Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax by Tom Piazza

Alan Lomax was a renowned music documentarian as well as a singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist who is best known for his work (along with his father John) with the Library of Congress in preserving seminal American folk music. Between 1932 and 1942 Alan and his father worked as archivists for the Library of Congress’ Archive of American Folk song series. This was groundbreaking work that lead the Lomax’s to record important African American and Afro-Caribbean music as well as folk song traditions of the Ozarks and Appalachia, lumbermen, sailors, fishermen, bargemen, and Native Americans. They traveled out into the field to document the music - most of which was handed down from generation to generation and generic to its locality.

Alan Lomax also made the first recordings of bluesmen Muddy Waters, “Mississippi” Fred McDowell, Jelly Roll Morton and David “Honeyboy” Edwards – among others. He was also responsible for facilitating the careers of many well-known folk artists including, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Woody Gutherie, Burl Ives, Josh White, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Big Bill Broonzy, Wade Ward, Almeda Riddle and many more. In 1936 he and his father John produced the Slave Narrative project, now residing at the Library of Congress. Lomax had an insatiable hunger for discovering distinctly American original folksingers and tracing their influences. Much of the music he documented was found in the southern regions of the United States and often in rural, poor areas.

The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax is a compilation of photographs, words and music (a CD is included with 12 songs of some of the musicians Lomax recorded), spanning Lomax’s life’s work. The photographs and stories behind the people in them are wonderful and bring to life a better understanding of the music Lomax documented. The photographs cover the periods Lomax cultivated 1934-1978, but particularly emphasize his 1959- 1960 southern journey to the rural sections of Mississippi, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia and Arkansas. These photos vividly tell a tale of the persons behind the music and span juke joints, back porches, farms, churches, and even penitentiaries.

The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax is a wonderful testament to a man doggedly devoted to recording the origins and legacies of American folk music. Lomax’s valuable work forever preserves the origins of not only the musical roots of the land, but perhaps more importantly portrays the history and culture of the country.