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Collection John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax Papers

About this Collection

John A. Lomax, Sr., and his son Alan Lomax became stewards of a nascent Archive of American Folk-Song in September 1933. Their tenure lasted until Alan separated from the Library of Congress in October 1942. During that period, they administered an archive that grew in scope and volume. The resultant manuscript material—correspondence, memoranda, reports, notes, and writings—was decades later collated into the John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax papers (AFC 1933/001), the focus of this digital collection.

The collection finding aid reveals organization into series by document type. Correspondence and memoranda comprise the bulk of this collection, with voluminous dispatches from the field to the reliable Harold Spivacke adding context to the famous Lomax disc recordings. Letters between the two Lomaxes provide glimpses into their relationship with the Library and each other. Correspondence with leading ethnographers of the day help to situate the Library in the broader intellectual discourse.

Another large grouping of manuscripts documents the professional activities of the Lomaxes during the 1930s. Presentations, papers, and publications were constant activities, fed by the long and frequent field trips through the Eastern United States and Caribbean. Here are the research materials for Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly (1936), “Home on the Range” (1938), Our Singing Country (1941), and the "List of American Folk Songs on Commercial Records" (1942), among many others.

The collection provides a remarkably clear picture of the Lomaxes activities. They built the archive--and their careers--while maneuvering within the Library’s byzantine political currents. They created and managed for the Library a dynamic network of politicians, musicians, academics, and other folk music collectors. They hurried, and befriended, and wrote at such a pace that John Lomax’s elegant penmanship seems at times to fly off the page, giving the accurate impression of a man in motion with a national undertaking under his care.