Biographies John Avery Lomax (1867-1948)

John Avery Lomax, Jasper, Texas, 1940. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division – Lomax Collection. Photograph. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-120994

John Avery Lomax was born in Goodman, Mississippi, on September 23, 1867. He grew up on the Texas frontier, just north of Meridian in rural Bosque County. After teaching in rural schools for a few years, Lomax entered the University of Texas in 1895, specializing in English literature. After graduation, he worked at the University of Texas as registrar, manager of a men’s dormitory, and personal secretary to the president of the university. In 1903, he accepted an offer to teach English at Texas A&M University. In 1907, Lomax attended Harvard University as a graduate student, where he studied under Barrett Wendell and George Lyman Kittredge, two renowned scholars who actively encouraged his interest in cowboy songs. He published Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads in 1910. At around the same time, he co-founded the Texas Folklore Society with Professor Leonidas Payne of the University of Texas. From 1910 to 1917, Lomax taught at the University of Texas, but was one of several professors caught up in a political battle and subsequently fired. For the next fifteen years, he worked in a bank in Chicago. Lomax revived his interest in American folksong in 1932, and began contributing field recordings to the Library of Congress (see The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip). Over the next ten years, Lomax and his son Alan recorded some of the most important traditional performers in the history of American folklore, including the African-American singer and musician Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter. In 1934, Lomax was named honorary consultant and curator of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library and later became an advisor in several capacities to the Works Progress Administration. After retiring to Texas in the early 1940s, Lomax continued his collecting activities and his contacts with the Library of Congress. He died in 1948 in Dallas, Texas.

Selected Works at the Library of Congress