March 24, 2004 Alan Lomax Collections Brought Together at the Library of Congress

Press Contact: Sheryl Cannady (202) 707-6456; Bibi Martí (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Peggy Bulger (202) 707-5510
Contact: Association for Cultural Equity (212) 268-4623

The American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress has acquired the Alan Lomax Collection, which comprises the unparalleled ethnographic documentation collected by the legendary folklorist over a period of 70 years. The acquisition was made possible through a cooperative agreement between the American Folklife Center and the Association for Cultural Equity at Hunter College and the generosity of an anonymous donor.

With this acquisition, the Alan Lomax Collection joins the material Lomax and his father John collected during the 1930s and early 1940s for the Library's Archive of American Folk Song, thus bringing his entire collection together for the first time, under one roof at the Library of Congress.

"The Alan Lomax Collection contains pioneering documentation of traditional music, dance, tales and other forms of grassroots creativity in the United States and abroad," said James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress. "We are extremely pleased that this collection has come to our national library, where its creator did such important work in the 1930s."

From the time he left his position as head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1942 through the end of his long and productive career as an internationally known folklorist, author, radio broadcaster, filmmaker, concert and record producer and television host, Alan Lomax amassed one of the most important collections of ethnographic material in the world.

The collection has been housed in several large rooms at Hunter College in New York City. It includes more than 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of motion picture film, 2,450 videotapes, 2,000 scholarly books and journals, hundreds of photographic prints and negatives, several databases for portions of the archive, and more than 120 linear feet of manuscript materials such as correspondence, field notes, research files, program scripts, indexes and book and article manuscripts.

Regarding the Library's acquisition, Anna Lomax Wood, Alan Lomax's daughter, said, "In bringing my father's work back home to the place that it began, the Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center have embraced my father's collection in the grandest of ways, and have recognized his vision of preserving, understanding and honoring the soul and spirit of the world's cultures. With its world-wide recognition as a cultural institution, the Library will serve as a marvelous platform for Alan's intellectual legacy and legendary collection."

Included in the collection are sound recordings of traditional singers, instrumentalists and storytellers made by Lomax during numerous field trips to the American South, the Caribbean, Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Spain and Italy; original video footage, shot in the southern and southwestern United States, Washington, D.C., and New York City, that was used as the basis of Lomax's "Patchwork" television series, as well as videotapes of all the programs in the series; 16mm footage of performances by Howling Wolf, Son House and others during the Newport Folk Festival in 1966; videotapes of folk dance performances; and work elements and originals of numerous films that Lomax made.

Lomax believed that folklore and expressive culture are essential to human continuity and adaptation, and his lifelong goal was to create a public platform for their continued use and enjoyment as well as a scientific framework for their further understanding. His desire to document, preserve, recognize and foster the distinctive voices of oral tradition led him to establish the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), based in New York City and now directed by his daughter.

ACE will continue to produce the Alan Lomax Collection compact disc series on Rounder Records and to administer rights to repertoire contained in the collection, working from digital copies made of original materials that will be housed at the Library of Congress. ACE plans to donate CD and DVD copies of hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings to regional libraries in the United States and abroad. Over the next few years, ACE will work closely with the American Folklife Center to create databases for the audio, video and film collections; to raise funds for preservation and for fellowships; and to make Lomax's ethnology of performance style available to researchers.

The Lomax family has a long history of collaboration with the Library of Congress. Alan's father, John Avery Lomax, began a 10-year relationship with the Library in June 1933, when he set out with Alan, then 18, on their first folksong gathering expedition under the Library's auspices. Together they visited Texas farms, prisons and rural communities, recording work songs, reels, ballads and blues.

John Lomax was named "Honorary Consultant and Curator of the Archive of American Folk Song," which had been created in the Library's Music Division in 1928. Alan Lomax became the archive's "assistant in charge" in 1937, and he continued to make field trips and supply recordings to the Archive of American Folk Song until 1942. He was the first to record such legendary musicians as Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, McKinley "Muddy Waters" Morganfield and David "Honeyboy" Edwards. He also recorded over eight hours of Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton's singing, playing and spoken recollections in 1938 at the Library of Congress and, in 1940, recorded over four hours of Woody Guthrie's songs and stories for the Library of Congress' Archive of American Folk Song in the department of the interior recording lab.

After he left the Library of Congress in 1942, Alan Lomax continued his work to document, analyze and present traditional music, dance and narrative through projects of various kinds throughout the world.

With his father, and on his own, he published many books, including "American Ballads and Folk Songs"(1934) and "Our Singing Country" (1941). He received numerous honors and awards, including the National Medal of the Arts, the National Book Critics Circle award for "The Land Where the Blues Began" (1980) and a "Living Legend" award from the Library of Congress (2000). According to folklorist Roger Abrahams, he is "the person most responsible for the great explosion of interest in America folksong throughout the mid-20th century."

"We are delighted that our agreement with ACE makes it possible to combine Alan Lomax's earliest documentary material, which he collected during his time at the Library of Congress, with the material he collected during the rest of his life," said American Folklife Center Director Peggy Bulger. "His entire collection will now be in available in one place. The collection is simultaneously a monument to one of the greatest cultural documenters of the 20th century and a priceless storehouse of traditional artistry."

Mickey Hart, member of the board of the American Folklife Center and longtime drummer with The Grateful Dead, said of the acquisition: "The Alan Lomax Collection has finally come home to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. This sonic treasure chest represents the vivid stories, history, hopes and dreams of many cultures. Through these recordings, generations will come to know what has passed before them. The Lomax Collection is a jewel in the crown."

The Association for Cultural Equity, chartered in 1985 and located at New York City's Hunter College, was founded by Alan Lomax to research, preserve and disseminate world folk performance traditions. ACE administers the rights to the use of materials in the Alan Lomax Collection and carries on Lomax's mission through the cataloging and dissemination of materials. Partnering with the American Folklife Center, ACE seeks to ensure that his legendary collection remains accessible to general and specialized audiences.

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 presentation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in the Library in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.


PR 04-047
ISSN 0731-3527