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