The American Folklife Center Celebrates the Alan Lomax Centennial
Special display of Lomax items opens Feb. 2
To mark the centennial birthday of the influential folklorist Alan Lomax (1915-2002), the Library’s American Folklife Center (AFC) is presenting a year-long series of public programs, special events and other activities to celebrate Lomax and the Lomax family’s contributions to the preservation and promotion of traditional music and dance. The center will also work with outside researchers, organizations and performers interested in traditional folk music to highlight the depth and diversity of AFC’s Lomax family collections, which include important fieldwork by Alan’s father John Lomax, his stepmother Ruby Terrill Lomax and his sister Bess Lomax Hawes.
The centennial of Lomax’s birth is Saturday, Jan. 31. AFC kicks off the celebrations on Monday, Feb. 2, with the opening of a display of 21 items from the Library’s Lomax collections, including photographs, manuscripts and notebooks. The display will be located in the South Gallery of the Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C., Monday - Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., through March 28.
Public programs then will follow throughout the year, both at the Library and at venues elsewhere. Plans include special events in the center’s Homegrown Concert Series and Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series; presentations by staff members at academic conferences and symposia, including Austin’s SXSW Festival; Lomax concerts and open mic stages at large folk music gatherings such as the Folk Music Alliance and the Brooklyn Folk Festival; and a traveling exhibition that is being developed for performance venues, conferences and local libraries.
The center’s blog, Folklife Today, will make regular postings throughout the year highlighting the Lomax’s contributions and collections, and noting Lomax-related events.
AFC has launched a Lomax Centennial website (www.loc.gov/folklife/lomax/lomaxcentennial.html) that includes information on upcoming events, Lomax collections, articles and essays about the noted folklorist and a list of 100 iconic songs collected by the Lomaxes, including “Goodnight Irene,” “Free at Last,” “Rock Island Line” and “House of the Rising Sun.”
Of all the pioneering folklorists and documentarians whose work can be found at AFC, none is more well-known than Alan Lomax, both for the quantity and quality of his collections and for his influence on American culture. Lomax’s career at the Library began in 1933, when his father, John A. Lomax, became a special consultant to the Music Division and was put in charge of the Archive of American Folk Song. Alan took over most of the day-to-day running of the archive, and by 1937 had a position at the Library and the title “Assistant-in-Charge.” He remained at the Library until 1942, when he left to serve in World War II.
Either alone or with his father, Alan spent these Library of Congress years traveling throughout the United States carrying an instantaneous disk recorder and, often, a camera. His signature field trips were some of the earliest to document traditional music in Louisiana (including Cajun music), in Michigan and the Midwest (including music of numerous European ethnic communities), and in the American south (including ballads and fiddle tunes of the Appalachian Mountains and blues from the Mississippi Delta). With important collaborators including Pete Seeger, his father John, his wife Elizabeth and colleagues from other institutions (such as Fisk University’s John Wesley Work III), Alan was the first to record Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Aunt Molly Jackson and an enormous number of other significant traditional musicians. He also recorded many musicians at the Library, including a landmark series of 1938 recordings of Jelly Roll Morton, which yielded nine hours of music and speech.
The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to “preserve and present American Folklife” through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/folklife/.
The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution, is the world’s preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may also be accessed through the Library’s website, www.loc.gov.
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