One of the pioneers in the development of folk music, Alan Lomax is still well known today. He was a philosophy student at Texas A&M University when he first shown a natural enthusiasm for collecting music, which many people attribute to the influence of his father, who was also a well-known collector. He initially went on field trips with his father as a small child before joining other folklorists. He recorded several albums and interviews with well-known folk music singers and performers while a member of the “Library of Congress.” In an effort to support the survival of folk music in America and Britain, the musicologist has also assisted in organizing a number of performances and concerts for those countries. His interests outside of music included politics, writing, and human rights. He was an advocate for minorities, especially African Americans. He has also hosted a number of well-known radio programs throughout his prime time. Alan has a collection of music from nations including America, Britain, Ireland, Spain, and Italy. He established “The Association for Cultural Equity” with the purpose of preserving and promoting the beauty of folk music, a fading art form. He has authored numerous books and received numerous honors, including some given after his passing.
Early Childhood & Life
On January 31, 1915, in Austin, America, novelist John Lomax and his wife Bess Brown welcomed a son named Alan. John was a well-known author who wrote about local cowboy music and culture while teaching English at Texas A&M University. The youngest of four siblings, he was.
Since the young boy had health issues like asthma and ear infections, he obtained his first schooling at home. After finishing eighth grade at the “Choate School” in Connecticut in 1930, he continued his studies at the “Terrill School for Boys” in Dallas.
At the “University of Texas,” where he received his undergraduate degree, he developed an interest in philosophy and the writings of the Greek intellectual Friedrich Nietzsche. Lomax also contributed to “The Daily Texan,” the student newspaper, but resigned after his editorial on birth control methods was turned down.
He started collecting phonograph records for African American audiences during this time. With a scholarship, he began studying philosophy and physics at Harvard University when he was sixteen years old. Professor Albert P. Brogan also instructed him in the writings of Plato and other Pre-Socratic philosophers.
His interest in radical politics and a case of pneumonia caused his undergraduate grades to severely decline. After leaving “Harvard,” Alan helped his father gather folk tunes for the “Library of Congress.”
The career of Alan Lomax
He collaborated with his father in 1934 to write the book “American Ballads and Folk Songs.” The following year, Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle, two folklorists, joined him on a field expedition to gather folk tunes.
Together with his father, he co-wrote “Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly” in 1936. He received his philosophy degree from the “University of Texas” in the same year.
The “Library of Congress” appointed Alan as the “Assistant in Charge of the Archive of Folk Song” in 1937. Two years later, on the CBS television network’s program “American School of the Air,” he hosted two episodes titled “American Folk Song” and “Wellsprings of Music.”
For the 1940 release of two folk music records, Lead Belly’s “Midnight Special and Other Southern Prison Songs” and vocalist Woody Guthrie’s “Dust Bowl Ballads,” Lomax assisted the “Radio Corporation of America” (RCA).
He co-created “Back Where I Came From” with American filmmaker Nicholas Ray that same year, which the “CBS” network aired three times per week. American musicians such as Lead Belly, Brownie McGhee, and Josh White performed on the show.
John Wesley Work III and Lewis Jones, two music collectors, traveled to Mississippi with Alan in 1941–1942. He also used telegrams to conduct an interview with Americans about their views on the bombing of Pearl Harbor during this time.
Since 1942, the “Federal Bureau of Investigation” (the “FBI”) has repeatedly questioned the American folklorist about his alleged connections to communists.
Later in the decade, he produced a number of folk music albums and organized performances in a variety of musical genres. He created the musical arrangements for presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace’s campaign in 1948. The nation’s minorities, including African Americans and Jews, were the targets of the music’s human rights advocacy.
The enthusiastic musicologist hosted “Your Ballad Man” in 1949, a radio program broadcast by “Mutual Radio Network” that included music from all throughout the country.
A survey of traditional Italian folk songs that were in danger of extinction was conducted by American music enthusiast and Italian music professor Diego Carpitella. The study was conducted in 1953–1954 with the aid of the influential news organization “BBC” and Rome’s “Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia” and was intended for the “Columbia World Library.”
In her theater workshop, director Joan Littlewood presented Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s ballad version of Alan’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain” in 1955.
Under the auspices of “Vanguard Records,” Lomax and social activist Guy Carawan issued “Freedom in the Air: Albany Georgia” in 1962. One of the most significant student organizations during the “American Civil Rights Movement” was the “Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,” and they were the primary audience for the compilation.
The renowned folklorist assisted the Smithsonian Institution, a group of museums, in creating a series of films about folk tunes over the course of the following two decades. The “American Patchwork” series was created for the “Folklife Festival,” a celebration of the nation’s rich cultural heritage.
At Hunter College in New York City, the outstanding folklorist founded “The Association for Cultural Equity” (ACE) in 1983. Twelve years later, he completed “The Land Where the Blues Began,” a book on the origins of blues music.
Bigger Works of Alan Lomax
The non-fiction narrative of the beginnings of African American blues music, “The Land Where the Blues Began,” is one of this distinguished folklorist and archivist’s most well-known books. According to the memoir, the history of racism and slavery in America and the blues’ genesis are closely related.
Recognition & Achievements
In 1986, Alan received the “National Medal of Arts” from President Ronald Reagan. The award, which honors illustrious contributors to the sphere of cultural arts, is the most prestigious in the country.
For his contributions to American life, the renowned folklorist received the “Library of Congress Living Legend Award” in 2000.
He received an “Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy” from Tulane University of Louisiana in 2001.
Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award were presented to him in 1993 for his acclaimed biography “The Land Where the Blues Began.”
In 2003, the Grammy Trustees Award was given to Lomax posthumously in recognition of all his accomplishments. His music collection, “Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax,” garnered two “Grammy Awards” three years later.
Personal Legacy & Life
Elizabeth Harold Goodman, who frequently accompanied Lomax on his field trips, and he was married in February 1937. The pair had a daughter named Anne. After twelve years, Elizabeth and the well-known folklorist got divorced.
In the 1950s, Shirley Collins, an English folk singer, captured the musicologist’s heart. However, Collins married record producer Austin John Marshal after their final trip together at the end of the decade.
He married Antoinette Marchand on August 2, 1967, but the union barely lasted a year.
The renowned music collector passed suddenly on July 19, 2002, in Florida, USA, at the age of 87.
More than 17,000 tapes from the folklorist’s collection were made available in digital format in 2012 thanks to a partnership between Lomax’s Association for Cultural Equity and the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.
Estimated net worth
The estimated net worth of Alan Lomax is about $1 Million.
This American ethnomusicologist is well-known for having created his own efficient technique for applying statistics to evaluate anthropological data, known as “Canometrics.”