

In the 1980s, Alan Lomax founded the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) to explore and preserve the world's expressive traditions with humanistic commitment and scientific engagement. ACE is now custodian of the Alan Lomax Archive, a priceless collection of recorded music, dance, and the spoken word. The archive is now available online.

The Alan Lomax Collection at the Library of Congress American Folklife Center contains manuscripts, sound recordings, graphic images, and moving images of ethnographic material created and collected by 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 from the 1930s forward.

NPR's Morning Edition recorded a segment about Lomax and the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) during the digitization of Lomax's sound archives. The segment features several of Lomax's friends and coworkers at ACE reflecting on the history of Lomax's project and his vision for its future, as well as ACE's current attempts to live up to his vision.

Selected Bibliography

Cohen, Ronald D. Alan Lomax: Selected Writings 1934–1997. New York and London: Routledge, 2003.

Filene, Benjamin, "Our Singing Country: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of the American Past." American Quarterly 43 (1991): 602–624.

Hartman, Gary. The History of Texas Music. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008.

Hirsch, Jerrold. "Modernity, Nostalgia, and Southern Folklore Studies: The Case of John Lomax." Journal of American Folklore 105 (1992): 183–207.

Kohout, Martin Donnell. "Alan Lomax." In The Handbook of Texas Music, edited by Roy Barkley. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2003.

Lomax, Alan. Folk Song Style and Culture. New Jersey: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1968.

Lomax, Alan. The Land Where the Blues Began. New York: The New Press, 2002.

Mead, Margaret. "Father and Son," letter to the editor. The New York Times, February 5, 1961, BR44.

Pareles, Jon. "A Man of His Time; Voices for All Time." The New York Times, July 28, 2002, A26.

Pareles, Jon. "Alan Lomax, Who Raised Voice of Folk Music in U.S., Dies at 87." The New York Times, July 20 2002, A1.

Szwed, John. Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World. New York: Viking Penguin, 2010.

Listen to the audio

Alan Lomax (center, with his camera) at the 1979 Mississippi Delta Blues Festival in Greenville, Mississippi. Photo by Bill Ferris. Image courtesy of the William R. Ferris Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alan Lomax (left) with a young man on board a boat during a 1935 Bahamas recording expedition. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Alan Lomax playing guitar on stage at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina, between 1938 and 1950. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.