Alan Lomax’s Massive Archive Goes Online

Alan Lomax (right) with musician Wade Ward during the Southern Journey recordings, 1959-1960.

Folklorist Alan Lomax spent his career documenting folk music traditions from around the world:
Aberdonian
Abkhaz
Adjara
Afghan
African American
African American, Louisiana Creole
African Caribbean
Afro-Caribbean
Afro-Trinidadian
Alabama
Amazigh / Berber
Anat-Enchi
Andalusian

Andorra
Anglo-American
Anglo-American, African American
Anguilla
Appalachian
Appalachian, Alabama
Appalachian, Kentucky
Appalachian, North Carolina
Appalachian, Virginia
Appalachian, West Virginia
Arab
Arabo-Andalusian
Aragon
Argentinian
Arkansas
Asturias
Azerbaijani
Bahamian
Balearic
Balkar
Bambara
Bashkir
Basque
Bengali
Biscayan
British Pop
Bulgaro-Turkic
Burgalés
Buryat
Canadian
Cantabria
Cape Breton
Caribbean
Carriacou
Castilian
Catalan
Catskills
Caucasian
Celtic
Central Asia
Chilean
Chinese-Trinidadian
Chukchi
Chukotko-Kamchatkan
Chuvash
Circassian
Cornish
Creole-Trinidadian
Czech
Danish
Dolgan
Dominica
Dominican
East Anglian
East Slavic
Eastern European
English
English Traveller
Erzya
Eskimo
Eurasian
Even
Extremaduran
Far East
Fes
Finnic
Florida
French
French Antillian
Gaelic Scotland
Gaelic, Irish
Galician
Georgia
Georgia Sea Islands
Georgia Sea Islands
Georgian
Gnawa
Grenada
Grenadines
Guadeloupe
Guipuzcoan
Guria
Hebridean
High Atlas
Highland Scots
Hispanic Caribbean
Ibiza
Idaho
Imereti
Indo-Caribbean
Indo-Caribbean, Tamil
Indo-Trinidadian
Irish
Irish Traveller
Italian
Itelmen
Jamaican
Judeo-Arab
Kabardian
Kakheti
Kalmyk
Karachay
Kartli-Kakheti
Kazakh
Kentucky
Ket
Khanty
Khevsur
Kirghiz
Kittitian
Komi
Koryak
Laz
Leon
Louisiana
Louisiana Creole
Lowland Scots
Lowland Scots, Aberdonian
Majorcan
Manchegan
Mansi
Maragato
Marrakech
Martinique
Melanesian
Middle Atlas
Mingrelian
Minorcan
Mississippi
Mississippi Delta
Mississippi Delta, Bentonia
Mississippi Hill Country
Mississippi Hill Country, Georgia Sea Islands
Moksha
Mongol
Mordvin
Moroccan
Murcian
Nanai
Navarre
Nenets
Netherlands Antilles
Nevis
New Guinean
New Orleans
New York
Northumbrian
Ob Ugric
Oklahoma
Ossete
Ozarks, Arkansas
Persian
Piedmont
Pityusic
Provençal
Pshav
Riffian
Romani / Gypsy / Gitano
Romanian
Russian
Saharan
Saint Eustatius
Saint Lucian
Samoyedic
Sardinian
Scottish
Scottish Traveller
Sea Islands
Sea Islands, Georgia
Sea Islands, South Carolina
Shetlands
Siberian
Slavic
Sous
South American
South Carolina
Southern U.S.
Spanish
Spanish-Venezuelan-Trinidadian
St Barthelemy
Svan
Tajik
Tatar
Tennessee
Texas
Thai
Transylvanian
Trinidad
Tungusic
Turkic
Turkic-Mongol
Turkmen
Tushetian
Tuvan
U.S. Pop
Uzbek
Valencia
Vaqueiro de Alzada
Virginia
Wales
West Virginia
Western U.S.
Yakut
Yoruba
Yukaghir
Yupik
It’s available at:
http://research.culturalequity.org/rc-b2/get-audio-ix.do?ix=culture&id=0&idType=0&sortBy=abc

Folklorist Alan Lomax spent his career documenting folk music traditions from around the world. Now thousands of the songs and interviews he recorded are available for free online, many for the first time. It’s part of what Lomax envisioned for the collection — long before the age of the Internet.

Lomax recorded a staggering amount of folk music. He worked from the 1930s to the ’90s, and traveled from the Deep South to the mountains of West Virginia, all the way to Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. When it came time to bring all of those hours of sound into the digital era, the people in charge of the Lomax archive weren’t quite sure how to tackle the problem.

“We err on the side of doing the maximum amount possible,” says Don Fleming, executive director of the Association for Cultural Equity, the nonprofit organization Lomax founded in New York in the ’80s. Fleming and a small staff made up mostly of volunteers have digitized and posted some 17,000 sound recordings.
In 1959, Alan Lomax traveled through the American South to record the stories of folk musicians.

Hear An Interview With Alan Lomax On ‘Fresh Air’

“For the first time, everything that we’ve digitized of Alan’s field recording trips are online, on our website,” says Fleming. “It’s every take, all the way through. False takes, interviews, music.”

“Alan would have been thrilled to death. He would’ve just been so excited,” says Anna Lomax Wood, Lomax’s daughter and president of the Association for Cultural Equity. “He would try everything. Alan was a person who looked to all the gambits you could. But the goal was always the same.”

Throughout his career, Lomax was always using the latest technology to record folk music in the field and then share it with anyone who was interested. When he started working with his father, John Lomax, in the ’30s, that meant recording on metal cylinders. Later, Alan Lomax hauled giant tape recorders powered by car batteries out to backwoods shacks and remote villages.

Lomax wrote and hosted radio and TV shows, and he spent the last 20 years of his career experimenting with computers to create something he called the Global Jukebox. He had big plans for the project. In a 1991 interview with CBS, he said, “The modern computer with all its various gadgets and wonderful electronic facilities now makes it possible to preserve and reinvigorate all the cultural richness of mankind.”

He imagined a tool that would integrate thousands of sound recordings, films, videotapes and photographs made by himself and others. He hoped the Global Jukebox would make it easy to compare music across different cultures and continents using a complex analytical system he devised — kind of like Pandora for grad students. But the basic idea was simple: Make it all available to anyone, anywhere in the world.

Lomax was forced to stop working when his health declined in the ’90s, and he left the Global Jukebox unfinished. Now that his archives are online, the organization he founded is turning its attention to that job.

The Association for Cultural Equity is housed in a rundown building near the Lincoln Tunnel in Manhattan. Most of Lomax’s original recordings and notes are now stored at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. But Fleming says the New York offices still exude the DIY vibe they had when Lomax was working there — right down to the collection of castoff chairs and desks, none of which seem to match.

“There was never any money in it for Alan,” says Fleming. “Alan scraped by the whole time, and left with no money. He did it out of the passion he had for it, and found ways to fund projects that were closest to his heart.”

Money is still tight. But that never stopped Alan Lomax, and it hasn’t deterred Anna Lomax Wood, either.

“He believed that all cultures should be looked at on an even playing field,” she says. “Not that they’re all alike. But they should be given the same dignity, or they had the same dignity and worth as any other.”

Almost 10 years after his death, his heirs are still trying to make his vision a reality — one recording at a time.

Listen to the National Public Radio story at http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2012/03/28/148915022/alan-lomaxs-massive-archive-goes-online?sc=fb&cc=fp

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About sesshu

The woman slapping tortilla shapes makes like the rain hitting the cement floor. I like the smell of charcoal smoke, rotting vegetables and sheet metal rust. I think about it when it's 100 degrees and I'm driving in the desert.

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